Zara Johnson and Josh Hiraoka return home from Kamloops with some hardware.

Zara Johnson and Josh Hiraoka return home from Kamloops with some hardware.

Hiraoka returns from provincials with three gold medals

Golden Dolphin superstars Josh Hiraoka and Zara Johnson are celebrating a successful medal run at the provincials in Kamloops.

It was a meet to remember for local swimmer Josh Hiraoka, who went into last weekend’s provincials seeking a gold medal, but instead came home from Kamloops with three of them, plus a bronze.

The gold rush started on Friday when Hiraoka took first place in 50m freestyle, an event he went into ranked 2nd. It was the first provincial gold ever won by a Golden swimmer.

Coming off a disappointing showing at provincials in 2013, an early gold medal was exactly what Hiraoka needed to propel him forward for the rest of the meet.

“After I got the gold, it was just a relief,” he said. “It took some weight off my shoulders.”

With that monkey thrown clear off his back, Hiraoka was playing with house money the rest of the weekend, and it showed.

He added a surprise bronze medal to his tally in 100m butterfly on Saturday, before finishing with a flurry on Sunday, where he won gold medals in both 50m butterfly and 100m freestyle.

While Hiraoka was ranked 1st in 50m butterfly for much of the season, his triumph in 100m freestyle was another surprise win for the talented swimmer.

“I was placed third going into finals and the two kids ahead of me were pretty fast so I just said ‘last big swim of the meet, let’s go for it’,” he said.

“When I touched the wall, I thought I’d come in second, and I was all happy…then I turned around and I realized I finished first.”

Despite the lofty expectations he had for himself, Hiraoka managed to exceed his goals with his dominant performance.

“On the car ride home (with the medals)…I’d just look at them and think ‘this is crazy’…I came here just wanting one and I walked home with three and a bronze. It was surprising,” he laughed.

Hiraoka wasn’t the only Golden Dolphin to take their place on the podium. Zara Johnson also took home a bronze after anchoring the final leg of the regional medley relay team. Her team was in 5th when she hit the water, but Johnson’s strong finishing kick got them onto the podium.

Johnson also swam her personal best in 200m Individual Medley, a gruelling race that combines all four major strokes.

While she was hoping for better performances from some of her individual events (she finished 2nd at provincials in 100m freestyle last season) the 15 year-old will be ready to continue her success next season.

“I hope I can get back on the podium next year,” Johnson said.

“I’d like to focus on it more throughout the year…Overall I’m pretty satisfied, I had a good regionals too, I swam all best times at regionals so that was really good.”

For Hiraoka, he plans to swim next season, but still isn’t sure if he will pursue a swimming career at the university level.

“(Continuing to swim) is more appealing now after those good times…I’ll join the Dolphins (next year) for sure but I probably won’t go as hard as I did this year.”