By: Rebecca Cheverton
After successful performances at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the swimmers and staff at Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centres (HPC) in Vancouver and Ontario are back to work ready to strengthen their programs for the upcoming season.
Canada’s performance came after a world-wide pandemic postponed the Games a year, closed pools across the country, cancelled competitions and disrupted athletes’ training.
That didn’t stop the Canadian team from winning six medals. Most notably HPC-Ontario’s Penny Oleksiak won three medals, making her the most decorated Canadian Olympic athlete in history. Kylie Masse won two silver medals in the 100 and 200-m backstroke and was part of the bronze medal 4×100-m medley relay team along with HPC-Ontario full-timers Oleksiak and Sydney Pickrem, as well as Maggie Mac Neil, who trained with the centre during her final preparations for Trials and Games.
Of the 26 swimmers on the Olympic team, 14 were members of the High Performance Centres: 12 on the pool side and two in open water.
“The High Performance Centre network was critical toward the success of the Swimming Canada team in the pool at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and the centres will continue to be a large part of the strategy toward Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “The coaches and the athletes did a great job maintaining their focus towards Tokyo. That was possible due to the support to Swimming Canada programs from Own the Podium, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee.”
The centres will look to build on this success for the upcoming season that has two major competitions, the FINA World Championships (50-m) and Commonwealth Games. They will also look at continued improvement heading towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
The future looks bright as a number of young swimmers have earned a position in one of the two HPCs over the past two years to continue the development of Swimming Canada’s next generation of elite athletes. New to HPC-Ontario this season is Regan Rathwell of Ottawa (coached by Jason Allen at GO Kingfish), and Ashley McMillan of Penticton, B.C. (Tina Hoeben/KISU). The swimmers will work with head coach Ben Titley and associate head coach Ryan Mallette, who placed 10 of their full-time swimmers on the Olympic team. Johnny Fuller, Swimming Canada’s Manager, Paramedical Services, heads up the integrated support team.
“It has been such a privilege being here and getting to train with the swimmers and the coaches,” said McMillan. “The training is definitely on a whole new level and I am absolutely loving it. Everyone has been so welcoming, and getting to train with the best in the world every day is super inspiring.”
McMillan said the decision to move across the country was a big one, but the opportunity to train in a high performance environment is a dream come true.
“I am excited for pretty much everything this season, but I am especially looking forward to all of the racing opportunities HPC-ONT has set up for us this year, as well as continuing to develop as an athlete and a person,” said McMillan.
Emma O’Croinin of Edmonton (Paul Birmingham/Edmonton Keyano Swim Club) made her FINA World Championships debut in 2019. Amid the challenges of the pandemic, she joined HPC-Vancouver for better training opportunities and is continuing to work with the team in hopes of making another World Championships team in 2022. O’Croinin will train under coach Brad Dingey, who was named head coach of HPC-Vancouver in August 2020. Dingey coached open water swimmers Kate Sanderson and Hau-Li Fan to their first Olympic Games.
Summer McIntosh and Elan Daley (Kevin Thorburn/Etobicoke Swim Club) also joined HPC-Ontario in 2020. McIntosh was the youngest swimmer on the Olympic team. The 14-year-old placed fourth in the 400-m freestyle and set two Canadian records.
“All our swimmers started their career in club programs,” Atkinson added. “As new members have joined the High Performance Centre programs, we recognize the work done in club programs with their coaches across Canada, supported by their provincial sections.”
Returning veterans to HPC-Ontario include Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Kayla Sanchez, Finlay Knox, Josh Liendo, and Yuri Kisil.
Returning to HPC- Vancouver are Danielle Hanus, Hau-Li Fan, Raben Dommann and two-time Olympian Markus Thormeyer.
Hau-Li Fan is continuing his hard work at HPC-Vancouver after a successful Olympic debut. Fan placed ninth in the 10-km marathon swimming event in Tokyo.
Fan said that training with a group of swimmers at the centre who were all pursuing the same goal gave him a sense of comradery and helped him push himself every day to help him achieve his dream of making the Olympics.
“This year I am focusing on fine-tuning the skills I have developed in open water and swimming in general whilst also balancing my life outside the pool in order to improve my mental health and allow me to stay positive in and outside of the pool,” said Fan.
Fan said his favourite part about training at HPC-Vancouver is being part of a program that has produced many top swimmers. Since the centre in Vancouver opened in 1998, it has produced numerous Olympians and international medallists including Martha McCabe, Emily Overholt, Brent Hayden and open water swimmer Richard Weinberger.
“This brings me a huge sense of pride and motivates me to get better in order to live up to the legacy that has been set down,” said Fan.
For more information or to express interest in joining one of Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centres, visit www.swimming.ca/en/national-teams/high-performance-centres/