Mackay targets swimming’s summit

If winning an Olympic medal was solely down to how much effort you put into earning it, Andrew MacKay should be awarded gold right now.

Andrew MacKay

MacKay spent three months training in Australia.
Photo: Ron Shillingford

The Caymanian swimmer has just returned from a three month stint in Australia focused on honing himself for the Beijing Games – and they’re still a whole year away.

That’s because MacKay doesn’t want to be an also ran, nothing less than a semi-final place will do. He went to the last Olympics in Athens with fellow Caymanians Heather Roffey and Shaune Fraser. All were teenagers with no great expectations, more there as a learning curve. This time round all three want to do far better and Fraser – the best of the trio – is intent on gold.

MacKay will compete in the 400 metres individual medley, having to swim 100m each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

So far his best time is 4 minutes 32 seconds. He has to get into the 4 mins 20 secs to reach the semis. What about attaining a final place or even a medal? He’s resigned to not doing that mainly because of the human torpedo in the shape of Michael Phelps. The 22-year-old American has been setting world records since he was 15 and his 400m individual medley record of 4 mins 06.22 secs can only be beaten by jet-propelled sharks. Fraser too, will be racing Phelps, along with a strong American team.

Yet to get to an Olympic semi is a worthy feat in itself. That means you’re one of the top 16 swimmers in the world. Confident that he can reach the Olympic qualifying time of 4 mins 27 secs by March, MacKay’s positive attitude is admirable.

Worth every sacrifice as far as he’s concerned. ‘It really went well in Australia,’ he says during a break from training at the Lion pool. MacKay is only home for two whole days yet after a nightmare 30 hour flight back from Oz training is obligatory. Tiredness and jet lag are not a consideration. Unlike the sport’s supreme competitors who are all long and broad shouldered, he is only average height and build. Technique and competitive spirit have always pulled him through in the past.

‘I trained with a lot of good kids and Dave Kelsheimer, my old coach from Cayman. When I’m here there are a lot of distractions because all my mates are back from university too.

‘In Melbourne with Dave I got back into working really hard, swimming fast again. I was enjoying it more. I hadn’t been swimming well at my university, Notre Dame (in Illinois, best known for gridiron), so that’s why I went to Australia. I’m a lot stronger and will get my time down by the time it rolls around. No injury problems either, touch wood. I love competing. The thrill of racing is the best sensation.’

MacKay, 21, will give the Olympics his best shot and then focus on his career – probably in accounting – after that. ‘I’ll come back here and eventually want to go and work with my dad (Peter, also president of Cayman Islands Swimming Association).’

Andrew has been swimming for 10 years since he was at Cayman Prep and High. Peter was a rugby player in his native Scotland so the MacKay sporting genes manifested in a less bruising form.

‘We’ve all grown up in this pool,’ says MacKay of his team mates. ‘We’ve got along and had fights like all kids.’

He hasn’t ruled out competing at the London Olympics in 2012 either. ‘I would love to go to London. It all depends on where life takes me. Got to take time out to focus on my job and education first and see what happens after that.’

Whenever in Cayman, MacKay enjoys working with the island’s head coach Dominic Ross. ‘Dom’s been great and helped me with my swimming a lot. He’s more laid back than Dave and been very good to work with.’

As the only offspring of parents Dave and Sara, Andrew’s fortunate that they haven’t been too pushy. ‘They pay attention to my swimming but have never been overbearing, which is nice. I used to be good at other sports then swimming took over.’

Ross says: ‘Andrew’s always been a hard worker and dedicated athlete. He was a long jump champion at school. He’s got a lot of drive and ability and he’s not afraid to make moves to progress, like spending the summer in Australia.

‘He’s a good kid as well. One of the founders of the Cayman Loves Children charity. He’s great to have as part of the team and I’m looking forward to having him back.

‘Reaching the Olympic semis will be a big step. I’m trying to help him believe he can do it. To make the semis from a country as small as Cayman is an amazing feat. And who’s to say he can’t do better? At the last Olympics Trinidad’s George Bovell wasn’t expected to medal and he got a bronze.’

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