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Olympics2012Canadian swimmers on ambitious Olympic path

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 | 09:09 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Richard Weinberger is part of a new crop of Canadian swimmers ready to take the next step toward Olympic glory. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Richard Weinberger is part of a new crop of Canadian swimmers ready to take the next step toward Olympic glory. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Canada's three-medal performance in the water at the London Olympics isn't an overwhelming total when compared to the glory days of Alex Baumann and Victor Davis, but there seems to be an indication that the tide has finally turned.
Canada is back in the game when it comes to swimming at the Olympics.

With Richard Weinberger's gutsy bronze in the 10-kilometre marathon at the Serpentine in Hyde Park, the number of medals won by Canadian swimmers at London 2012 climbs to three.

It's not an overwhelming total when compared to the glory days of Victor Davis and Alex Baumann but there seems to be an indication that the tide has finally turned.

In fact, at the 2004 Olympics Canada was shutout completely. There was an ensuing overhaul of the Swimming Canada program, and beginning with a good showing at the 2005 world aquatic championships in Montreal, the podium results are starting to come.

The three medals represent three symbolic breakthroughs.

Hayden strikes 1st

First, Brent Hayden raced to bronze in the men's 100-metre freestyle. That's swimming's glory event having been captured by Olympic superstars like Mark Spitz, Alexander Popov and Matt Biondi.

Hayden demonstrated he was no flash in the pan in taking bronze. This medal was the end result of a long stretch the Mission, B.C., native has spent at or near the top in this discipline. He shared a world championship title with Italian Filipo Magnini in 2007, and won silver at the worlds last summer in Shanghai.

In winning the medal this time in London, Hayden became the first Canadian to ascend the podium in the 100 free, as well as the first man from his country to swim in the final since Richard Pound finished sixth in Rome in 1960.

Cochrane establishes medal status

Then there's Ryan Cochrane of Victoria. He was the winner of Canada's only swimming medal in Beijing, and in London firmly established himself as a powerhouse in the longer races in the pool. He missed the 400 freestyle final by a fraction - a hundredth of a second - because he won a slow heat and miscalculated the time he'd need to advance.

But the great news came when Cochrane, still only 23-years-old, clocked a new Canadian record and impressively won the silver medal in the 1500, his specialty event. After that he declared he'd be back for the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, thus providing a pillar athlete for Swimming Canada to build its program around.

Weinberger breaks through

The third breakthrough came in the 10K open water marathon. Weinberger, another Victoria native, was in the lead pack throughout and was close to winning the gold medal, which was eventually taken by Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia, Cochrane's longtime in the rival in the 1500.
Weinberger is building an impressive resume in distance swimming.

He won the FINA World Cup in Lac St. Jean, Que., just two weeks ago and was also the gold medalist at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico this past September. He also won the test event here in London exactly a year ago. The most encouraging thing about Weinberger's accomplishment is that he's only 22 and is just embarking on what might be a long Olympic voyage.

Following his podium performance he was emphatic.

"I want to be the Olympic champion in Rio in 2016," he declared. You can't ask for a more ambitious goal than that.

Canada back in mix

In all 19 countries won medals in swimming at these Olympics. The United States continued its dominance and grabbed 31 medals. Japan followed with 11, while China and Australia had 10 each. Canada found itself tied with South Africa just behind the Netherlands. The bottom line being, there are more fish in the sea when it comes to swimming at the modern Olympics and Canada is back in the mix.

"The stratification of medals is something you just can't ignore," said Baumann the double gold medalist in the individual medley's for Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He's now the CEO of high performance sport in New Zealand.

"But the one thing that you can't fail to be impressed by is the fact that it is so hard to win medals at the Olympic Games. It is extremely difficult and while people should expect results when they invest in performance, they need to have some patience."

Baumann knows a thing or two about this. He was, prior to assuming his position late last year in New Zealand, the CEO of Own the Podium in Canada. He oversaw the strategy that built the current Canadian Olympic team.

What is becoming apparent is that, in swimming, the strategy is working.  And while the Canadian stars are not yet considered the sharks of international waters they are no longer disparaged as minnows.

Canada, it would seem, is swimming on and charting a new and ambitious course at the Olympics.

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