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Ashton Baumann accustomed to comparisons to famous dad

Same eyes, same smile, same ambling gait.

The resemblance between Ashton Baumann and his famous swimming father Alex — circa 1984 — is unmistakable.

The 18-year-old Baumann, who's making his international swimming debut at the Pan American Games, has become accustomed to the inevitable comparisons from anybody who ever saw his double Olympic gold-medallist dad slice through a pool.

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"Everyone always says that my sister (Tabitha) looks like my mother and I look exactly like my dad. I don't know if that's exactly true, I think it's more of a blend, I don't think I have my dad's teeth or nose for instance," Baumann said laughing. "But other than that, there's quite a resemblance.

"I do get that a lot," he added. "It's tiring after a while, but it will always be there, so there's not much I can do with it, I just try to let it run off my back."

The younger Baumann, who was the sixth fastest qualifier in Tuesday's 200-metre breaststroke heats, only began swimming competitively four years ago when his family moved to Ottawa from Australia.

As the son of one of Canada's greatest swimmers — Alex won gold in both the 200 and 400-metre individual medley at the Los Angeles Olympics, his victory in the 400 ending an Olympic swimming gold drought that stretched 72 years — you'd think he'd have grown up in the pool. But Baumann said his dad never steered him in that direction. He let his son find his own way.

"I did other sports growing up but nothing really consistently, I'd try something for a while but I never really did anything competitively or consistently for more than two or three months," said Baumann, who still speaks with an Aussie accent from a childhood spent Down Under. "When I first came to Canada, it was more a sense of be active, just do something, be physically active to have a healthy body.

"I tried swimming and fell in love with it, so it was a good fit."

His dad, now 47, maintains a low-key demeanour when it comes to his son's sporting endeavours. Before Ashton's race, he sent a good-luck text.

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"He said, go out and have fun, try to go fast but in the end it doesn't matter, just go for the experience," Ashton said.

Blessed with the long limbs of his six-foot-two dad, along with a great attitude and work ethic, Ashton is quickly developing into one of Canada's top young swimmers, claiming his first Canadian breaststroke title this past summer.

He looked loose in swimming two minutes 18:59 seconds Tuesday, sticking his tongue out at the camera as he sauntered past to the starting blocks.

"I was just trying to loosen up my nerves because I was quite nervous, it was my first individual race, I was just trying to mess around a bit, just lighten the tension a bit," said Baumann, who was scheduled to swim in the finals Tuesday night.

His best time is 2:15.72, still a fair distance from Mike Brown's Canadian record of 2:08.84 set at the 2008 Olympics.

Last year, Baumann broke an Ontario age-group breaststroke record that had belonged to Victor Davis — his dad's old friend and teammate and also a double medallist (gold and silver) at the '84 Games.

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Pierre Lafontaine, Swimming Canada's CEO and national coach, hopes Ashton will be considered on his own merits, and not held up to expectations that inevitably come from being the child of a sporting star.

"I think Ashton is his own person, he's a great addition to the team, he stands his own ground, he's fun to have around, he's just one of the kids," Lafontaine said. "He really can't live in his father's shoes, he needs to be his own person and he does that very well."

But even Lafontaine said the comparisons are unavoidable.

"The interesting thing is the other coaches, the Brazilian coaches or whatever, say: 'Is that. . . ?"' he said. "Funny thing is Alex made his first Pan Am team in '79, and Ashton, this is his first Pan Am team here, so it's kind of a fun statistic, but he is such his own person, which is really kind of fun."

While Baumann is competing for Canada in Mexico, there's no guarantee he'll continue to wear the Canadian colours. He could also compete for Australia, where he was born, his father's home after he retired from competitive swimming. After the Games, Baumann will follow his parents to Auckland, N.Z., as Alex Baumann recently resigned as CEO of Own the Podium to take a similar position in New Zealand.

Baumann was asked if being part of the team in Mexico had him learning more toward wearing Canada's swim cap permanently.

"A little bit," he said. "It's been a great experience with the whole team, they're a great bunch of swimmers and coaches."

Lafontaine said Baumann could easily have turned down a spot on the Canadian team, moved to New Zealand and taken more time to ponder his national team future.

"Ashton is here swimming for the national team, there are certain rules that are hard to change when kids want to change nationalities, it just doesn't happen like this," Lafontaine said.

"I think it was not just honourable, it was classy to say, you know what, I'm here, I made the team with Canada, I'm going to compete for Canada, and I'm going to stay with Canada. That's where he's at. Right now he's here, and we're going to give him the environment to do what he wants."

Baumann will train with Mark Regan, an Australian and a friend of Lafontaine's. The plan is to fly the swimmer to Canada to compete at the national championships and participate in team camps.

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