Canadian Swimmers Adapting to Constant Changes on Way to Olympic Trials

Photo Courtesy: Vaughn Ridley/Swimming Canada

Canadian Swimmers Adapting to Constant Changes on Way to Olympic Trials

By Jessie Tobin, Swimming World Magazine Intern

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptation has been a key skill to possess. For Canadian athletes, who have witnessed multiple cancellations of their Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Games, it’s been a matter of going with the flow. Now, their opportunity to race is on the horizon, with Trials scheduled for June 19-23 in Toronto.

“I don’t think the shifting of the Trials date was as big an issue as many make it out to be. For some, it was actually better as we were without pools for so long. It gave us more time to get back to top shape,” said Byron MacDonald, the head Coach of the University of Toronto.

Canada has been under lockdown for quite some time, making it difficult for athletes to train, compete and travel. The University of Toronto’s pool has only been open for only two and a half months within the last 15 months.

“The only stress was the fear of no Trials,” MacDonald said. “It was never Trials being shifted to a later date. We can adjust to the date no problem and I felt the athletes did a marvelous job of keeping their head in the game with those changes. The biggest challenge and one that was most challenging from a coach’s perspective was there was obviously nothing that I could do to guarantee a Trials. The key was to remain positive and convinced that there would be a Trials and motivate the troops to believe that and stay the course.”

Only 20 athletes per event have been invited to the Canadian Trials, those selections based off of ranking and times. This setup included swimmers who live outside of the Canadian border. For such individuals, a two week quarantine is required upon entry into the country, even if they’re fully vaccinated.

“With all the uncertainty, I ended up going back and forth multiple times on whether I’ll be going or not,” said Ben Cote, a recent graduate from St. Petersburg High School in Florida. “One week it was ‘Yes, I’m training for trials.’ The next week, I found I couldn’t go anymore. It was definitely a rough cycle mentally and the uncertainty definitely didn’t help my training schedule.”

Cote is originally from Calgary, Alberta and received three invitations to compete from Swim Canada in the 800 free, 1500 free, and 400 IM. But Cote rejected every invitation and will not be competing in Trials.

“The problem that arises is that living in the States means I would have to go directly into a two-week quarantine when I entered Canada,” he said. “That would have certainly ruined any taper or training I did prior to the flight over. I would be sacrificing a quality taper and training, as well money, all just to put up poor performance when it came time to race.”

There was discussion of hosting Trials somewhere in the United States, but Swimming Canada did not opt for that path. More, the governing body has pre-selected six swimmers for the Olympic team. The athletes who were pre-selected are still expected to compete at trials.

“I have always been a proponent of pre-selection for smaller countries like Canada,” said MacDonald.

Someone who is heading to Trials in June is 22-year-old Sebastian Paulins from Brantford, Ontario, who will be competing in the 400 free, 800 free, 1500 free and 200 butterfly.

“I feel confident going in,” said Paulins. “Personally, the ‘uncertainty’ surrounding Canadian Trials has not really taken a toll on me. I try to control what I can control and try not to worry too much about the things I can’t. All I can do is prepare the best I can to perform at my highest level.”

Paulins was one of the few swimmers who had the opportunity to race in an Olympic Trials test event conducted by Swim Ontario in late May. It was a meet for elite swimmers who met specific time standards. The event allowed Canada to have a test run of how Trials will operate later this month.

“Should Canada win a bunch of medals in Tokyo, it will be due to some amazing work done by the coaches of those athletes,” said MacDonald. “The training was compromised back in the spring of 2020 more than in any other country.”