March 12th, 2015

CANADIAN SWIMMING  – Growing excitement

Canadian swimming has always been something very important to me as a Canadian and active member of the swimming community.  The memories I have on deck from competing at competitions in Canada, the memories I’ve made running media at Canadian competitions, and all the amazing people I’ve met that have impacted Canadian swimming are unforgettable. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Canadian swimming because of all this, and it’s created an understanding of swimming in Canada that not many people have; having been able to view the sport as a competitor, media personnel, a coach, and being able to put faces to the names I constantly hear that bare in imprint on the sport. It’s given me a feel for Canadian swimming, and currently I’m feeling something that I’ve never really felt before: a whole ton of excitement.

Starting off the 2014-2015 season in Canada, I had just come off one of the best trips of my life. I went to California to represent Swimswam on deck at the US Nationals and Pan Pacific Trials, and was awe-struck by the excitement and passion I saw on deck. I met so many fantastic people relevant to our sport, was able to talk to tons of great coaches, and was able to appreciate what a truly high level competition is. When the U.S team was announced and I watched them walk around the pool deck, the crowd began chanting, “USA,” and you could barely hear yourself think. I thought back to it, and couldn’t remember ever experiencing that same excitement in Canada; and then began the 2014-2015 season.

This season was different because we were less than a year away from the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. The new Toronto Pan Am Centre, which would host the

Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre Poolswimming portion of the games, was opened on the 16th of September and with it brought a ton of excitement that I had never seen in Canadian swimming. I was excited, other coaches I talked to were excited, and young swimmers were excited. Some of the swimmers whom I coach were talking about the games, talking about how they want to get tickets, talking about who their favourite swimmers were, something I just had not heard much of.

Now, swimming isn’t a big sport in Canada. Hockey dominates the markets, swimming just doesn’t really do it. It’s been able to grow in other countries mainly due to athletes producing on the international scene. In Canada, there are few athletes who are truly reaching the top pinnacle of international competition. The new facility is here to change that, starting with a ground-up process to develop a program of international excellence in Canadian swimming.

I felt something and knew that Canadian swimming was about to change, and a big part of it was because of the new facility being built in the largest city in Canada.

THE ONTARIO SWIMMING ACADEMY – Redefining high-performance

As soon as the pool was open, it was being put to good use as the Ontario Swimming Academy hosted their first camp led by provincial mentor coach Dean Boles. Some of the best youth swimmers from all around the country were invited to participate in the camp. Rebecca Smith, a current Canadian age-group record holder and one of the most prominent up-and-coming Canadian sprinters, was invited to the camp all the way from Red Deer, Alta. This was Smith’s first visit to the new facility, and would be the only one before she got to compete at the pool’s first high-performance meet, the Ontario Junior International. Smith got a lot out of the camp,

“It was a good camp. It really pushed me and it was nice to be there because I knew I was going to be at this meet [Ontario Junior International] and I got the feel for it.”

These camps are going to be commonplace at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre with the one in September being a trial run of sorts. Provincial camps have been done in the past so this is nothing new, but Boles truly believes that with the resources they have now, the opportunity to grow the camps is huge, and the possibility to improve the swimming of Canada’s best up-and-comers is there like never before.

“We’ve been running camps for years,” said Boles. “It had good impact. I think it had good delivery. It had all the right things except not enough, so with this coming out [the new pool] we felt it really was an opportunity.”

The focus of these camps is high performance. Over the years, it seems as though Canadian swimming hasn’t been improving in order to compete with some of the powerhouse nations. There was a peak of championship performance in the 1980’s with swimmers such as Alex Baumann and Victor Davis earning multiple medals at international competitions. Our relays stacked up against the world, and even up until 2005 the Canadian men’s team was earning medals in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay at the World Championships. Somewhere since then, the idea of high-performance has dropped with only two true international stars coming out of the male Canadian roster in years: Brent Hayden and Ryan Cochrane.

Boles realizes that Canada simply isn’t performing up to par with some of the best teams in the world, and sees the camp as an opportunity to change that. “We don’t have high performance athletes, we really don’t, not by definition anyway,” Boles said. This is what sparked the biggest change to the camps: which athletes would be invited. “It wasn’t going to be filled with big numbers. Part of being lined with Swimming Canada is that they were going to have the high performance centre, and there’s not a lot of athlete’s in it. There just isn’t a lot of athletes meeting the criteria.”

