In Pursuit of Excellence - Brett Liem

In Pursuit of Excellence - Brett Liem

Freshman swimmer Liem making an immediate impact

By John DeCoste '77

WOLFVILLE, N.S. - He won't turn 19 until April, but Brett Liem is already making a name for himself in university swimming circles.

Liem, who was born in Moncton and grew up in Bedford, is in his first year with the Acadia varsity swim team.

At his first-ever AUS meet, the Jack Scholz Invitational at Acadia last October, the 18-year-old sprint specialist won both the 50-metre freestyle and 50-metre butterfly events.

In addition, he qualified for the U-Sports national championship in the 50 free, breaking the school record previously held by Luc Boudreau.

"I knew what the (national) standard was, and I was looking to get it as quickly as possible," Liem said Feb. 7. "It definitely takes a lot of pressure off you, and it gives you all season to prepare for CIS."

Liem would later achieve the national standard in the 50-metre breaststroke as well, at the Kemp/Fry Invitational at Dalhousie in November. At that meet, he won the 50 free, was second in 50 breast and 50 'fly, and broke three school records in addition to achieving his second national standard.

Qualifying swimmers are permitted to swim four events at nationals. Liem says he plans to swim the 50 and 100 free, 50 breast and 50 'fly.

"I'm really looking forward to it a lot," he says of the national meet, set for Feb. 24-26 in Sherbrooke, QC. "It's obviously my first opportunity (to swim at this level). I'm told it's a really exciting meet."

Liem has been swimming since he was seven years old. He started off summer swimming, and "switched to the winter club when I was 12."

A long-time member of the Dartmouth Crusaders Swim Club, he attended five age group nationals, one senior nationals as a member of the Crusaders, as well as the 2016 Olympic trials in Toronto.

At the latter competition, Liem "swam the 50 free, the event I qualified in. I didn't get a best time, but I was happy with my performance at my first meet at that level." The Olympic trials were "a lot different, even from nationals, with swimmers of all ages, There were a lot of familiar names."

In choosing a university, Liem took into account both academics and swimming. "Dalhousie pursued me hard, but I was looking for a small-school experience, with lots of individual time with your professors. Acadia gave me the best chance to achieve what I wanted to achieve on a personal level."

As well, Acadia head coach Gary MacDonald "was a pretty big factor" in his decision. "I'd heard good things about him, and when I came here, met him and toured the campus, my mind was made up."

Asked if he has always specialized in short-distance races, Liem replied, "for the most part. There was a time, when I was younger, I did freestyle, all distances," but he now focuses on the shorter sprints.

"You have to pace yourself in the distance races. I like not holding back, and being able to go as fast as I can for a short distance," whether it be freestyle, butterfly or breaststroke. "I'd rather just do it, and get it over with right away."

Liem has proven as this season has gone on that he is no flash-in-the-pan. At the Amby Legere meet at UNB, with the swim team from McGill in Montreal part of the field, he was second in 100 'fly, third in 100 IM, fourth in 50 back and 50 breast, and helped Acadia to second and third place finishes in relays.

At an AUS meet Jan. 21 at Acadia, he won the 50 free and was second in 100 'fly. At the AUS championships Feb. 10-12 at UPEI, he won the 50 free, was second in 50 'fly, third in 50 and 100 breast, and was part of a silver-medal winning freestyle relay team for a total of five medals.

Acadia was a strong second overall at AUS, behind only the perennially-strong Dalhousie squad, but narrowed the gap between first and second with 626 team points for top finishes to Dal's 857.5.

Overall, the Acadia swimmers combined for a total of 21 medals, with Hannah Doiron's time in the 200 breaststroke allowing her to join Liem and Alison MacEachern in qualifying for U-Sport nationals.

The Olympic trials were arguably the highlight of Liem's age group swimming career, but in his first year as a university swimmer, he was eagerly anticipating both the AUS and U-Sports meets.

"I'm really looking forward to competing at my first AUS championship," he said Feb. 7. "I've already improved my personal best times in 50 free, 50 breast and 50 'fly, but your goal should be to improve every time out. Normally at the larger meets, where you've been preparing for them, is where you have your best performances. That's what I'll be looking to do."

As for the U-Sports competition, "I swam at nationals for the first time at age 14. I did the 50 free, and some longer events." Competing at the national level is always exciting, and he is looking forward to 'testing the waters' at the U-Sports nationals. "Hopefully, I can continue to swim personal best times."

Even with his successes this season, Liem is well aware his university swimming career is only getting started. "I'd like to be able to qualify for (U-Sports nationals) every year I'm here, and see how I can do there." As well, within four years, "it will be time for the Olympic trials again." He is already looking forward to getting to compete there, and hopefully being able to swim for Canada.

Academically, Liem is studying toward a B.Sc. degree in Physics. "I liked it in high school, and I figured I may as well study something I enjoy."

As he is still only in his first of at least four years at Acadia, he is "still feeling my way as to what I'd like to do with my life. There's still lots of time. I've given it a little thought, but I'll have to experience a little more of everything before I decide what I want to do."

As for the Acadia swim teams, Liem feels the program has a bright future. "This year's team is pretty solid," especially on the mens' side.

"There aren't as many women as men, but coach (MacDonald) is working on that," and is busy recruiting top swimmers of both genders, with the goal of building on this season's successes.

Both academically and athletically, Liem is "looking forward to the rest of my career here." He has no regrets with his decision to choose Acadia. "It was a great decision for me to come here."

Ultimately, he says, definitely before he is finished at Acadia and hopefully sooner than later,"I'd like to see us knock off Dal and win the AUS."

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