In the fast lane
Truro’s Sangster grabs gold as Axemen make AUS history
Acadia Axemen rookie sensation Dean Sangster wasn’t even born when the Dalhousie Tigers began their AUS men’s swimming championship streak 22 years ago.
But the Truro native was front and centre Sunday night in Halifax as the Axemen ended the Tigers’ run of 21 consecutive conference titles. Sangster, the AUS male rookie of the year, was also named the top freshman in the three-day championship meet as Acadia finished 300 points ahead of second-place Dal, the host school.
“Everybody on the team was just ecstatic about the whole thing,” said Sangster, 19. “It was a great feeling, especially to take down Dal, who had one of the longestrunning win streaks in all of Canada, for any sport. All of our work finally got recognized and we were first.”
As the Axemen clinched their first conference swimming title in 39 years, there was added euphoria at the Dalplex pool after an Ausrecord performance from the Acadia relay team of Sangster, Andre Walcott, Shane Kenny and Brett Liem, the meet MVP. They won the final event, the 4x100-metre medley relay, in 3:43.01, snapping a four-year-old Dal record.
“We went up to grab our medals and everybody on the sides was jumping up and down,” Sangster said. “We just thought they were happy about the win. But when we found out that we broke the AUS record, we were very surprised. It was amazing, especially to end on such a high and with the AUS record, too.”
It was a banner weekend for Sangster, a six-footsix, 192-pound backstroke specialist and former Truro Centurion. He earned one first-place finish, two seconds and a third in individual events and contributed to a pair of relay victories.
Even before the conference meet, Sangster had already qualified for the U Sports national championships, set for Feb. 20-22 at Victoria, B.C.
His personal gold came in the 200-metre backstroke on championship Sunday, after posting runner-up finishes in his other top events, the 50 back and the 100 back.
“I hadn’t lost the 100 back before that Saturday (loss to Dal’s) Christian Payne, who I also lost to (Friday) in the 50 back,” Sangster said. “So I was definitely feeling some pressure to win the 200 back, but I knew that (Payne) hadn’t beat me in that before. I just relied on the training I had done and stayed focused. I couldn’t stay too worried about him. I was just aiming for a best time and a very smooth swim, and it went quite well.”
Sangster’s results included bronze in the 50 freestyle and gold in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
After setting three Acadia backstroke records earlier in his standout season, he didn’t leave anything to chance. But that’s not to say the Canadian junior lifesaving-sport international competitor doesn’t practise a few superstitions, or at least rituals.
“Probably the weirdest one I do is I don’t cut my nails before swim meets,” Sangster said. “I don’t cut my fingernails two weeks out and I let my toenails grow until after the meet. There’s nothing really behind that, other than I think it might give me a little more pull.
“For most of my finals, I wear my lucky ripoff pants. When they call my name (in pre-race introductions), I rip off my pants and it gets me in the zone and more focused. It’s a lot of fun and our team loves it. It’s a real energy booster. They’re just a pair of ripoff pants that I found a few years ago at a thrift shop and I’ve been wearing them at swim meets ever since.”
After a second-semester transfer to business from engineering studies, Sangster is feeling more comfortable on the Acadia campus, where he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. for the team’s earliest swim practices.
The Axemen’s historic finish in Halifax was the talk of the town in Wolfville.
“(There’s been) a lot of recognition not just for me, but for the whole team,” Sangster said. “We hang out together a lot and people are just coming up to us, people we don’t even know and from other sports teams, recognizing our success. It almost feels like we’re celebrities.”
Six Axemen and four Axewomen have qualified for the nationals.
Truro native Dean Sangster of the champion Acadia Axemen won the 200-metre backstroke as part of his medal haul in his first AUS swimming championships Feb. 7 to 9 in Halifax.