Future Olympic medal prospect Elan Daley commits to Canada
Elan Daley, Bermuda’s former Female Junior Athlete of the Year who has progressed to the point where she can be considered a medal prospect at the Paris Olympics in three years’ time, has committed her international swimming future to Canada.
The decision, which is a massive blow to Bermuda swimming, was borne out of tragedy early last year when the 16-year-old had to contemplate the deaths of not one but two coaches.
Murray Drudge, 61, died in February 2020, and his passing was followed quickly by Kevin Thorburn two months later, leaving Daley heartbroken and ultimately in a quandary over what to do with her swimming.
The decision-making process was complicated by the mounting implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on Canada, where she has lived for the past nine years.
“She couldn’t turn to the club she moved from because that coach also died, so the only option, with regular swimming now falling off, was to try to get in with the national programme,” explained Ben Smith, the Bermuda swimming coach.
“The [Canadian] national programme said, ’Yeah, come this way. But to do that you need to swim for us’. They took a perfect opportunity from a bad situation and it gives her the opportunity to train, the opportunity to be fully supported by a country that has shown they really want her.”
Smith still holds out hope that Daley may be seen in Bermuda kit again, but accepts that the reality might be quite different.
“It doesn’t mean that she won’t end up swimming for Bermuda at some point,” he added. “They [Canada] have some world-class athletes, she is a world-class athlete and she is still young.”
“We continue to have a relationship. I was able to coach her at World Championships, so I’m fully aware of what she is capable of.
“Would I love to see her represent Bermuda? Yes, but I’m supportive of whatever it is going to take for her to reach her full potential.
“I had conversations with her mom [Veronica] and her grandmother [Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks] who are really supportive and trying to do what’s best for her. It wasn’t an easy decision for them but a decision that the adults had to make for a young person.
“For her trying to reach her dream it would have meant no swimming because everything was shut down in Canada, or to get some really good training with that programme. It was a no-brainer.”
Daley won the Female Junior Athlete of the Year award after a medal-laden 2019. She broke her Bermuda record in the 200 metres freestyle by placing second in her heat at the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where she was the youngest competitor at the age of 14.
Daley also claimed three gold medals at the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Bridgetown, Barbados, and nine medals, including four gold, at the Carifta Championships, also held in Barbados.
Smith realised Canada may be taking interest in Daley after the 2018 Carifta Championships in Jamaica, where she won 11 medals. Brothers Ethan and Elijah have also represented Bermuda in the pool.
“She had the potential to be a qualifier for us for Tokyo 2020 and would have been in that role right now for 2021,” Smith said. “She’s already that kind of athlete and it would have been great for her to get that experience representing Bermuda at that level.
“But, with all the things that are going on, it just wasn’t meant to be — not at this moment anyway.
“Ethan is in university. He’s not swimming a lot. He took a step back to focus on his grades going into university. But Elijah is still active and was coming on extremely strong just before the shutdown.
“We were excited to see what he was going to do at Carifta last year. Fingers crossed, we can still hold on to him.”
Their mother, Veronica Daley, appreciates the support shown for the siblings in Bermuda. “As a family, we are tremendously grateful for all the support that we get from our home in Bermuda,” she told The Royal Gazette. “Ben Smith has been a wonderful beacon of support.
“She has had a wonderful relationship with Ben Titley, who is the head coach of the high-performance training centre here in Ontario. She broke her first Canadian record back when she was 11.
“She went and spoke to Ben Titley to say my coach has died. They had a wonderful relationship already and with the pandemic, [joining the national programme] was really the only thing she could do, and was grateful for the opportunity to do it."