The Changing Face Of Canadian Para-swimming; Big Goals For Rio

Paul Cunningham - USA Today Sports

Commentary by Rick Madge.

It’s evident from just a few days of these Olympic Trials that something’s up with Canadian para-swimmers. In 10 para events over 2 days we’ve already seen 4 top times in the world this year, as well as a 2nd and two 3rds. These athletes are on fire.

I asked James Hood, Senior Manager, High Performance Para-swimming Programs about the state of Canadian para-swimming. Hood says they’ve made significant efforts in three principal areas: improved athlete and coach education and development programs; availability of more camps at key areas in the country; and the establishment of a high performance para-swimming training centre.

These efforts directly address possibly the biggest problem with para-swimming in the past, and that is that para-swimmers were spread across the country in local clubs, where knowledge and a willingness to take on the special needs of a para-athlete might have been a problem. They also have a staff member whose job it is to criss-cross the country to identify promising young para-athletes, and jump start the education process. Hood added, “Swimming Canada is dedicated to developing the current crop of athletes and the next generation, and doing that through our club network and coaches.”

olympic-stadium-pool-inside-2015

Photo Courtesy: Tom Rushton

Another huge aspect of the program is the high-performance para-swimming training centre, located in Montreal, Quebec. “We see the Training Centre as significantly fast tracking athletes by providing the services needed to maximize potential”, Hood said. This training centre not only handles full-time para-swimmers, but can also take on visiting para-swimmers for a week, or even just on weekends, while also allowing their coach to attend and learn.

Clearly it’s working. Mike Thompson is Head Coach, Para-swimming Intensive Training Program, Quebec at the Centre. Thompson’s swimmer, Benoit Huot, won the S10 400 Free on Day 1 here with a 2016 2nd fastest time in the world. “That’s faster than Benoit has been in a long time, and there is definitely more there. We’re going to continue to zero in on a medal in Rio”.

Thompson said that they’re trying to have both athletes and coaches be as accountable to performance as the Olympic side of the sport. “It’s a difficult line to take but we’re treating it as a high performance sport, and performance isn’t subjective. It’s all about results and medals at the world level.”

This can be tough in a sport where typically only the elite para-athletes train as hard as their Olympic-stream counterparts. Often, para-athletes can achieve minor fame with relatively little effort. But that won’t cut it any more in this new system. Para-swimming is big-time now, and the athletes better be up for it.

Para-swimming is a major priority now for Canada, and they’re aiming for 14 medals at Rio. Looks like they’re on the right track.