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This Coquitlam swimmer just set a national age-group record. Now he's got his eyes set on his next challenge

Laon Kim won six medals at the recent Canada Games, and four more at the Canadian Senior and Junior National Championships
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Coquitlam's Laon Kim, who competes with the Hyack Swim Club, churns through the water at the Canadian Jr. and Sr. National Championships in Montreal last July, where he set an age group record in the men's 800m freestyle.

Laon Kim’s life is about to get a whole lot busier.

Not that the 14-year-old swimmer doesn’t already have a lot on his plate, training with his Hyack Swim Club teammates four mornings and five afternoons a week as well as starting Grade 9 at Coquitlam’s Gleneagle Secondary School in September.

But winning six medals at the Canada Summer Games that recently wrapped up in Niagara Falls, Ont., as well as setting a new national age group record in the 800m freestyle at the 2022 Canadian Junior and Senior Championships in Montreal, Que., where he won four gold medals, three silvers and two bronze, has raised expectations.

Andrew Lennstrom, Hyack’s head coach, said Kim has “bloomed a bit younger than others. He steps up at a lot of the big races.”

Kim himself is also setting his sights higher. He’s targeting the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris “for the experience,” and by 2028, when the Games are in Los Angeles, he’ll be in his competitive prime.

“I like to be challenged,” Kim said. “That’s what pushes me to get better.”

His mother, Rosa, said even though Laon tried several sports after the family immigrated to Coquitlam from Singapore when he was five, he took to the water immediately. Two years after his first swimming lessons at the City Centre Aquatic Complex, he was already in the competitive stream with Hyack.

Kim said he enjoys the discipline of practice, even if it means getting up at four in the morning so he can be at the pool in time for some dryland training before getting in the water at 5:45 a.m. He said the camaraderie of his swim club teammates keeps him engaged, the payoff of personal bests and medals keep him pushing forward.

Many of those medals are displayed proudly in a room in the family’s home on Burke Mountain, said Rosa.

“It inspires him.”

Kim said while he knew he had it in him to set the new national record for his age group in the 800m freestyle, his successes are coming at all distances and strokes; at the Canada Games his medal haul included gold in the 50m freestyle and at nationals he also won gold medal in the 400m and 800m freestyle as well as bronze in the 100m butterfly.

Lennstrom said specialization will come; the next big step for the young swimmer will be competition against older athletes and eventually into meets with no age groups.

“Trying to find ways to keep the challenge going and the chase alive is important,” he said.

That suits Kim just fine.

“I want to get used to people being next to me and actually racing me,” he said. “It helps motivate me.”

• In addition to Kim’s six medals at the Canada Games, Coquitlam’s Peter Huang won five medals in the pool and Justin Jung won two. At nationals, the Hyack club finished second in team points and third overall in the men’s team category.