Boles thinks one of the solutions is using the camp to teach kids to look towards international success. “You look at the rankings and you go, that’s pretty nice. You’re in the top five in the province, or top five in the country. When you start applying what the world standard is for the junior age it’s an eye-opening experience to see, that isn’t quite as good as we think it is.” DeanBoles

The camp works towards teaching some of the possible future high-performance athletes what it takes to compete at the international level. The first practice of the camp, they do video feedback with Ryan Atkison. Atkison is a member of the CSIO, the Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario. The CSIO plays a huge part in the success in the program, and is one of the resources which makes training at the new facility such a success. The CSIO offers biomechanists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, and other professionals to aid the athletes that train at the pool. They help both the camps, and the high-performance centre. Atkison, a former swimmer for Western University, is a huge part of the CSIO process.

Following the video feedback the swimmers go into the kitchen to work with Nicole Springle, a nutritionist. They make post-workout snacks and learn about fueling for performance before heading for a dry-land session and another pool session.

“An overriding part of the academy is helping the athlete become responsible, accountable, to their own swimming excellence, and so we give them the tools,” said Boles.

The junior kids will come back four times a year for the academy, but Boles still has means to track their progress even when they’re not training with him at the facility. He uses an app, where they record their best sets, practice times, ect. so he can monitor progress and keep open communication with their coaches. Boles did this leading up to the Ontario Junior International.

THE ONTARIO JUNIOR INTERNATIONAL – Bringing the world to us

The Ontario Junior International was slated to be the first major competition held at the new facility, and much due to Dean Boles, the competition was able to attract some international talent. Among team Ontario, led by Ajax Swimming coach Matt Bell, and some of the finest qualified swimmers in the province, were both American swimming age-group star Michael Andrew and a gold-medal USA Swimming Club NCAP. NCAP boasts one of the best age-group programs in the United States with swimmers such as multi-time world record holder Katie Ledecky, and Cal commit Andrew Seliskar leading its ranks. Seliskar

AndrewSeliskar1was present at the competition, and the Canadian athletes got to see first-hand the prowess of the American swimmers.

“It’s a good vibe to have different competition come in,” said Canadian age-group record holder Danielle Hanus who swam at the meet. “You’re not just racing the same people over and over, you have people from other countries coming in so you know what to expect if you ever make a big team. You know what to do, how to race, what to do to get into the final and possibly on the podium.”

Hanus was one of many swimmers who benefitted from the speed of the pool, breaking the national age-group mark in the short course 100m backstroke held by Florida Gator Sinead Russell with her time of 58.19.

I was lucky enough to be on deck at the meet and get to meet some of the best age-group talent Canada has to offer. It was a humbling experience seeing young athletes acting like international stars when thrust into a facility of this magnitude. It seemed as though all the swimmers were responding to the competition as if it were a championship meet, displaying pure focus and tenacity as fast times were thrown down. There were Canadian records broken by three different swimmers, Ontario records, pool records, and an absolute domination by Seliskar who came up with ten wins. If Canadians needed to see what the most dominant age-group swimmers in the world looked like, they got an idea of it with the likes of Seliskar and Michael Andrew.

“Just to get here and swim with the great blocks and the clean water and the air, it’s really nice,” said Seliskar. “It feels like you’re wearing a Fastskin even if you’re just warming up.”

Seliskar even went on to say that it’s probably the nicest pool he’s ever swam at. Seliskar has travelled all over the United States at some of the best facilities in the world to compete, which truly puts into perspective just how incredible the new pool is. It was fast, plain and simple. I saw it, coaches saw it, and the swimmers felt it. Swimmers were moving fast in prelims, and even faster in finals. Both University of Toronto commit Cameron Kidd and Michael Andrew stated that the pool was very fast. Andrew called it an, “amazing facility.”

Michael AndrewThrough all the records and excitement however, I saw something different. I saw a change. Coaches and swimmers in the United States see fast swimming like Seliskar’s and Andrew’s at every meet they go to. Some of them have been on deck with the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, and at almost any major championship meet in the States you can find an Olympic gold medalists. I thought, why can’t it be like that in Canada? I believe that this meet was the start. Team Ontario head coach Matt Bell said to me during a poolside conversation that he had never seen anyone swim a 400m IM that fast (referencing Seliskar’s 4:04 where he was eventually disqualified for submerging on his back to breast transition). Bell took notice of Seliskar’s underwaters. Throughout the meet Seliskar was destroying his competition with his amazing underwater kicking, submerging more than any of the Canadian competitors in all the races. Bell said to me that in Canada, coaches are focused on getting swimmers to the 15-meter mark rather than getting them there fast, and that is where the problem lies. This was a special moment for me. I saw a coach, who works with some of the best young athletes in Canada, looking at the success of one of the best age-group swimmers in the world and thinking, we can do that, all we need to do is this.

