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New scholarship program designed to maximize swimmers’ potential at centres

News –

Swimming Canada is promoting a new and enhanced scholarship program with a goal of giving identified NextGen swimmers an opportunity to develop their talents in Canada at one of the country’s two Olympic program High Performance Centres.

Under the High Performance Centre Scholarship Program, selected athletes under 17 years old could receive up to $5,000 a year in support for each of two years to visit the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, based at the University of British Columbia, or the High Performance Centre – Ontario,  based at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

If an athlete commits to training at one of the centres after graduating from high school, an additional $10,000 a year for three to four years would be made available to cover their training costs and/or associated costs to live and attend the centre.

“We are working to give identified athletes some support to not only see the centres, but so they can experience it, see what it is has to offer,” said National Development Coach Ken McKinnon.  “If they choose to stay and commit full-time to a centre, there will be further financial assistance.”

The High Performance Centres offer expert coaching along with science and medical staff, all combined to provide a world-class daily training environment focused on international success.

“We want to support the athletes through the centres,” said McKinnon. “We know the coaches are looking to develop athletes who have high performance on their mind.”

The centres have a history of sustained podium success at the world and Olympic level. The centres also offer athletes the opportunity to attend classes and earn a degree at either the University of Toronto or UBC.

Olympic and world medallists including Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Joshua Liendo and Finlay Knox have all trained at one of the national centres.

Ryan Mallette was named head coach of the High Performance Centre – Ontario in July 2022 after serving as associate head coach since 2019. Previously Mallette was head coach of the High Performance Centre – Victoria from 2015 to 2019 where he coached Olympic medallists Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell.

Scott Talbot, who represented New Zealand at two Olympics, was named head coach of High Performance Centre – Vancouver in August 2022, and recently coached Finlay Knox to his gold medal at the Doha 2024 World Aquatics Championships. Olympic medallist and former world champion medalist Brent Hayden is among past standouts who trained at the centre.

The scholarship program will initially target swimmers in Grade 11. Through this program the swimmer can arrange a comprehensive visit to one or both centres. A parent or coach could accompany the swimmer for that visit.

“After that visit has taken place, if funds remain, they can use on other approved other swimming activities,” said McKinnon.

A swimmer who commits to a centre can receive another $5,000 while finishing their final year of high school.

“The head coach at each High Performance Centre will develop a plan, along with the home club coach, that will include when to visit and help build the relationship,” said McKinnon.

If a swimmer lives close to a centre, they can train weekly with the program. This will build a relationship with the athlete and their home coach, leading to a transition following high school or before if the time is right to become a full time centre athlete.

Madison Kryger, who swims for Brock Niagara Aquatics, said being able to train at HPC-Ontario is an incredible opportunity.

“The environment is amazing, and everyone on the team has been incredibly welcoming,” said the 15-year-old.  “We all push each other to reach our goals.

“The entire support staff have helped me so much with my training, technique and overall performance.”

Head Coach Dave Ling said the collaboration with centre benefits both Kryger and the Brock Niagara Aquatics.

“Madison benefits from having a supportive home club to work with in the mornings and developing in the advanced high performance program in the afternoons with a group of extremely supportive swimmers,” he said. “Those environments, along with an absolutely committed family, has enabled Madison to thrive in this season.”

Swimming Canada High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson said a long-term relationship and transition to be a full-time athlete helps swimmers reach their personal high-performance goals.

“The training programs at the centres are fully focused on developing international athletes for Swimming Canada. They are totally aligned with the national program and are supported by Swimming Canada, Own the Podium, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee,” said Atkinson. “Both centres offer services from the Canadian Sport Institutes (Ontario and Pacific) to deliver support on the deck for the athletes. History shows the athletes taking this path can be very successful and have bespoke plans in place for their development.”

Once a swimmer begins training at a centre full time, Swimming Canada will raise the scholarship to $10,000 a year per swimmer to help cover their costs to live and train in proximity to the centre. There will be a gradual rollout of this program and it will see an expansion each year.

“We’re trying to ensure athletes have access to world-class coaches and support staff,” said McKinnon.

Iain McDonald, Swimming Canada’s associate high performance director for the Olympic Program, said full-time swimmers at High Performance Centre receive approximately $80,000 in an annual value-in-kind grant.

“This covers the expenses associated with such things as coaching support, management, facility access, sport science/sport medicine support, camp and competition expenses and team kit,” said McDonald.

Swimmers with a solid aerobic training background in multiple distances and strokes will be considered for the program, aimed primarily at Track 1 Athletes. Athletes who have not had exposure to advanced coaching programming will also be assessed for this program and their capacity to move forwards and develop will be considered.

Other On Track/improving athletes who do not receive one of the scholarships will also be considered for a place in one of the centres and can also be considered for the weekly visitation option.

Home program coaches and parents will be included in the planning of any training for the athlete.  Swimming Canada has identified eight athletes who will be offered the chance to participate in the program’s first year.

“We’re trying to design a program to give an opportunity for young Canadian swimmers, so once they graduate high school they can carry on their swimming career in a world-class environment in Canada,” said McKinnon.

In addition, Canadian high performance athletes studying outside of Canada who have completed their studies can consider the centres a next step in their swimming careers, following the examples of world championship medallists Javier Acevedo and Sophie Angus at HPC-Ontario. Other athletes based in Canada can also inquire about joining a centre.

“The High Performance Centres are strong options for staying in Canada to attain Olympic success,” said Atkinson.

Angus said her two seasons at the High Performance Centre _ Ontario provided her with a “world-class, focused and supportive environment” that fostered her growth on the international scene.

“The coaches and I have a collaborative relationship and they work tirelessly to create individualized plans and find new ways for me to succeed.”

Angus said the centre offered access to resources such as dryland and gym training, nutrition consults, therapy treatments and mental performance consultants. There also were advisors to help plan for life post-swimming.

“The HPC-O has provided me a place where I receive lots of attention, can focus on the details, and also creates a sense of family away from home, which has allowed me to be at my best in the pool and outside of it,” she said.

Acevedo said training at the centre, combined with the resources made available through the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, have helped him as both an athlete and a person.

“With their support, I’ve learned to better balance my life outside the pool in order to optimize the work that I do inside the pool,” he said. “The support provided has been above and beyond what I expected when I joined the group and I look forward to seeing the next steps in its growth.”

“In hard sets we can all look to each other, we’re all super motivated and we’re all putting in the work,” added Blake Tierney of HPC-Vancouver. “That’s really easy to then push yourself if you see the person beside you pushing themselves.”

Swimming Canada thanks Own the Podium, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee for their continued support in developing world-class athletes.

Athletes interested in a Swimming Canada High Performance Centres can find more information here.