'It's here and it's now': Golden generation of Canadian swimming on display at 2023 trials

At the place dubbed the fastest pool in the country, Canada’s top swimmers are once again gathering at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre for Swimming Canada’s flagship event, the national trials. Preliminary heats are at 9:30 a.m. ET each day, with finals sessions set for 6 p.m.

Olympic star Oleksiak, Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Ruck to miss 6-day event in Toronto

A women's swimming competes in a backstroke event.
Summer McIntosh, seen at a World Cup meet in 2022, will be among the numerous stars set to feature in Canada's six-day national swimming trials event beginning Tuesday in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

At the place dubbed the fastest pool in the country, Canada's top swimmers are once again gathering at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre for Swimming Canada's flagship event, the national trials.

And for the first time since 2019 fans will be allowed to attend the trials — more than 2,000 have already been sold for the six-day event beginning Tuesday that goes towards selecting teams for the world aquatics championships, world para swimming championships, world junior swimming championships and the Pan Am Games.

Preliminary heats are at 9:30 a.m. ET each day, with finals sessions set for 6 p.m. All sessions are being streamed live on CBC Sports digital platforms. Live streams can be watched via the free CBC Gem streaming service, at and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.

More than 620 athletes from 148 clubs across Canada are in action this week — this event is signalling the start of preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics.

And there is unparalleled talent and depth within the Canadian swimming program right now. The team won an historic 14 medals at the world championships in Budapest last summer. The women's program continues to thrive while the men are making inroads and are prepared to compete with the best in the world.

WATCH | Montreal's Ilya Kharun a name to watch at Canadian swimming trials:

The new name you need to know before the Canadian Swimming Trials

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Montreal's Ilya Kharun has been making waves wherever he goes since joining the Canadian team at the end of last year.

High performance director John Atkinson says there is momentum and confidence in the pool.

"I think it's here and it's now," Atkinson said.

"It is a golden era of Canadian swimming. It is everything that people say it is."

There are two noticeably absent names left off the competition list, however, this week. Canada's most decorated Olympian Penny Oleksiak is still recovering from knee surgery and will not be swimming at trials.

And late Sunday night it was announced Taylor Ruck, who has competed at the last two Olympics for Canada, will be taking a small break from swimming to physically and mentally recover.

Atkinson says they will not be forgetting about Oleksiak and Ruck as they continue with Olympic preparations for Paris. He says this event is the beginning of the foundation for the team that will compete at the Games in 2024.

"This trial is where that Olympic journey starts," he said.

"Everybody is on their path. Some take a different path to getting to Paris. But this trials is really the beginning to the path to Paris. We're selecting athletes for the world championships."

All eyes on Summer

All eyes are going to be on 16-year-old swimming sensation Summer McIntosh who seemingly breaks records every time she's in the pool. McIntosh is already a two-time world champion, won six medals at the Commonwealth Games last year and made her Olympic debut at just 14 years old.

McIntosh has spent the majority of the last year training in Sarasota, Fla., with coach Brent Arckey. He's made the trip north with McIntosh for this event.

McIntosh starts her trials competition with the highly anticipated 400-metre freestyle. Many have already pegged this as one of the races to watch in Paris with a showdown between McIntosh, Katie Ledecky and Ariane Titmus.

Canada's most successful FINA swimmer Kylie Masse, who has been unbelievably consistent in her backstroke events for years, says after a rocky fall of training and travelling she's refocused and happy to be back in the friendly confines of the Pan Am Sports Centre.

"Every opportunity we get to race is a stepping stone towards Paris being the ultimate goal. I can't believe we're already approaching that again because it feels like Tokyo was last year," she said.

Masse marvels at how far the program has come and says the swimmers around her motivate her.

"It's incredible. I feel really honoured to be amongst such an incredible group of women and men who are continuing to push the bar every meet. To be surrounded by so many other swimmers who are pushing boundaries inspires to be faster and faster."

Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil, who had another successful NCAA performance this season, is swimming some of the fastest times in her career. A year ago at trials in Victoria, Mac Neil exclusively told CBC Sports she was suffering from some post-Olympic depression.

She decided to take off individual events at the world championships last summer to give herself some space to refocus.

Since then Mac Neil has been on a tear and is excited to be back in Canada competing at trials. She'll be in the pool Wednesday competing in the same event she won Olympic gold in during the Tokyo Olympics, the 100m fly.

Liendo enters trials an NCAA champion

Josh Liendo is entering the swimming trials as an NCAA champion after winning the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA championship this past Saturday.

The 20-year-old from Markham, Ont., stopped the clock in the second fastest time ever at 40.28. Only American swimming star Caeleb Dressel has been faster in the event.

Finlay Knox is also part of a men's program brimming with confidence right now. The Okotoks, Alta., product, who trains at the High Performance Centre in Ontario, won his first major individual medals at the world short course championship in Melbourne, Australia, in December.

"Each year trials is the biggest swim meet in Canada. It's always fun being able to step up and race in Canada," Finlay told Swimming Canada.

"Having the home crowd and racing in front of the rest of Canada is always special. The energy is always great coming into trials and I'm just excited to get off the blocks."


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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