“The intent was to bring the world to us. We really felt with a world-class facility like the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre that we had to actually expose what we have to offer out to the world. We want to expose our swimmers to the world so that they can get better,” said Boles.

Speaking to the athletes throughout the meet gave me the feeling that the young swimmers who work with Boles at the academy along with other Canadian talent were in agreement with Boles statement. They seemed to perform faster at an international facility with international talent present.

“It helps us realize what the world’s bests are doing and that is going to help us move forward faster,” said Boles.

FUNNELING SUCCESS – Keeping talent at home

Canada has some of the most successful age-group swimmers in the world, but it seems as though there’s a gap when translating that success to international results. The Junior Pan Pacific Championships results versus the Pan Pacific Championships results show a great divide between the success of Canada’s youth, and their older counterparts.

At Junior Pan Pacs the Canadian team came home with a total of 13 medals, which included three relay medals. Overall, the Canadians finished fourth in both the men’s and women’s categories beating out the Chinese and falling shy only to the USA, Japan, and Australia. There were swimmers who earned multiple medals as well, and overall, the junior team had a better showing than the senior team. It’s not an apples to apples comparison of course, both meets are different and both have different levels of competition. Some nations are more involved in junior meets than others.

At the Pan Pacific Championships Canada had one swimmer on the men’s side take home a medal, and that was Ryan Cochrane. Cochrane was the oldest swimmer on the men’s roster. The women’s side was more successful, with two swimmers grabbing podium spots. Along with the individual performances, Canada medalled in both the women’s 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay.

There’s some key information about all the athletes that grabbed medals that might go to show why Canada’s junior squad is in fact pumping out better results than the

Ryan Cochrane was untouchable in the 400 free (photo: Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography)

Ryan Cochrane was untouchable in the 400 free (photo: Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography)

senior squad. Starting with the men’s team, Ryan Cochrane is the oldest swimmer on the team by a decent amount. He’s only 26, and he’s the oldest swimmer on the roster. Canadian swimming overall has a very young face right now. The average age on the men’s 2014 Commonwealth Games roster was 19.7. It’s estimated that peak performances for men ranges between the ages of 23-26, and the fact of the matter is Canadians aren’t staying in the pool long enough.

The women’s team is plenty more successful than the men’s at the current time. The women’s Commonwealth Games team fits into the idea that women hit their peak around 21-23. The average age on the women’s roster is within that range, sitting at 21.6, but overall it is also a young team.

The United States was the most dominant team at the 2014 Pan Pacs. The men’s roster was an average age of 24.1 with the women averaging 22.4. In the States this proves one of two things. One, that their championship swimmers are staying in the pool longer in order to reach their peaks, and that there are viable options after collegiate competition. Most collegiate swimmers are between the ages of 18-22. It’s well known there are plenty of viable training options for swimmers cross the United States. Canada’s best female swimmers right now however are college students in the NCAA system.

Now, the other issue stems from who are the most dominant figures on the Canadian team. At Pan Pacs, that was Brittany MacLean and Chantal Van Landeghem. Both are in the NCAA system at this current time. Dominique Bouchard, Marni Oldershaw, Kierra Smith, and Brookylnn Snodgrass are also all swimmers who compete in the NCAA system. Michelle Williams, another swimmer on the roster, is a graduate who swam with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

There’s no denying that plenty of Canada’s best swimmers are looking south of the border for training options after their age-group careers are solidified. Cochrane is the exception. He’s been on the senior national team since his debut in 2006 at the Pan Pacific Championships. There, at 17, he took home a bronze medal in the 800m freestyle. He’s an exception to Canadian swimming at the moment. As a swimmer who was successful at a young age, he was able to continue swimming in order to reach the age where most swimmers reach their peaks.

Now, the High Performance Centre at the new Pan Am pool is looking to create a place for athletes to train in order to achieve international success. It’s a place where swimmers can grow and develop, as well as a place where swimmers can train after collegiate competition in order to stay in the pool and have the means to reach their peaks. 

“It’s going to be very very difficult to change the culture in Canada of ‘oh I’ll go to the US’,” said Ontario High Performance Centre head coach Ben Titley. “We’re trying to create a culture of performance where by the very best kids can learn from the best kids in order to try and raise their level of performance.”

