Coach’s pride as pair fulfil their dreams
If anyone is qualified to give perspective on Julian Fletcher and Rebecca Heyliger's Olympic Games journeys it is Bermuda coach Ben Smith.
Smith has guided the pair all the way through their swimming careers from eight-year-olds to qualification for Rio.
Both swimmers will make their Olympic debuts in the “Magnificent City”, Fletcher in the 100 metres breaststroke and Heyliger in the 50 freestyle.
“It's been amazing to have had them from little swimmers to teenage swimmers and now Olympic swimmers — it's a really proud moment,” said Smith, who first started coaching the pair at Sharks Swim Club.
“We're hoping we can get some great performances out of them and the amount of work they have been putting in obviously showed in them qualifying.
“I've worked with them both since they were eight. I then took them to the 2008 Commonwealth Games in Puni, India, when they showed they may be able to do something like this.”
Fletcher and Heyliger both met the Olympic B standard in their final qualifying chance at the Validus Bermuda National Championships at the National Aquatics Centre in May.
Smith admits that it was a poignant moment to watch the pair fulfil their childhood dreams.
“It's an amazing feeling and when they both qualified it was quite emotional,” said Smith, who has coached in the national programme for the past 12 years.
“I've seen these two in the water since they were little kids and everyone dreams of going to the Olympics when they start out,” he said.
“You never know who will be able to get there and the truth is it's only a tiny percentage that make it.
“To watch Julian and Rebecca go from that beginning stage to this point is amazing and it's a great accomplishment for them.”
Fletcher and Heyliger share similar goals in Rio with both hoping to achieve personal bests.
Should Fletcher eclipse his time of 1min 2.47sec he believes he could stand a chance of reaching the semi-finals, while Heyliger — whose PB is 26.13 — is not expecting to advance beyond the heats.
“They both set national records at the Bermuda championships and they will both be looking to swim faster than they ever have,” Smith said.
“The further they can drop those times obviously gives them a shot and they are looking at every little detail to help them. Rebecca would have to drop five tenths of a second to be anywhere near anything.”
Fletcher will be the first of Bermuda's swimmers in action at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Saturday.