Melanie McCann's day of training begins at the Carleton University pool before 6 a.m. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
Name: MELANIE McCANN
Sport: MODERN PENTATHLON
Associations: ROC SWIM CLUB, OTTAWA FENCING, WESTOCK FARMS
Previous Olympics: FIRST
Most athletes making their Olympic debuts in their early 20s head to the Games looking to soak up the experience. But for modern pentathlete Melanie McCann, there is very real potential for a top performance.
The 23-year-old blasted onto the podium contender radar in late May when a 5,180-point performance earned her a seventh-place result at the World Cup finals in China – only 20 points away from the bronze medal.
“Of course I’m dreaming of a medal,” McCann smiles, reflecting a lifelong ambition that’s only become a realistic possibility recently. “Twenty points here or there – if I had had another touch in the fencing or one less rail in the riding, I would have been right there.”
It was less than two years ago that McCann placed 21st at the world junior championships, and even last season she struggled to make it into the final round at World Cups.
“In 2010, I made a firm decision that this is what I wanted for 2012 to go after it,” explains McCann, who moved to Ottawa that fall to work full-time with national team coach John Hawes after studying civil engineering technologies at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. “Coming here was a really good decision. I have John helping me organize all my training and he’s there for most of it as well.”
Before 6 a.m., McCann will be in the pool with Hawes’ Ravens of Carleton Swim Club. She’ll then move on to the weight room or the track at Terry Fox for running and hopefully shooting, followed by a fencing lesson or practice at the RA Centre, plus some nights there’s riding at Westar Farms.
Fencing is McCann’s strongest event, which makes Ottawa Fencing and Canadian national team coach Paul ApSimon wonder what she might achieve if she devoted her full energy to that one sport.
“At a modern pentathlon level, she’s amongst the best,” he says, noting the fencing event winner at the pentathlon World Cup final has also made podiums on the Canadian fencing circuit. “Obviously fencers who train full-time are in general at a higher level than the pentathletes, but Melanie is able to be at that level and be competitive against national team competitors.”
Ranked 23rd in the world, McCann isn’t a medal favourite, but neither was the 2008 Olympic champion, who’d won just one World Cup medal in the previous four years prior to Beijing.
“In looking at the history, even the last six or seven years, we see that the medalists come from almost anywhere in the field,” Hawes highlights. “Will it happen on the day this time? Well, who knows? She’s only 23, so she’s got two or three more Games in her. It’s something to look forward to.”
For McCann to be able to even think realistically about Olympic hardware is a feat on its own in a sport that requires years and years to master five distinct disciplines.
“It adds a little bit of pressure,” acknowledges McCann, who will be joined in London by about 30 family and friends from back home in southwestern Ontario near Grand Bend. “But if the pressure wasn’t there, you’d be missing that aspect of the competition and that extra little bit of adrenaline.”
SUN. AUG. 12
FENCING, 2 A.M. ET
SWIMMING, 6:35 A.M. ET
RIDING, 8:35 A.M. ET
COMBINED, NOON ET