The Penny Effect: Swim clubs anticipate busy season following Olympics

Local swim clubs always see a big jump in the number of children and teens looking to try the sport after the Olympics, but that spike may be higher than usual after outstanding Olympic performances by Team Canada's swim team, including 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak.

'We always see a big increase after the Olympics,' swim coach says

Seeing Toronto teen Penny Oleksiak win gold alongside Simone Manuel of the U.S. will inspire more children to give the sport a try, local swim clubs say. (Patrick B. Kraemer/EPA)

As Penny Oleksiak reached out and touched the wall, winning gold Thursday night in the women's 100m freestyle swimming event, young swimmers across the nation watched.

Even children who just like to splash around in the water may now be inspired to take up the sport and see if they, too, are good enough to win Olympic gold.

"We always see a big increase after the Olympics, a lot more kids coming out, lot more parents interested in what swimming really is and so it's kind of exciting," said Joni Maerten-Sanders, coach of the Wilmot Aquatic Aces.

"We knew we were going to have more swimmers trying out this year just based on the fact that it is the Olympics, but having the performances we're having is going to be absolutely incredible. I think, for us, we may see one of our biggest years ever."

'A little more buzz'

All the local swim clubs agree: The Olympic Games bring out more young people who want to try the sport.

Even other high-profile events will mean an uptick, said Matt Mains, coach with the Region of Waterloo Swim Club.

It's really cool to see somebody who went to a normal club like ours and kept going and is doing awesome.- Ron Campbell, Cambridge Aquajets

"It has happened previously. Even from last year, the Pan Am Games in Toronto caused a bit of uptick as well," he said.

"Swimming as a competitive sport has an appeal to people and it has a history in Canada and especially in this region. A lot of people are familiar with, you know, Victor Davis swam here in the 1980s," Mains added. "I think it's a great thing to have the sport exposed to new people who might not have considered it before."

Ron Campbell, coach of the Cambridge Aquajets, was at the cottage last week, but was still taking phone calls from parents wanting to get their children involved in the team.
More guys took up swimming after Michael Phelps of the U.S. won several gold medals at the 2004 Olympics.

"Now, this is usually the time of year when we get that anyway, but I do notice a little more buzz," he said.

"When Michael Phelps went crazy in 2004, we had our usual bump, but it was mostly guys. The sport is probably more skewed towards females, but that year we had a tonne of guys try out, so that was kind of neat."

From gangly teen to Olympian

But Campbell said it's not just new swimmers who get inspired by what Team Canada is doing in the pool in Rio – current swimmers are getting pumped, too.

"It's kind of exciting for us because we've swum against [Oleksiak] at competitions, so a lot of my swimmers know her. It's not like she's just magically appeared. They've known her for years and it's really cool to see somebody who went to a normal club like ours and kept going and is doing awesome," he said.

Penny Oleksiak has gone from gangly teen to Olympian. (Getty Images)

Kendra Burton, coach of the Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club, said she and her swimmers have had a chance to watch Oleksiak grow into an Olympian.

"It's really, really fun for the kids already in swimming, too, because they've seen Penny on deck. I've been on deck when she was a gangly little pre-teen, she looked like, I don't know, daddy long-legs, she was so lanky and uncoordinated and she's grown so fast and this success has been so constant and so amazing every time. It's awesome to watch," Burton said.

Swimmers excited

Maerten-Sanders said they don't run a swim program in the summer, but some of the swimmers still go to the pool just to stay in shape.

"They're coming in and they're getting up and they're training really hard right now because they're so excited about the Games," she said.
Female swimmers take part in the women's 100m freestyle final on Aug. 11. Local swim coaches say the medals won by Team Canada in Rio will get current swimmers 'fired up' and encourage others to try the sport.

One eight-year-old boy in particular is excited about the Olympics. He stays up late at night to watch swimming events, then is at the pool early the next morning.

"He's so tired but he's so excited about swimming," she said. "It's fun listening to kids talk and how excited they get about the sport."

Swimmers 'get fired up'

The joy of swimming is that anyone can do it, Burton said, "you have have to have perseverance."

All the coaches said it's great to get children and teens into the water to see what they can do.

"When we are successful as a country ... the existing athletes get that boost and they get fired up because they see what is possible and then the same thing from the public, they kind of get fired up and want to put their kids in it as well. So, it's exciting," Mains said.


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