Swimming Canada Names Early Olympians; Delays Trials to May

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming Canada on Friday postponed the Canadian Olympic Trials to late May over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. It also provisionally named six swimmers to the Olympic squad.

The six are:

  • Kylie Masse, 100 and 200 backstroke
  • Maggie MacNeil, 100 butterfly
  • Penny Oleksiak, 200 freestyle
  • Sydney Pickrem, 200 breaststroke, 200 and 400 individual medley
  • Taylor Ruck, 100 freestyle
  • Markus Thormeyer, 200 backstroke

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Canadian Olympic Trials had been scheduled for April. They’ll now take place May 24-28, still at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. To accommodate social distancing, entries were limited to 20 swimmers per event (15 per Paralympic event), invitations for which went out earlier this month. Swimming Canada, importantly, reserved the right to change its selection procedure as conditions require. Canada will send up to two representatives per event to the Tokyo Olympics, which this week have been on increasingly rocky ground as to whether they can continue this summer.

Rescheduled Trials will follow the same invitational-only format, contested as timed finals. Swimming Canada also cites the ability for the men’s 400 free and 800 free relays to post times to be considered for Tokyo qualification before the May 31 deadline set by FINA and the IOC. (Canada didn’t field an 800 free squad in Rio.)

The six swimmers were selected by Swimming Canada’s Selection Committee, with a limit of one per event. The athletes provisionally selected are still expected to compete at Canadian Olympic Trials.

As part of Friday’s release, Swimming Canada will also plan a “supplementary Olympic qualifying opportunity” from June 21-23 in Toronto. The Olympics are set to open July 23.

From the release:

The clause allows the Swimming Canada Selection Committee to determine if unexpected or unusual circumstances have arisen during the process of applying these Criteria and have the full and absolute discretion to resolve the matter as it sees fit, taking into account factors and circumstances that it deems relevant. Any such exercise of discretion shall be subject to the Canadian administrative law principles of fairness.

“Things have been shifting constantly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we realize how tough it has been for our athletes,” Swimming Canada’s High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson said in an organization press release. “Provisionally nominating these six athletes allows them, as our top-ranked known performers who have had international success at the world level, to have some certainty as we approach being ready to swim at the Games in the summer of 2021. We are delighted to announce the six athletes provisionally nominated today. These athletes have proved themselves and we congratulate them on this significant step toward the Tokyo Games.”

Oleksiak won gold in the 100 free and silver in the 100 fly at the 2016 Olympics, though she didn’t compete in the 200 free. She anchored the bronze-winning 800 free relay.

Masse won bronze in the 100 back and is the two-time reigning world champion in that event. She also won bronze in the 200 back at the 2019 World Championships. MacNeil won gold at Worlds in 2019 in the 100 fly. Ruck was fifth in the 100 free at that meet, and Pickrem paired bronze in both the 200 breast and 200 IM with fourth place in the 400 IM.

Thormeyer swam on the 400 free relay in Rio in 2016. His eighth place in the 200 back at the 2019 worlds and 11th in the 100 back were the only two men’s finished in the top 14.

“It’s definitely a different way to be named to the Olympic team, but it’s still exciting,” Masse said. “It’s been a challenging year so it’s nice to have a little bit of certainty in a time of so much uncertainty. I’m grateful that Swimming Canada and the COC have provisionally nominated me. I can’t wait to continue to work towards Tokyo to represent Canada.”

On the Paralympic side, eight swimmers – Aurelie Rivard, Tess Routliffe, Katarina Roxon, Shelby Newkirk, Aly Van Wyck-Smart, Nicolas-Guy Turbide, James Leroux and Alec Elliot – have met the standard for nomination as medalists at the 2019 World Championships. Canadian Olympic Trials will be used to fill eight additional positions (eight women and three men).

“The pandemic continues to dictate some of our decisions, and limit what we can and can’t do. While we want to keep as many options open as possible, we have to adapt to the constraints that are thrust upon us by the pandemic,” Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi said. “What is being presented today allows us to have more options in an uncertain situation. It gives us greater ability to nominate the best teams to represent Canada, and it gives the athletes greater ability to train and compete to make Team Canada.”

“The primary purpose of our selection criteria is to select the athletes who have the best chance of winning a medal for Canada at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Atkinson said. “As we are now nearly a year into the unexpected circumstances created by the global COVID-19 pandemic, we believe this plan gives us the best chance to select the best teams to represent Canada, in the fairest possible way considering the circumstances.”