The success of the return to swimming that has been unfolding across Canada is only possible when there is a high degree of collaboration across many groups that all have a vital role to play in sport.
“Many recognize the positive impact sport has on a nation. Sport is not only part of a healthy lifestyle, it plays a critical role in the Canadian economy, fostering national identity and pride, and social cohesion in the community. The physical and mental health benefits from sport to Canadian society cannot ever be underestimated. This is critical for all of us to remember as we work through the pandemic and also build back from the pandemic,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson.
Swimming Canada has been releasing a variety of data it has compiled demonstrating how the sport has resumed safely and should continue to do so as more pools reopen. It is estimated that at least 282,000 individual training sessions have been completed since pools began reopening, with zero recorded spread of COVID-19 amongst swimmers at pools.
These return plans have been developed with many partners, including the National Return to Sport Taskforce coordinated by Own the Podium, which has an important leadership role in the return to all sport in Canada. This includes sporting partners such as the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Canadian Sport Institute Network, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, Coaching Association of Canada, athlete representatives, performance directors and a strong medical group including the Chief Medical Officers from COC, CPC, Institut National du Sport du Québec and U Sports.
Swimming Canada, meanwhile, has worked in strong collaboration with its provincial sections to help develop their return to swimming plans and, along with the Canadian Swimming Coaches Association, produced a sport-specific plan that is continually reviewed. An updated version will be released soon. Swimming Canada has also collaborated with Lifesaving Society Canada as the return to training plans have been developed.
“The continual work done in each province by the provincial sections to open pools and get access for clubs has been critical to ensuring the safe return. All this shows the importance of collaboration,” Atkinson said. “Our High Performance Centres have received great support from the University of British Columbia, Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, and Institut National du Sport du Québec, as well as the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario and Canadian Sport Institute Pacific.
“As we move forward, we need collaboration from different facility providers who have in many cases been decades-long partners with club and university programs. Opening municipal and university facilities is extremely critical for the sport, and the community as a whole. Our safe risk mitigation plans demonstrate the detail that has been put into the controlled and responsible return to swimming pools. Safe reopening can happen in facilities that have not yet opened or have opened with reduced availability.”
Swimming Canada also faces the challenge of ensuring swimmers can prepare appropriately for the Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials set for April 7-11 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, and keep future Olympic and Paralympic dreams alive.
“It’s important we look at getting competition going again so athletes can prepare for Trials, as we need to get our Olympic and Paralympic teams identified,” Atkinson added. “And our club swimmers now are the future university swimmers in Canada, and some will be the future Olympic and Paralympic swimmers for 2024 and beyond. It’s critical to have all our young swimmers to have the opportunity to return to swimming now.”
In addition to working with its partners to maintain and expand training opportunities, Swimming Canada is also looking to collaborate in the return to competitions.
Among the initiatives being developed is the #SwimAgain Racing Challenge, a second, race-focused phase to follow up on the successful #SwimAgain Challenge which is celebrating the safe return to training across the country. So far 118 clubs have submitted more than 12,000 entries in the first challenge, showing the engagement of clubs from coast to coast. Swimming Canada is also working with U Sports to create racing opportunities for university swimmers.
“Swim meets will not look like they have in the past, but my High Performance team and our events team have already been doing various scenario plans,” Atkinson said. “Building from the return to swimming, as training has continued to be safe, we’re putting together plans for the return to competition that will be just as robust.”
Atkinson pointed to the example of “cold swims,” where swimmers are encouraged to do a dive start and full effort in a racing suit during a training session. For example, 100-m butterfly world champion Maggie MacNeil recently swam a long-course 100 fly in 57.2 seconds during a University of Michigan practice. MacNeil trained at the High Performance Centre – Ontario for an extended period before returning to her U.S. program recently. So did Kylie Masse, who joined HPC regulars such as Rebecca Smith, Finlay Knox, Yuri Kisil and Mack Darragh in travelling to Budapest for the International Swimming League last week.
“Some of our athletes are at the International Swimming League, others have been doing cold swims. Our High Performance Centres in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are doing quality, suited swims. We are looking at other opportunities with our provincial sections to get competition going again,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson added that he expects to announce more details about competition opportunities by early December, followed by specifics regarding Trials in early 2021.
“Through collaborative relationships with facilities, universities, municipalities and other sport partner organizations, we can create a progressive framework to build a competitive structure,” Atkinson said. “We will need to start small and build but it can happen with the combined efforts of those in the swimming community.”
To read part 1, click HERE
To read part 2, click HERE