Courtesy: Jim Morris/Swimming Canada
Los Angeles is roughly 2,000 kilometres from Vancouver and the 2028 Olympic Games are still about 53 months away.
Plenty of time and distance remains, but Antoine Sauve and 10 other junior male swimmers took a step on the long journey to the 2028 Games during the 2023 Male Training Camp held recently at the UBC Aquatic Centre.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” said Sauve, 17, who trains with coach Claude St-Jean at Montreal’s CAMO club. “I hope to get there. It’s a big goal but I think it’s achievable.”
The camp was part of Swimming Canada’s Male Initiative program. Spending a week training and living together gave the group of 16 to 18-year-olds a road map to follow.
“They get to experience a national team activity,” said Ken McKinnon, Swimming Canada’s national development coach. “What are the protocols, what are the expectations. They get technical input, they get the training, they get motivation.”
Chris Weeks, who swims for the Mount Pearl Marlins in St. John’s, N.L., said he benefited from the intense workouts.
“I feel like my aerobic energy levels after this camp are going to be a lot better,” said the 18-year-old who trains with coach Chris Roberts. “I’m probably going to be in a lot better shape.”
One of the lessons Tanner Cole learned is how to prepare before getting into the water.
“It’s really cool, all these different kinds of activation techniques,” said the 16-year-old who trains with Lesley Serediak at Edmonton’s Olympian Swim Club. “It’s going to be great to bring that home into my normal training routine.”
Placing more Canadian men on the podium at major events was the goal of the Male Initiative, a Swimming Canada project initiated after the Rio 2016 Games.
Led by Penny Oleksiak, Canadian women won six medals and reached 12 pool finals in Rio. The men were kept off the podium and reached three finals.
The Male Initiative was designed to identify some of Canada’s best young male swimming prospects, then bring them together to train and develop.
“The idea was to try to give opportunities,” McKinnon. “We wanted to lift our game because we weren’t where we wanted to be.”
Among the swimmers who have benefitted from the Male Initiative are Joshua Liendo, who won three medals at the Budapest 2022 World Championships, plus Finlay Knox and Gabe Mastromatteo, who won three medals each at the 2019 World Junior Championships. Liendo, Knox, Mastromatteo and Cole Pratt all swam at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Knox recently broke through with his first senior level medals at the World Swimming Championships (25m) in Melbourne, Australia.
McKinnon, the team lead for the Vancouver camp, was joined by coaches Alex Dawson, director of swimming at the Piranhas Swim Club in Grande Prairie, Alta., and Reg Shaw, head coach of the Surrey Knights Swim Club.
Last November McKinnon identified 24 junior swimmers and invited them to the Vancouver camp. Eleven accepted.
“The training is a little bit enhanced,” said McKinnon. “They were head-to-head with guys they race against, so immediately lifted their game.”
The program’s sights are set on LA 2028 as the long-term goal. The short-term goal is for them to compete at this year’s world junior championships.
The 10 training sessions held over the week mirrored a world junior championship schedule where athletes might swim up to 22 times over six days.
“The camp was not low volume,” said Shaw. “I’m sure some of these kids have done more volume this week than they’ve done in past camps or at home.”
Dawson said the camp helped develop a camaraderie among the swimmers while feeding their competitive nature.
“They are young males coming together and pushing each other for a week,” he said. “That’s a great experience for them.
“They come from all over Canada and train in isolated programs.”
Cole, who swims the 100 and 200-metre breaststroke, liked the attention each swimmer received.
“How much the sets have been individualized and how much specific work we’ve been doing,” he said. “Back home, we don’t have that much time and space to do these kinds of sets.”
Sauve, who swims the 100 and 200-m freestyle, became both mentally and physically stronger.
“I’ve learned the attitude I need to get in training,” he said. “Always be motivated and always concentrate on everything, every little detail.”
Weeks, who swims the 50 and 100-m freestyle, was inspired by how hard everyone worked.
“You can relate,” he said. “The hard training makes it easier now that everyone is going through it, not just you.”
The next step in the program comes in May, when the junior swimmers join members of the senior team for a camp in Mallorca, Spain, then compete at meets in the Mare Nostrum tour.
Most of the swimmers will attend the Bell Canadian Swimming Trials in Toronto, where they will hope to earn a spot on the national junior team.
McKinnon said next year’s trials for the Paris 2024 Olympics will also be a good experience for the swimmers who have their sights set on the L.A. Games.
“Paris is a longshot for these guys but we want them thinking about it,” he said. “What I say is, get in the race for the team for Paris. Get your name in the game, get in the finals (at the trials), have that experience.
“We’re committed in our strategic planning . . . to throwing resources toward this particular Male Initiative group until 2028.”