Mike West

1984 Los Angeles – Mike West

You know you’ve got what it takes to make it to the Olympics, when the swimmer you have idolized for years congratulates you on your time.

“I jumped out of the pool and Stephen Pickell congratulated me. I was thrilled,’’ he said. “I was on top of the world.’’

It was 1980 and Mike West had just competed in the B final Olympic Trials. He made it to Canada’s national swim in 1980 and would remain there until 1986.

Pickell was a 1976 Olympian from Vancouver who won the silver medal in the 4x100 medley race. Like most serious swimmers, West looked up to the swimmers and Pickell was one of them.

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As a backstroke specialist, West set a world record in 200 metre backstroke in 1984. He also went on to break 10 Canadian records in the 100 metre and 200 metre backstroke events.

In 1984, along with Victor Davis, West won silver in the 4x100 medley relay and took the bronze in the 100 metre backstroke.

He, too, was named Swim Canada’s athlete of the year in 1985 and twice received the Government of Canada’s Sports Excellence Award.

West, who was born and raised in Waterloo, started swimming for fun at the age of seven. He joined the K-W YMCA Swim Club and but stopped after a year.

Then at 13, he joined ROW in 1977 when it opened.

“I hated morning workouts. I didn’t know if it was for me,’’ West recalls.

But the backstroke came easily and he quickly excelled. Two years later, he made the junior nationals in backstroke.

“It’s the easiest,” West chuckles. “You don’t have to fight with breathing and it’s a distraction looking up at the ceiling.’’

As a high school student at Bluevale Collegiate Institute, West recalls how there was little time for extra-curriculars with eight practices a week at the pool.

“Swimming and school was my life. I was OK with that,’’ he said.

West credits coach Paul Meronen, ROW’s current assistant coach, with pushing him to participate in the 1980 Olympic trials.

“I remember laughing at him,’’ said West when Meronen suggested he should try out.

“He believed in me and clearly saw a talent and a skill,’’ he said. “I didn’t see myself in the ranking of an Olympian.’’

After the 1980 trials, West said he became more focused and with a shift at the ROW club with Cliff Barry training high-calibre swimmers, the heat was on.

“Once Cliff got there, there was a push on excellence,’’ said West. “I pushed myself and I was really competitive but I had fun.’’

But West knew that every practice was preparation for the 1984 Olympics. At 1984 trials, competition was stiff in men’s backstroke.

“A lot of people were on edge. I wanted the make the team,’’ he said.

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And make it he did. West placed first at trials in 100 metre and 200 metre backstroke, this time in the A trials.

“It was a relief. One more step in making it to the Olympic Games,’’ said West, who was 19 when he went to the international games.

After the Olympics and international recognition, West continued to swim for two more years.

“1985 was a good year. It was my best year of competing,’’ he said.

But West knew the end was near. Cliff Barry was moving to Montreal, where Victor Davis would follow him but West wasn’t prepared to move out of province.

He was in his third year of health studies at the University of Waterloo and went on to medical school at Queen’s in Kingston. West, now 45 who lives with his family in Dundas, Ont., has been a family physician for 17 years.

West remembers fondly his swimming years and says ROW helped him and Victor achieve their goals.

Swimming as a sport taught him commitment and dedication to something, hard work and of course time management, he said.

West, who swims recreationally a couple times a week at the McMaster University, said he’s still at the pool. His 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter are swimmers with the Golden Horseshoe Swim Club.

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