For many people, the dream of going to the Olympics in an official capacity is one that must survive a number of “ifs” and adjustments. It’s a dream that often requires a recognition that, sometimes, ‘next time’ is the best time.
For most people, the Olympic dream never comes true.
In the case of Chris Hindmarch-Watson, a former UVic Vikes swimmer and a live announcer for some of the biggest swimming events in the world, the 2016 Rio Olympics didn’t seem like they were in the cards. Despite being one of the best in his field and one of the most recognizable voices in swimming, he had set his eyes on next time.
“I had looked past it and more at Tokyo in 2020 as probably my first chance to be involved with an Olympics. It really is the pinnacle level for a sports announcer,” he told Vikes Communications in a pre-Olympics interview.
But as it turned out, Hindmarch-Watson didn’t have to wait until next time. While the world watches some of the best athletes in the world strive for gold during the final two days of pool events in Rio, those athletes will be listening to the former voice of the Vikes.
In late February of 2011, Ryan Cochrane was putting the finishing touches on an impressive swimming season with the Vikes.
Through three days of racing at the CIS Championships in Calgary, the Victoria native—already a medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—won four gold medals and a bronze on his way to being named the CIS Rookie of the Year and CIS Male Swimmer of the Year.
Skip forward five years and a bit and Cochrane will be hitting the pool for the finals in his strongest event—the 1,500-metre freestyle—at 6:11 p.m. PT Saturday night in Rio. The race seems far removed from Cochrane’s performance in Calgary, but the events have at least one thing in common: the familiar voice of Hindmarch-Watson.
Since announcing his first CIS Swimming Championships in Vancouver in 2002, the UVic grad has been the voice of nine more national university championships. When the Vikes hosted CIS Championships in 2003 and 2015, it was Hindmarch-Watson calling the action inside the venue.
Today, he’s relied upon as an announcer for Swimming Canada, USA Swimming and Japan Swimming, alongside his duties with FINA. When Canadian athletes travel abroad to hone their craft, they’re often treated to a slice of home when they enter the venue.
But Hindmarch-Watson wasn’t always an announcer: first he was a swimmer. When he graduated from the tight-knit community at Vancouver’s St. George’s High School in 1997, he set his sights on competing for the Vikes program led by head coach Peter Vizsolyi. He wasn’t UVic’s top swimmer, but he was as important a piece for the team as anyone else.
“He was a guy who was always a great teammate and a great part of the team,” said Vizsolyi, who is still good friends with Hindmarch-Watson and attended his wedding. “He’s a down-to-earth guy who really invests in his teammates and that’s one of the reasons he went on to be team manager.”
And, even with all the big names that have swam with the Vikes over the years, Vikes rookies are still impressed when they hear the announcer swam with the program. Vizsolyi laughed as he recalled an incoming swimmer gushing about the fact that the “voice of Canadian swimming” swam with UVic.
For his part, Hindmarch-Watson also remembers his time swimming with the Vikes fondly—a fact that comes as no surprise to those who know what he’s done for the program since graduating. The way he tells it, the man who started the Alumni Chapter for Vikes swimming enjoyed giving back to the program as much as he did swimming with it.
“My experience at UVic was fantastic—I can honestly say that I don’t think I would be where I am today without my choice to attend UVic,” said Hindmarch-Watson, now the Executive Director of the Canadian Swimming Coaches & Teachers Association. “I enjoyed my time at UVic and made many many friends from both inside and out of Athletics.
“I still feel like I am part of the Vikes community.”
The core of that community was made up of Vizsolyi, his fellow Vikes swimmers—many of whom he’s still friends with—and numerous Vikes staff, who he got to know well during his time as team manager of the swimming program.
“I’ve seen him develop as an announcer, from doing Canada West swimming events for us to all the way through his path and it’s been really interesting to watch that happen,” said James Keogh, Vikes Athletics Manager. “He’s given back to the program in any number of ways, through alumni and through working our events. It’s been neat watching him develop.”
When Hindmarch-Watson served as team manager, swimming shared an office with the women’s field hockey team and head coach Lynne Beecroft. Beecroft, still with the Vikes and coming off a year that saw her be named CIS Coach of the Year, still remembers Hindmarch-Watson fondly, describing him as hard-working, passionate and a “respectful young man.”
And that last part is something you don’t hear every day about a roommate.
The 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Victoria featured a number of performances that drew the attention of the international swimming community. After the 2002 games saw just a single world record be broken, a total of six records were re-written in 2006.
But another performance, likely unnoticed by those who watched from afar, caught the ears of the brass at USA Swimming: that of Hindmarch-Watson. When the games finished, he got a call from the American program. By December that year, he was announcing major U.S. events.
Since then, Hindmarch-Watson has been one of three announcers for USA Swimming at their most important events. Among other crucial meets, he’s announced three straight U.S. Olympic Trials, all while being called upon for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, the 2012 Short Course Worlds in Istanbul and the 2015 World Championships in Russia.
His work with USA Swimming and on the international stage has opened up other opportunities too, including the chance to work with the Japan Swimming Federation—an opportunity he notes has been particularly enjoyable.
But for him, the best part about his job is being able to watch some of the fastest swimming in the world unfold live in front of his eyes. At the Rio Olympics alone, he’s been front row and centre for a historic performance by 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak, who captured four medals—the most by any Canadian at a single summer games—in her first Olympics.
And it’s performances like Oleksiak’s that make Hindmarch-Watson’s job a special one.
“There are so many amazing athletes out there that make my job easy when they are on a record pace or when it is a tight race,” he said. “It is a lot of fun to be a part of it.”