Tribune Athletes of the Year: The year’s top athletes, by skate and by stroke

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It’s rare for the Tribune to recognize a rookie with its Athlete of the Year award, but freshman McGill swimmer Steven Bielby lapped the field of nominees this year, making it impossible to ignore his accomplishments.

In February, Bielby became the first male swimmer in McGill history to win three individual gold medals at the CIS National Championships in Vancouver, but what made his medal haul so impressive was the way in which he won his races. The first-year phenom decimated three Quebec university records in the three-day competition, and won each of his events by an absurdly large margin. In the grueling 1500-metre freestyle, Bielby bested the second place finisher by a staggering seven seconds, and knocked just over five seconds off Andre Theoret’s 15-year-old Quebec university record. In the 400-metre individual medley, the Montreal native finished over half a lane ahead of the second-place swimmer, eclipsing the Quebec record by nearly seven seconds. And in the 400-metre freestyle Bielby shaved three seconds off of the previous provincial record. It was a dominating performance unlike that put in by any other McGill athlete this year.

Like all great athletes, the 19-year-old electrical engineering freshman is incredibly driven. In addition to a difficult course load, Bielby has nine two-hour practices per week-four that start at 5:30 a.m. in the morning, and five on weekday evenings-as well as dry-land training sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. His aspirations also go beyond competing at the collegiate level. Bielby has an Olympic dream, one he hopes to see fulfilled by the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. At the 2008 Canadian Olympic Qualifying Trials, the Montrealer placed fifth in the 1500-metre freestyle and seventh in the 400-metre freestyle, but he will have to shave several seconds off of his personal best times if he hopes to swim for Team Canada.

Following his gold medal haul in Vancouver, Bielby was named the CIS Rookie of the Year-an award that capped an impressive rookie season that included honours as Quebec Swimmer of the Year, Quebec Rookie Swimmer of the Year, CIS All-Canadian, and the Stuart Forbes Trophy as McGill Male Athlete of the Year, awarded last Thursday night. And now, Bielby can add to his already crowded mantelpiece the least coveted accolade of them all: Tribune Male Athlete of the Year.