By Austin Stanton, U SPORTS Swimming Correspondent
Samuel Wang started swimming when he was eight years old because his mom wanted her sickly child to beef up his strength through sport.
Over a decade later, Wang has been named the U SPORTS Athlete of the Month for November, after smashing RSEQ records in the midst of a stellar rookie season with the McGill Redmen.
Wang earned the honours through his outstanding performance at the Kemp-Fry Invitational meet, at Dalhousie University in Halifax on Nov. 20.
The CEGEP de Sherbrooke grad set new McGill and RSEQ marks at the meet, en route to winning two gold medals in the 50-metre and 100-metre butterfly, leading the Redmen to a first-place finish.
Wang finished the 50m race in 23.85 seconds, breaking his own McGill record (24.40) and the RSEQ mark (23.96) set earlier this semester.
His sub 24-second clocking was the fastest in the country in 2016 until December 11, when it was beaten by Laval's Pascal-Hugo Caron-Cantin, who raced a new RSEQ record of 23.81.
There are a lot big guys who generate more power and can go faster swimming wise. But I can compete with them because I’m able to keep all my speed from my wall and I don’t lose as much speed from my swimming.
Samuel Wang - McGill Redmen
For Wang, his relationship with swimming was love at first sight. As soon as the Sherbrooke, Que., native got in the pool, he knew swimming was something he’d be doing for a long time.
“I’m just really feel happy in the water,” said the first-year biochemistry major. “I enjoy swimming and feel really good about myself and feel good in my body.”
After trying swimming lessons, Wang got his start in competitive swimming with the Club de natation de Sherbrooke, for a reason many younger siblings can identify with.
Patrick, his older brother, who now plays rugby for McGill, was swimming for the club and Wang joined the year after he started.
SMALL BUT MIGHTY
Wang, who will turn 21 next week on January 17, is listed at 5-foot-9 and 152 pounds in his McGill varsity bio, far from a typically-built sprint swimmer. His less than ideal build, has forced Wang to focus on building impeccable technical skills.
One that he relies on for an advantage over his competition is his underwater work. His push off each wall and subsequent dolphin kick is unparalleled in the conference and possibly the country.
“His underwater work is the best I’ve ever coached and I’ve been at this for 25 years,” said McGill head coach Peter Carpenter. “I’ve never had anyone who could kick out underwater like he does.”
Although most sprint swimmers have boat-like torsos and long arms, Carpenter says there are advantages to being a smaller athlete.
“Being small means that if you are a powerful individual, you don’t have a lot of weight to pull through the water,” said the Redmen coach. “In that sense, Sam is not a big guy, and he’s not massively strong but he is powerful for his size.”
Wang has also focused on developing an efficient and powerful stroke, so he can maintain his speed when he surfaces. A typical race for him is leading off the start, due to a great reaction time and underwater prowess, then trying to hold on.
“There are a lot big guys who generate more power and can go faster swimming wise,” said Wang. “But I can compete with them because I’m able to keep all my speed from my wall and I don’t lose as much speed from my swimming.”
Wang is happy with the success he’s seen so far this season, because before coming to McGill he’d plateaued for a couple of years, struggling to post personal bests. When he raced to the RSEQ record in November, it was proof he was doing the right things in practice.
“Before I was improving very fast. It kind of brought me back down to earth and I thought ‘Okay, I know how to improve and I know my limits and how to push them,’” said Wang. “It’s just now I have to do it in the water, do it regularly and do it well and now it’s paying off.”
IN THE LAB
When he’s not in the water, Wang is in the science lab, starting his undergrad in biochemistry. Like many first year students, he’s not exactly sure what his future holds, but he knows he’s in the right field.
“I have questioned myself in the pool - ‘How do I go fast, why do I go fast?’ – (It’s) the same thing for people,” said Wang. “There are all these little things in our body that do all sorts of things and I want to understand the small things that make us (who we are).”
Whatever he decides to do, it’s likely Wang will be highly successful. Earlier this season during a team retreat at Carpenter’s mother’s cottage in the Laurentians, Wang showed off his intelligence during an ice breaker exercise.
The exercise started with one person stating their name, program, and hometown. Then the person next to them would repeat the previous people’s information and add their own.
When it was Wang’s turn he upped the ante. He turned around, closed his eyes, and instead of following the previous order, categorized the team by faculty, and listed everyone’s information correctly. Not bad for a rookie on a 40-person roster. He also showed off his musical talents that weekend.
“There is a piano and it sounded like someone had put on some jazz and (instead) it was Sam, playing the piano, like a concert-level pianist,” said Carpenter. “It was amazing. My mother came downstairs, who is very musical, and she said ‘Who put on that music?’ and was shocked when she saw it was someone playing.”
In addition to helping the Redmen by amassing huge amounts of points through his record-setting performances, Wang has made everyone work harder in practice.
“The level of intensity in workouts had noticeably increased. The two or three guys who were fastest before Sam came are now chasing him,” said Carpenter. “With those guys raising their level, the next tier is going harder. There is a trickledown effect.”