The goal is to start them young. Start them as kids who come in for the camps with Dean Boles at the Ontario Swimming Academy, and filter them into the high performance centre. “We need to get a system in place that helps identify, scout, develop, better swimming but also if there’s the diamond in the rough then we can funnel them in to the high performance centre,” said Boles.

HPC – International Success  

The new pool fits into our overall plan by creating a world-class daily training environment where athletes can train under the guidance of a world-class coach in a world-class facility.” – Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson

There are several High Performance Centres across Canada with ones present in Victoria, Vancouver, Montreal (the intensive training program), and Ontario. The Ontario one was previously held at the University of Toronto main campus at the varsity pool, but has since been switched. Head coach Ben Titley likes the change, “having the space and the availability to actually do what we’d like to do in a performance environment rather than compromising what we’d like to do to fit into a non performance environment is a huge difference.”

Toronto Pan Am

Titley was kind enough to give me a tour of the facility in October, and to say that it is a fantastic performance environment is an understatement. The pool itself was just drop-dead beautiful. Titley first took me through to the pool and I was amazed by what I saw. The pool-deck was huge, the pool was incredible, the whole set-up was outstanding, and I was in absolute awe. We walked through the pool deck, moved towards the dry-land area, and then into the CSIO gym. The gym was something special because it was a gym designated solely for elite athlete usage. All in all, it was incredible. There were so many resources for the athletes to use that it was undoubtedly fit to foster success. The question remained however, where do you get these successful athletes from? CSIOGYM

Right now there are not a whole lot of athletes in Canada who truly fall under the category of high-performance as Dean Boles described it. In Titley’s group there are very few swimmers. There’s world championships bronze medalist Martha McCabe, Zack Chetrat, Michelle Williams, and Sandrine Mainville. “We can make them maximize their potential,” Titley said.

The CSIO is one of the newer features of the HPC Ontario, which makes the new training environment so successful. Just like with the camps and Ontario Swimming Academy, the CSIO plays a huge involvement in the development of the athletes. Ryan Atkison helps with the video footage, which is a huge part of Titley’s program. The athletes have biomechanists, nutritionists, and a whole slew of staff at their fingertips for day-to-day use. The program is truly refined with the new pool and the CSIO to target world-class performance.

These athletes didn’t exactly grow up with the goal to be in the high performance centre ,however, it just fit into their training as they grew older. The goal now is to funnel the younger athletes into the program. Rather than looking to the NCAA system for training options, these select few who show true potential for international success will be able to continually grow in the same environment. If they chose to pursue post-secondary education, many of the top CIS schools in the country are linked to the high performance centres.

“Let us help a kid at 14, 15, 16, and then let us work with the kid from 17, 18, 19, and 20, 21, 22 then by the time they’re 23 they can be on the medal rush during the World Champs as opposed to us dealing with what we can deal with when we get a semi-finished product back,” said Titley. “Us trying to be ahead of the curve on that and providing that service for them is hopefully what we can do to change the level of international success that Canada can have, but to really do that, the reality is we need the best athletes here. Canada needs to find one or two really good athletes a year that buy into the fact that they want to be a world level swimmer sooner rather than later.”

 THE LEGACY– Building a foundation of success from the ground up

It’s been a good chunk of the season and there’s no doubt that the excitement is still in the air. The Canadian trials are rapidly approaching, an event which will be the first major national competition held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. People are excited about the new pool. Athletes are excited about the new pool. 100m freestyle world record holder Cesar Cielo was in disbelief about how fast the pool was when he visited Toronto. Even Natalie Coughlin, who is tied as the most decorated female Olympic swimmer in history, said that she, “heard the pool was fantastic.”

There’s an unprecedented buzz, a hype, surrounding pools in Canada for the first time in what feels like years. There’s a plan set up, an initiative, a pathway to lead Canada towards better results in the pool.

“Impact on international results is a product of coaching and training,” said Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson. “The plan is in place by the coaches working daily in the pool, along with our partners Swim Ontario who are offering great programs in the facility that swimmers throughout Ontario will benefit from. This centre will improve both the daily training environment of Canadian athletes and be a great pool for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. As such the international performance of Canadian athletes can be enhanced for the future.”

The pieces are put into place. The system is set up. Everyone is seeing the potential of what could be. Now, all there is to do is sit back and wait as the new era of Canada’s international swimming stars slowly emerge onto the scene, bringing with them the hope of a new age in Canadian swimming full of prosperity and success.

 

Source : Swim Swam