October 1st, 2014


With another international swimming season in the books, Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson recently attended the Canadian Swimming Congress, where he had a chance to share his vision with coaches from across the country. Atkinson also took some time for an in-depth interview as we turn the page to a new season of swimming. After a successful summer that saw Canada win 11 medals at Commonwealth Games, seven at Pan Pacific Championships and an astounding 67 at Para Pan Pacs, Atkinson answered a few questions about his first full season and what lies ahead for Canadian swimming.



Q: You bring a wealth of experience from your background in Australia and Great Britain. What can you draw from that experience to bring to Canada?

A: Some other nations have a “no compromise” approach to funding and teams. If a sport is identified as not having a realistic chance to win medals at the next Olympics they receive no funding. Own The Podium is moving towards that model of absolute expectations that funding goes towards winning medals at Olympic Games. Performance at the Olympic level is expected. Swimming Canada is supporting that goal and I’m accountable for it. We’re working together with them and our other partners such as Sport Canada to attain Olympic success.

Q: What funding supports the Swimming Canada program?

A: Our major funding partner Own The Podium is working with us to achieve High Performance, which is essentially about winning medals at the Olympics. Everything else builds to this goal. Standards have been considered and we believe performance needs to improve, that’s why we are implementing the High Performance Plan approved by Own The Podium.

Q: How does Swimming Canada work alongside Canadian Interuniversity Sport?

A: We are independent organizations with our own governing structures and decision-making processes. For example, CIS consulted their own coaches and universities in order to move their February championships over to long-course finals. We also cooperate with the CIS on designing selection processes for the FISU Games, for which we coordinate the team and staff. Swimming Canada encourages athletes to train in Canadian-based universities.

Q: There are many different training options available to swimmers today, from CIS to NCAA to Swimming Canada High Performance Centres to the many excellent clubs in the country. What are your thoughts on them?

Swimming Canada is actively supporting investment in the Swimming Canada High Performance Centres in Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto, as well as the Intensive Training Program in Montreal. We support athletes when they choose to stay and swim in Canada, whether that is with centres, universities or club programs.

When athletes choose to train in the USA we also continue to work with them. I personally have made several visits to American universities so those athletes know they are important team members. We believe athletes staying in Canada will be well taken care of but we also respect the decision by some athletes who have moved to the USA. We actively work with those swimmers and keep in regular contact with them and their coaches. NCAA swimmers are able to access senior-level carding funding when they are back in Canada during summer breaks, and we’re also able to support other swimmers training in the USA who are not bound by the NCAA financial regulations.

Swimmers from all types of programs had good results this summer and we will be successful by supporting all Canadian swimmers.

Q: What other opportunities and programs are there for Canadian swimmers?

In addition to the major championships for pool and open water swimmers, both senior and junior, there are several other opportunities. We also have the Mare Nostrum tour and other tours such as the Australian Age Group Championships and specific initiatives such as relay camps. We are also looking at introducing what we will call a Smart Track program aiming at delivering advanced opportunities for identified athletes.

Q: Overall how do you feel about your first full year as High Performance Director?

We need to adapt to the rising standards of world swimming, and hold our teams to those standards, which we are doing as part of our High Performance Plan that was approved by Own the Podium. For Canada, that means targeted investment to develop the next crop of athletes, while supporting those who are progressing to High Performance and already performing at a world-class level.

We have had changes from the top down, with new employees in various departments working hard to find ways for Canada to compete against the best in the world. We are focused on improvement rates and identifying who is most likely to progress towards High Performance, and we’re challenging Canada’s swimmers and coaches to get on board.


Source: Swim Swam