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Canada's synchro swim team hopes software will boost Olympics chances

Canada's synchronized swimming team needs a top-3 finish at a meet in Rio this weekend to qualify for the 2016 Olympics — and has turned to computer science to boost its chances.

Women need top-3 finish to secure Rio Summer Games berth

The Canadian women’s synchronized swimming team needs a top-three showing at this weekend’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Rio in order to secure a berth at the Summer Games. It received feedback from sports scientists, high-level athletes, judges and several coaches after the world championships last August in the hope of making several improvements. (Martin Bureau/Getty Images )

The Canadian women's synchronized swimming team needs to make a splash at an Olympic Games qualifying meet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this weekend.

Canada has qualified for every Olympics since the event was first introduced in 1996 at Atlanta, Ga.

The team won silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000, and has finished no lower than fifth in every Games since.

But with only the top three nations securing Olympic berths this weekend, the margin for error is small. Japan and Ukraine are the favourites. Canada, Spain and Italy are expected to battle for the final Olympic spot. 

"We came here with a specific goal and that's to qualify for the Olympic Games," said Synchro Canada CEO Jackie Buckingham, who was with the team in Rio. 

That's where science comes in.

Science for synchro

The Canadian women haven't competed since a fifth-place finish at the world championships in August. Since then, however, they've adopted a unique — and somewhat revolutionary — strategy for improvement.

After worlds, the organization solicited feedback from sports scientists, high-level athletes, judges and several coaches, Buckingham said. But they also received a detailed performance analysis thanks a new software developed by one of the scientists. It's analysis "in a way the sport has never seen before," she said.

The software compared and analyzed all of the routines Canada competed against at worlds, breaking them down into "small, finite pieces," and produced a report comparing teams and routines. 

"We're definitely using it to build routines that we think will get us more marks and higher scores," said Buckingham. "We're also taking a really hard look at every component of the routines and rebuilt both [technical and free] routines."

Blame it on the rain

With new routines, the team, led by captain Marie-Lou Morin, focused on personal-best performances; what swimmers call "leaving nothing on the deck."

"They want to bring everything that they have, all the training that they've done for the last six months, in particular, that's been gearing towards this day," Buckingham said. "They want to get out of the water knowing they did everything that they could possibly do and we'll be satisfied. But the depth of talent in the world has really increased."

The other nations won't be the only obstacle standing in Canada's way. Rio has been hit hard with rain this week, and since the athletes will be competing in an outdoor pool, performances could be affected if the weather continues to cause problems.

"The weather is calling for thunderstorms for the rest of the time we're here," said Buckingham. "There's a potential that we could get delayed by rain. The worst case I guess is we would have to two routines in one day.

"It could be a problem. At this point we're crossing our fingers but we don't know."

The 10-member team includes Morin, of Westmount, Que., and:

  • Gabriella Brisson, of Montreal.
  • Annabelle Frappier, of Montreal.
  • Sandy Gill, of Coquitlam, B.C.
  • Claudia Holzner, of Calgary.
  • Rebecca Maule, of Guelph, Ont.
  • Samantha Nealon, of Morriston, Ont.
  • Jacqueline Simoneau, of Saint-Laurent, Que.
  • Karine Thomas, of Gatineau, Que.
  • Janelle Ball, of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.

Thomas and Simoneau qualified for Rio in the duet event after winning gold at the Pan Am Games in July.

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