Laura Nicholls

1996 Atlanta; 2000 Sydney – Laura Nicholls

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In 50 metre freestyle, no one was faster than Laura Nicholls.

The ROW swimmer was the fastest. By 2004, with two Olympics games under her belt, Nicholls clocked a Canadian record of 25:60 seconds in 50 metre freestyle.

“I had swam faster than every Canadian before and it was my best time,’’ said the freestyle sprint specialist.

But her time wasn’t good enough for the 2004 Games. Although she qualified for international standards, she didn’t meet Canadian standards which were set at 25:52 seconds. It seemed politics got in the way of athleticism.

“I wasn’t fast enough. It was upsetting but I’ve moved past it now,’’ said Nicholls, who went to the 2004 Games to watch instead.

Nicholls attended her first Olympics in 1996 and tied 19th in 50 freestyle and went on to the 2000 games ranking 14th in 100 metre freestyle, 23rd in 200 metre freestyle, seventh in 4x100 free relay and sixth in 4x100 medley relay.

Kitchener-born Nicholls started swimming with ROW at the tender age of five. She would stay with the club until she was 22.

In 1992, Nicholls began swimming with former ROW coach Dean Boles. Nicholl’s talent was obvious and under the direction of Boles, Nicholls was headed for the international stage.

In 1996, Nicholls, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, qualified for the Olympics as a 17-year-old phenomenon and one of Team Canada’s youngest swimmers in Atlanta.

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Nicholls said she remembers clearly the 1996 Olympic trials, swimming in lane 3 for the 50 free. She thought she had swum her best but wasn’t thinking about whether she had made the team.

“I got out of the pool and I thought I was in lane 5 but then I thought, ‘Wait I was in lane 3 and I qualified’,’’ she said.

“My first clue should have been seeing Dean going nuts on deck,’’ Nicholls said.

In hindsight, Nicholls said she was “shell-shocked” by the 1996 Olympics.

“I was young and naïve and I was disappointed with my final results,’’ she said.

But by 2000, Nicholls said she was relaxed and “I knew what the Olympic experience was like.’’

Nicholls went on to win 30 international medals and 17 national titles. Nicholls returned to ROW after the 2000 games but by 2003 Nicholls was looking for a change.

She went to Pickering to train under national elite level coach Lucie Hewitt-Henderson.

“Dean was fantastic but I switched to Pickering because I was looking for a change in coaching style. I needed to sprint faster,’’ she said.

“It’s perfection. You have to be perfect in 50 freestyle,’’ Nicholls said.

Nicholls recalls how leaving ROW and Waterloo meant stepping out of her comfort zone and the comforts of home.

Nicholls said both coaches had very different coaching styles but believes moving to Pickering was the right decision.

“She had me swimming faster than I ever did,’’ she said.

But a third crack at the Olympics wasn’t in the cards. In the summer of 2005, Nicholls quit and that fall started coaching full time with the Oakville Aquatic Club where she works today as head coach.

“My love and passion is in the swimming world,’’ said Nicholls, 31, who still lives in Waterloo.

Nicholls said she enjoys working with young children, teaching them the basics and fundamentals of swimming strokes.

“I like to teach them to swim well at a young age,’’ she said.

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