LIMA (Reuters) - For almost every athlete the road to Olympics is a long and winding path negotiated over years if not decades, a physically and emotionally exhausting journey to a sporting Shangri La.
Canadian syncronised swimmer Claudia Holzner completed such a journey on Wednesday — twice.
By taking gold in the Pan Am Games artistic swimming duet with Jacqueline Simoneau, Holzner claimed a ticket to her first Olympics.
A few hours later, she was back in the Centro Aquatico Villa Deportiva Nacional pool for the team competition and reached the top spot on the podium for a second time to help ensure Canada would be represented at the Tokyo Games next year.
After the duet, Holzner said she had no words to describe her joy and there were indeed none required with the look on her face saying everything.
The gold medal hanging around her neck felt wonderful, she said, but there was something more precious.
“For me it is the Olympics,” smiled Holzner, with a genuine astonishment.
“I have been training on the national team for seven years now and to be able to say I am going to the Olympics is amazing.
“It’s been a long road.”
The last few weeks have been especially busy with Holzner and Simoneau competing on two continents at the world swimming championships in South Korea and at the Pan Am Games in Lima with only a quick one-night stopover in Montreal inbetween.
If the past few days have been a whirlwind, the last four years have dragged for Holzner.
The 25-year-old thought she had realised her Olympic dream when Canada won the team competition at 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto only for that spot to be awarded to Brazil as hosts.
Canada was put back in a second-chance pool at the repechage but again there was only utter despair as they missed out on an Olympic spot by .70 of a point.
Simoneau, who qualified for Rio in the duet with another partner, and Holzner are the only two members of that squad still competing.
“It’s hard to talk about, it was heartbreaking and took another four years to get here,” said Holzner.
“Four years is a long time, there were definitely moments I’m not going to lie it wasn’t easy there was two years where I thought what I am doing here and then this year was make it or break it.
Both athletes are likely to pull double duty in Japan.
Holzner and Simoneau left nothing to chance in the duet and, coming off a seventh place finish at the worlds, posted their best score of the season of 180.03 — almost six full points ahead of silver medallists Mexico.
Canada were no less dominant in the team competition with a winning mark of 179.6 leaving Mexico well back again. The U.S. took the bronze with a futuristic robot routine that has generated considerable buzz in the syncro world.
“Even though this is my third Pan Am medal it feels like my first, I am just so excited,” said Simoneau.
“We prepared our entire year for this moment.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney