A tidal wave of momentum continues to sweep across the Canadian swimming landscape as athletes prepare to hit the reset button with a busy summer schedule ahead.
Canadian swimmers are hoping to build on the success of the Tokyo Olympics where they won six medals, followed by a historic medal haul at the short course world championships in December where the country’s swimmers won 15 medals.
Strong performances at the U Sports and NCAA swimming championships have given Canadian athletes international attention as well.
“We had an amazing swim,” John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director, told CBC Sports. “People are now ready to get back to what I would describe as our first trials since 2019. What’s really exciting is that the whole swimming community is back and racing.”
Now Atkinson wants to make sure the team keeps going.
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For the first time in three years, Swimming Canada is holding full National Trials with over 500 swimmers from 131 clubs across Canada. It starts Tuesday at Saanich Commonwealth Place in Victoria, B.C.
The six days of competition will be used to select Swimming Canada teams that will compete at the World Championships in June in Budapest, Hungary, the Commonwealth Games a month later in Birmingham, England, as well as the World Para Swimming Championships scheduled for June in Madeira, Portugal.
Teams participating in the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii and the Open Water Junior World Championships in Seychelles will also be selected.
The talent of the Canadian team is breathtaking right now, with some suggesting this is the golden age of swimming in Canada.
This is something Atkinson is passionate about right now. But there is no time to rest on past successes; with the Tokyo Games having been delayed for a year, time is already running out for the next Paris Olympics in two years.
Atkinson says these trials are a chance to assess where everyone is at while keeping them focused on the larger goal of progressing to other Games. It’s also a chance to identify new talent.
WATCH | Kylie Masse wins silver:
“The program is building. We have our established athletes performing and you have to continue this treadmill of adding athletes year after year, while allowing everyone to move forward. It builds depth,” said said Atkinson.
Penny Oleksiak, 21, Canada’s most decorated Olympian with seven career medals, is preparing for another push towards the Games. 22-year-old Maggie Mac Neil won all colors in Tokyo, including gold in the 100-metre butterfly, and was recently named Swimming Canada’s Swimmer of the Year.
Kylie Masse is FINA’s most decorated swimmer in Canada with 11 medals, while Sydney Pickrem, Taylor Ruck, Kayla Sanchez, Katerine Savard, Rebecca Smith and Tessa Cieplucha are all well-known swimmers who also pose a threat in the pool .
And then there’s 15-year-old Summer McIntosh, who last month swam the third-fastest time ever in the 400 individual medley.
“An incredible young lady,” Atkinson said of McIntosh. “She’s 15. She may have been to an Olympics, she may have swum an Olympic final, but she’s still getting better. I know it’s the old adage to do what you do. can do to improve, but that has always been our mantra.”
WATCH | Summer McIntosh wins silver in the 400m individual medley:
The men’s program continues to grow, led by one of the sport’s rising stars. Josh Liendo, 19, has just been named Swimming Canada’s junior swimmer of the year.
He competed at the Tokyo Olympics and then won three medals at the short course world championships. Atkinson hopes to build a group of athletes around Liendo now and in the future leading up to Paris.
“You’re two years away from the Games. We’ll see some new names this year,” Atkinson said. “There are a lot of things coaches and athletes can look at to stay motivated. Adding different events keeps things fresh and adds motivation.”
Notably absent from these trials was longtime Canadian coach Ben Titley, whose contract was not renewed by Swimming Canada after it expired in early March.
Titley helped the Canadian team achieve two very successful Olympic performances. He has since joined the Spanish team’s coaching staff.
Titley, of England, has overseen the CHP in Toronto since 2012, where he has coached several swimmers including Oleksiak, Masse, McIntosh and Liendo.
Atkinson won’t go into detail as to why Titley’s contract wasn’t renewed, but wishes Titley the best in his future endeavours.
“I think he’s been exceptional in what he’s done with female athletes and the way he’s gotten them through. Like everything, we have things happening where people didn’t expect let it go. That’s how I would phrase it,” Atkinson said.
“Obviously he’s heading for new pastures. I wish him nothing but the best. And now we’re working with the athletes and the program moving forward.”