His coach calls him humble and quiet. And when talking to the soft-spoken Philippe Demers, the idea this Santa Margarita High School junior just might be the best American boys’ high school swimmer in competitive Orange County is mind-boggling.
But the facts are in. With the exception of Mission Viejo’s Bart Kizierowski, who will represent his native Poland in the Olympics this summer, Demers is not only among the best in Orange County, but one of those few who continue to remain at the top in California and the United States in his age group.
In a recent national top-16 poll in Swimming World magazine, Demers, a Times first-team all-county pick, was No. 1 in the 200-yard freestyle and 200 butterfly and was ranked second in the 100 fly.
Demers, 16, was one of the youngest in the nation to qualify for the Olympic trials in Indianapolis two weeks ago and, in fact, the only high school boy from the county who participated.
Demers will tell you he didn’t have the kind of meet he would have liked, but still is proud to have taken part.
“Looking back now, I think I could have done better [at the trials],” Demers said. “When I swam my events, I didn’t think I was nervous, but in reflection, I think I was.”
Demers’ events at the trials were the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter butterfly. In each of those events his times were not his best. He finished an impressive 18th place in the 200 fly.
“I had a better meet in November at the U.S. Nationals,” he said. “I was a little disappointed at my times at the trials, but it’s a very hard meet. The best swimmers in the nation are there. I mean, I’ve swam before with a lot of these guys at other meets. But at the Olympic trials, it’s a little intense.”
Only the top two in the final individual events qualify for a spot on the U.S. team.
“You’re not going to the trials to look for new friends,” Demers said. “There’s only one reason you’re there, and that’s to make the Olympic team.”
Though Demers’ times at the trials didn’t place him anywhere near the top, he understands that in most cases a male swimmer doesn’t really start reaching his peak performance level until his early 20s.
“I guess I’m still a little young,” he said. “Hopefully, when the next Olympic trials come around, I’ll hit it right on.”
Demers said he will get back into the water today and will start training with his high school and club teams.
“It will be good to have Philippe back in the water for us,” Santa Margarita Coach Rick Rowland said. “He’s a vital component for our team. He makes our relays. And as an anchor, he can literally bring us from behind and win it for us.”
As an example, Rowland said he remembers one 200 freestyle relay last season when Demers, who was swimming anchor, made up 25 yards to catch an opposing swimmer and win the relay. Said Rowland: “That’s how good he is.”
As a sophomore last year at the Southern Section Division I finals, Demers won the 200-yard freestyle and the 100 butterfly. His time of 49.90 seconds in the 100 fly was just shy of setting a section record.
“Except for Kizierowski, I don’t think anybody can touch Philippe,” Rowlands said. “We’re just lucky to have him.”
Demers said he doesn’t really feel he’s anything special. In fact, he said he feels lucky to be able to swim for the high school team and have some time to unwind a little.
“It’s really nice to come back after the trials and get back into high school swimming,” Demers said. “It’s fun for me. I’m able to hang out with my friends and have a good time. There isn’t that pressure and it gives me a little break from it all.”
Demers used to swim with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, but switched clubs in September to join former assistant coach Jack Simon, who formed a club in Long Beach.
“Jack was my coach at Mission, so when he left it seemed best to go with him,” Demers said. “I didn’t leave Mission Viejo under bad circumstances, but I felt it would be better for my swimming career to stay with Jack.”
Because his father works in the petroleum industry, Demers has been around. Born in Bahrain, Demers’ family moved to Canada, where his mom enrolled him in a swimming school at age 4. After a few years in Canada, Demers’ family moved to Texas, where he joined a swim club. By then, Demers was demonstrating talent and was competing in Junior Olympic meets. When he was 12, Demers’ family moved to Orange County.
“This is the only sport I do,” Demers said. “I tried playing baseball when I was younger, but I didn’t catch on to that. But there isn’t any other sport I would rather do. The training can sometimes get to you, but like any sport, you have good days and bad days.”