WINNIPEG — If Oksana Chaput is exhausted after yet another gruelling swimming practice, she only has to go into her basement for a pick-me-up.
On the wall of her Winnipeg home hangs a photo of herself with Olympic swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak, whom Chaput met in April at the Canadian swimming trials in Victoria.
“When I walk past it, I always look at it,” Chaput said of the photo in a phone interview before her competition this week at the Canada Games.
“I always just remember meeting her and how inspired I am by her.”
The success of Oleksiak, fellow Olympian Chantal Van Landeghem — who used to swim with Chaput’s Manta Swim Club — and last month’s world-record setter Kylie Masse has rippled across the country to young, female swimmers.
“I always watch their meets because I’m always inspired by them,” Chaput, 13, said. “It makes me feel like I can do anything while I’m watching them.”
The Canada Games is showcasing a number of young swimmers who could be the next wave of female stars. The swimming competition is for girls up to age 15 and boys up to 16.
Chaput has already been turning some heads this year.
She’s achieved six Swimming Canada on-track times for 13-year-old girls in the 50-metre freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 100 butterfly, 200 individual medley and 400 IM. On-track times are marks previously accomplished at particular ages by swimmers who’ve made world or Olympic teams.
Chaput’s Manta coach, Szilvie Carriere, said she can’t think of any other 13-year-old girls in Canada who are on track in six events.
“I would say she would be the only one,” said Carriere, who’s also a Team Manitoba coach at the Canada Games and used to coach Van Landeghem.
Reaching those times has put Chaput on Swimming Canada’s identification team, which could propel her into international competitions.
Right now, though, she’s finding out if her preparation for the Games pays off. She’s competing in a full slate of seven individual races and five relays, including the six events she has on-track times for.
Carriere predicted the five-foot-six Chaput could medal in three freestyle races, the 50, 100 and 200. She’s ranked No. 1 in the country in her age group for the 50.
Tuesday night, Chaput ticked one of those medals off the list by winning gold in the 100 free in a time of 57.47. Ontario’s Hanna Henderson, 15, picked up the silver, while Brooklyn Elizabeth Douthwright of New Brunswick and B.C.’s Jessica Luo tied for third.
Henderson, a 5-11 competitor from Mississauga, also won silver in the 200 butterfly. Lora Willar, 14, of Pointe Claire, Que., claimed the gold and Quebec teammate Jeanne Dahmen finished third.
Douthwright, 14, came to the Games with a notable achievement. When she was 12, she became the youngest person to swim the 14-kilometre Northumberland Strait from N.B. to Prince Edward Island.
One of the competitors Chaput’s keeping an eye on is Edmonton’s Emma O’Croinin.
“She’s one of my biggest rivals because she’s really fast,” Chaput said.
The 14-year-old O’Croinin also got her Games off to podium appearances, claiming gold Monday in the 1,500 free and a silver in Tuesday’s 400 medley.
Notes: Van Landeghem, who won a bronze medal with Oleksiak in the 4×100 mixed freestyle relay at last month’s world championships, is at the Games. The master’s student in clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba has joined the team of clinical psychologists offering services to the athletes.