Esopenko medals at national-level meet

If Hannah Esopenko has a favourite city outside of her hometown of Prince George, then it just might be Quebec City.

It's where Esopenko stood on the podium not once, but three times at the 2015 Canadian Age Group Championships.

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Esopenko, a 15-year-old who swims with the Prince George Barracudas, had breakthrough swims at the national-level meet, winning gold, silver and bronze medals in the 50, 100 and 200-metre breaststroke races respectively.

"That's the best I've done at age group nationals," said Esopenko Tuesday from Pointe-Claire, Que., a suburb of Montreal. "I was just focusing on having good swims and working on my stroke."

Esopenko went into the meet as the top-ranked 15-and-under swimmer in Canada in the 100m and 200m breaststroke and ranks second in the nation in the 50m breast and 200 individual medley.

In Quebec City, Esopenko also finished fourth in the 400m IM and fifth in the 200 IM, it's her best performance at the age group nationals in the four years she's competed at them.

But it's the breast stroke that Esopenko excels in.

She opened the meet a week ago with a gold medal and a new Barracudas club record (15-17 girls division) in the girls 15-year-old 50m breaststroke with a time of 33.17 seconds.

Nina Kucheran of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club followed with the silver medal, clocking 33.37, while Renae LeDoux of the Langley Olympians captured the bronze medal with a time of 33.43.

Esopenko claimed the silver medal in Friday's 100m 15-year-old girls breaststroke, touching the wall in one minute, 12.98 seconds.

LeDoux captured the gold medal, clocking 1:11.60, while Kucheran followed behind Esopenko to win the bronze medal, posting a time of 1:14.02.

The trio was also on the podium after Saturday's 200m breast stroke.

LeDoux won the gold medal, clocking 2:35.33, followed by Kucheran in second place with a time of 2:38.55. Esopenko was right behind her to claim the bronze medal, clocking 2:38.71.

"The 200 (breaststroke) is my favourite," she said. "You have time to fix your mistakes. I've been struggling with my stroke this year and struggling with the rhythm. In Quebec City I wasn't focused on the swim, I focused on the stroke."

The result was a bronze medal.

Esopenko left Quebec City Monday and travelled to Pointe-Claire where she's competing in the Canadian Senior National championships for the first time in her career.

She qualified for them last year as a 14-year-old, but thought she was still too young.

This week, she'll go head-to-head against the best in the country and the world in the same races, something she had a taste of at the Pan Am Games Canadian team trials in Toronto in April.

She held her own in the 100 and 200m breaststroke distances, making the A finals in both races.

That success has made her more confident going into this week.

Once the senior nationals wrap up, she'll return to Vancouver, train with Team B.C. and then fly to Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray) for the Western Canada Summer Games that conclude Aug. 16.

It's the first time she's competed at a multi-sport event.

That's a lot of swimming in three weeks, but Esopenko, who's entering Grade 10 at College Heights secondary, said that's what she's been training for all year long as soon as the B.C. long course championships concluded in Victoria in early July.

"We just focus on racing and having smooth strokes," she said. "I've managed the fatigue and that's just something you learn and get used to."

When she finally returns home to Prince George, she'll have two weeks off before diving back into the Aquatic Centre's pool to resume six days per week of training and preparing for the next competitive season.

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