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Tiny island nation looks to make big Olympic splash

Theirs is an Island tale with a Canadian twist. A story where improbability met opportunity and rewarded them both with more than they dreamed.

Shaune Fraser is telling that story, his brother's, too. When he's done, you have to make sure you've got it right.

"Okay, you and Brett were born to a mom from the Cayman Islands and a dad from Calgary, learned to swim in the Caribbean Sea, learned to race in a compact six-lane, 25-metre pool, were recruited by the University of Florida, were teammates with U.S. star Ryan Lochte, won multiple U.S. NCAA all-America honours, became American college champions, finished a historic 1-2 at the 2011 Pan American Games and now you're off to the Olympics again, right?"

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Yes, answers Shaune, "We try to make the most of the chances we're given."

Meet the unsinkable Frasers, perhaps the most resourcefully intriguing duo at London's Olympic Aquatic Centre. Together, they are many things – siblings, rivals, world-class swimmers from a small country where a large number of the 54,000-plus residents don't know how to swim.

They're also proof swimming has evolved into a worldly sport.

In 1976, in Montreal, eight countries won all the medals in the pool. In 2008, in Beijing, 21 nations reached the podium. London is expected to be more of the same, with the Frasers hoping to be in the thick of it.

They're entrants in one of these Olympics' prized events, the men's 200-metre freestyle.

To get to the final, their rivals will likely include two of their former Florida teammates, Lochte and Conor Dwyer. Until recently, Michael Phelps would have been in the mix but he withdrew from the 200 free after winning it at the U.S. Olympic trials. Even without Phelps, the competition is ravenous.

Do the brothers have a chance? They believe they do.

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"We've squeezed all the juice from the orange," says Shaune, 24. "We're in our prime."

"I'm a lot stronger," adds Brett, 22. "I've gotten more experience, way more than I had going into Beijing."

For Shaune, this will be his third Olympics. He competed in Athens at 16. For Brett, this will be his second Games. The brothers carried the Cayman Islands flag at the 2008 opening and closing ceremonies. In 2012, the brothers comprise 40 per cent of the nation's Olympic team (three track athletes will join them in London).

While those Olympic experiences were enjoyable, this one will be about competing full out and seeing where they rank among the elite in their event.

How they got there is the stuff of Island lore.

Jim Fraser, the dad, was born in Estevan, Sask., but grew up in Calgary. His athletic prowess was football and he played as an offensive lineman for the University of Calgary Dinos. When his career ended, he travelled to the Cayman Islands to meet up with a friend, Peter Ribbins, a former CFL player who recently died of Parkinson's disease.

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Fraser got into the health club business, with Ribbins's help, then later turned to real estate.

Along the way, Fraser met his wife, Laurice, and the couple had three sons. (The youngest, Kyle, is 16.)

One of the first things Fraser did after each of his boys was born was introduce them to the water.

"It's amazing in the Cayman Islands that there are a lot of people who can't swim," Jim Fraser says. "I took all my sons and I had them in the ocean. When they were 1 or 2, they could jump into the water and dog paddle. They loved being around the beaches. I had that comfort."

Brett recalls how his favourite childhood memory was coming home after school, ditching his books then heading to the pool, where he and his brother stayed until dark.

Shaune was eventually tutored by American coach Dave Kelsheimer on the Island before earning a chance to attend a private high school in Jacksonville. That got him a scholarship at Florida under Gregg Troy, the prolific head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic swim team.

In four years, Shaune earned 27 all-America accolades, the most by a male swimmer in Florida Gators history. He added an NCAA record in the 200 butterfly and a school record in the 200 free.

Brett was no slouch after securing his Gators scholarship. He won the NCAA 200 free title last year, then beat his brother to capture the first Pan Am Games gold medal in Cayman Islands history.

Now, the brothers, who also hold Canadian citizenship, have their sights set on making the final of the Olympic 200 free and seeing what comes of that.

"We kept a close eye on the U.S. trials," Shaune says. "We competed on the same collegiate team with Ryan [Lochte] for three years. Coach Troy worked with us and is probably the best coach in the business. We know what we're up against."

"It was very motivating," Brett says. "We're going to see those guys soon."

What their rivals will be seeing are two swimmers who have made the most of their breaks and are keen to make these Olympics their most memorable yet.

As their father optimistically notes: "People ask me what it's like [having sons competing against one another] and I say, 'If they both make the finals, you've 2/8ths of a chance at winning a medal instead of 1/8th.'"

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More


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