Canadian swim trials critical in helping shape squad for 2020 Olympics
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still more than two years away, but this week's Canadian swimming trials in Edmonton represent an important step on the road to the Games.
The trials choose the swim team that will compete in the Pan Pacific Championships, Aug. 9-12 in Tokyo, in an Olympic test run for Canada.
"[The Pan Pacs] are not in the same venue as the Olympic pool because the Olympic pool is being built right now, but it's literally across the street, so other than being a premier international swim meet for us this summer, it also gives us a chance to sort of have a dry run for the Olympics," said Swimming Canada's senior coach Martyn Wilby. "Time zone, we're going to know exactly what the weather is like, we're going to stage at the same place that we're going to stage for the Olympics.
"And so, it gives us a chance to work out the kinks and just make sure that any potential problems, we're going to be able to figure them out two years ahead of time."
The team will leave directly from the trials, and will hold staging camp in Wakayama, about 450 kilometres southwest of Tokyo.
The gold medallists in each event at Edmonton's Kinsmen Sport Centre Wednesday through Sunday earn spots on the Pan Pacs team, which is a departure from past trials.
Swimmers normally need both to win and achieve a time standard.
Trio lost to retirement
"So in a few events, you might win the event at trials, but you're not guaranteed a spot on the team unless you've done a time," Wilby said. "Here, you know if you touch the wall first in an event, you are going to the swim meet."
The face of Canada's team has changed since 2016 Rio Olympics, where Penny Oleksiak captured four medals as part of a six-medal performance by the swim squad — its best performance in a non-boycott Games since 1976.
Sandrine Mainville, Chantal Van Landeghem, and Michelle Toro (formerly Williams), "three older swimmers who were the backbone of the relay," said Wilby, have all retired.
"But the younger athletes are now two years older" and more experienced, he added, in reference to Oleksiak, Taylor Ruck, Kylie Masse, and Rebecca Smith, among others.
Long time on road
Ruck is fresh off her record-tying eight-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games, where Masse also won two gold medals.
The Commonwealth Games in April in Australia threw a small wrench in Swimming Canada's season planning. The trials, normally held in the spring, were pushed back to July — meaning swimmers had to pack their bags for potentially a long trip, since a victory will send them to Japan for the Pan Pacs.
The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, which are being held in Japan for the first time in 16 years, were founded by Canada, Japan, the United States and Australia as an alternative international meet to the European championships. It was originally open to countries that border the Pacific Ocean, but now includes other non-European countries.
"The key for Swimming Canada is the fact that [the Pan Pacs] is our major meet for the summer, and the timing of trials is very different," Wilby said. "But i think it will give the mainstay of the team a chance to swim well but also get ready for know what to expect once we're at Wakayama for staging for the Olympics."