After they once again led their protégés to the top of world championship podiums, Swimming Canada’s Coaches of the Year for 2019 are Linda Kiefer and Mike Thompson for their work with the Olympic and Paralympic programs.
Kiefer, the long-time assistant head coach at the University of Toronto, was honoured for the third straight year.
Earlier this week, U of T backstroke specialist Kylie Masse, the first Canadian to win back-to-back FINA World Championships gold medals, was named the country’s best female swimmer for the third consecutive campaign.
“It’s nice to be recognized. But this is a shared award for both Byron (Macdonald, U of T head coach) and myself,” said Kiefer. “It was a very good year. Certainly, Kylie getting her hand on the wall for that gold medal in the 100-m back at worlds, that was amazing.”
At the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, in August, Masse not only defended her 100-m title, she also added bronze in the 200-m backstroke and helped the women’s 4×100-m medley relay finish third.
“She was (tied for fourth) I think at the turn in the 100 back. She had an awesome last five metres. Her touch is amazing,” said Kiefer. “It has been an amazing ride with Kylie so far. The fact that since 2016, when she claimed Olympic bronze, she has always been in the top three in the world in the 100 back is pretty special. Not a lot of swimmers stay in that place year after year.”
While Masse was the one making international headlines, Kiefer was delighted with the achievements of the U of T program as a whole over the past season.
“We had seven swimmers on the FISU Games team last summer, two on the junior national team, and we have one girl on the Estonian national team who went to worlds as well. Add another 35 or so varsity athletes, keeps us busy.”
Meanwhile, Thompson, the head coach at Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec, merited his first Swimming Canada coaching award.
At the World Para Swimming Championships in London, in September, his six HPC pupils combined for eight podium finishes and three Canadian records, including two gold medals by Aurélie Rivard, named country’s female Para Swimmer of the Year for a record-tying fourth time.
“I’m an Aurélie Rivard fan and I’ll always be. She joined us in 2017 and really bought in,” said Thompson, whose other protégés in the UK’s capital included Tess Routliffe, James Leroux, Morgan Bird, Danielle Kisser and Zach Zona. “Tess had some of the gutsiest performances at worlds. And James coming back from not making the Pan Pac team in 2018 to win a silver medal was pretty amazing.
“Watching our group grow as people, become better racers and develop things in their personal lives makes me the proudest. I love these guys and they make me proud every day.”
Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate Director of High Performance and Para Swimming National Coach, didn’t hide his admiration for Thompson’s work in London.
“Mike’s 2019 world championships were a testament to his meticulous planning, attention to detail and elite swimming experience. The results his swimmers earned in London were a product of his excellent coaching and management of a true world-class daily training environment and his ability to help swimmers get their best result on the day that matters.”
Kiefer and Thompson both pride themselves in having great people, not just great swimmers, within their programs, and see it as a key component leading up to Tokyo 2020.
“Going into an Olympic year, the messages remain the same: Be consistent. With swimming, with weights, with life. Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing,” said Kiefer. “We coach swimming, yes. But we also coach ‘life lessons.’ We want to produce amazing athletes for sure. But we want amazing people to come out of our program. I say no to the athletes a lot. Byron is the good cop. I’m the bad cop. We have been together for 31 years now. Something is working.”
“We really value fun and professionalism in training, so it’s very important to find people who share the same values as us and can demonstrate those values – really live them – every day that we are together,” said Thompson. “We want people that want to help grow the Paralympic movement and visibility.
“It was great to see our guys perform in London. This was the first time in three years, since Rio, that the world’s best Para swimmers had been together in one spot. I know that this concept was stressful for everyone. 2019 gave our guys the confidence to battle and fight against the rest of the world next summer in Tokyo.”