Awakening the giant: Swimming Canada setting sights on 2020 Olympics

The world short-course swimming championships in Windsor this week is like hitting the reset button on the Olympic cycle, with the focus now on the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Officials now focusing on success in Tokyo after wave of Rio momentum

Kylie Masse is one of the young stars of a resurgent Canadian swim team. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

WINDSOR, Ont. — John Atkinson is taking Canada's swimming success personally.

"It's a sleeping giant and my job is to wake that giant up and keep pushing to get high performance in everything we do," said Atkinson, Swimming Canada's high-performance director the past four years.

"I think the giant's woken up and it's about to start striding out there."

Atkison said the world short-course swimming championships in Windsor this week is like hitting the reset button on the Olympic cycle, with the focus now on the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

"We have a great team. Not many retirements. The age of the athletes who competed in Rio was relatively young," Atkinson said.

With Canada at four medals and counting so far in Windsor, he's quick to remind people the country's swimmers won only one medal at the previous short-course world championship.

"I think now there's more expectation and more pressure. They feel it," Atkinson said.

Cheryl Gibson, president of Swimming Canada, said the team is riding a wave of momentum from Rio that bodes well for the 2020 Olympics.

"Now we're into the building phase for the next Olympics again. It never really stops," said Gibson, who won a silver medal for Canada at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. "Swimming short course is really great to help you work on those starts and turns."

Data analysis

Iain McDonald, senior manager for high-performance coaches, is trying to find Canada's next swimming star with the help of analytics.

At any given point, McDonald is tracking the progress of some 80 to 100 swimmers, literally watching their every stroke. He says increased data tracking over the past four years is changing the game in selecting athletes.

"My prime role is dealing with the data management," he said. "Trying to use the data to find the pool of athletes we want to invest in.

"What we're trying to do is create the highest probability of athletes who have a chance to be great."

But McDonald said in the case of some athletes, specifically Penny Oleksiak, numbers can't predict that level of success.

"Penny found herself. This doesn't really help you find a Penny because she's kind of an outlier," he said.

McDonald said the focus for him, unlike many of the coaches who are preparing for 2020, is to get the next wave of Canadian swimmers for 2024.

"We're confident we're getting the information to make more accurate investments in the athletes who can do that."


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