BIRMINGHAM, England – Swimming Canada’s 28 athletes are ready to back up their successful world championships as the Commonwealth Games are set to begin in Birmingham, England.
Team Canada arrived Sunday night for the Games, where swimming starts Friday and runs through Aug. 3.
The fully integrated event includes ten-time Paralympic medallist Aurélie Rivard, defending 100-m and 200-m backstroke Commonwealth Games Champion Kylie Masse, and returning Commonwealth medallist Rebecca Smith. National team veteran Katerine Savard, the 100-m butterfly champion from Glasgow 2014 and former Games record holder, makes her return to the Games after sitting out in 2018. Meanwhile, recent FINA World Championships medallists Josh Liendo, and his 15-year-old High Performance Centre – Ontario teammate Summer McIntosh, will be among the Commonwealth Games first-timers, as will Olympic 100-m butterfly champion Maggie Mac Neil, two-time Paralympic medallist Nicolas-Guy Turbide and rising star Nicholas Bennett of the High Performance Centre – Quebec.
The tour began with a one-week staging camp in Caen, France, which served as a dress rehearsal for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“It was so nice in Caen. They had all the touch pads in which I thought was really cool and it makes you meet ready. We’re getting ready for a competition so we like those little details like that and they treated us amazing,” said Liendo. “At worlds I got to race the best in the world, and I’ve gotten to look at my stroke from all different angles since. I have some stuff to clean up in my stroke, little technical details, and it’s looking good for Commonwealths so I’m excited.”
Canada’s Olympic program team won a best-ever 11 medals at last month’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, while the Paralympic program took home 18 medals from the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira, Portugal, Canada’s best since 2010.
“This is one of only a very small number of fully integrated sporting events and by far the largest international one, so it’s a great time to showcase the excellence of Para swimming and Para swimmers,” said Associate High Performance Director and National Para Swimming Coach Wayne Lomas. “It provides an opportunity for our Paralympic program swimmers to demonstrate their professionalism, excellence and grit.”
The team will be without some big names, as Yuri Kisil, Philippe Vachon, Penny Oleksiak and Kayla Sanchez have all withdrawn since the initial announcement in April. Taylor Ruck, meanwhile, opted out of availability before the team was selected at Canadian Swimming Trials in April. Sydney Pickrem has also withdrawn from the team for personal reasons following conversations with Swimming Canada coaches shortly after last month’s FINA World Championships in Budapest.
“We came to the decision that this is the best choice for me,” Pickrem said. “I’m sad to not be alongside my teammates in Birmingham but I will cheer for them from back home while I continue my own preparations to be at my best when given the next opportunity represent Team Canada.”
The team features all three individual medallists from the recent FINA worlds – Liendo, McIntosh and Masse – while Maggie Mac Neil makes her return to individual events. Without Sanchez and other relay stalwarts such as Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak, who have opted out to focus on rest and recovery for next season, there will be opportunities for other swimmers to step up on relays and other events.
“It’s a different-look team with stars as well as exciting opportunities for new swimmers on relays,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “Ultimately we are all on a path to the Paris 2024 Games. That path may look different for each individual swimmer but we are looking forward to the team’s performances at these Games in Birmingham.”
Canada won 20 medals in the pool at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia with 3 gold, eleven silver and 6 bronze medals. That was Canada’s third-largest swimming medal haul, behind only Auckland 1990 (23 medals) and Kuala Lumpur 1998 (21)