VICTORIA – After a successful 2016, it’s time for the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Victoria to reload and look ahead to the next four years.
Hilary Caldwell’s bronze medal in the 200-m backstroke at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was a high note to cap a tumultuous quadrennial for the HPC-VIC swimmers. Meanwhile, Ryan Cochrane, the longtime face of Canadian swimming, made his third straight men’s 1,500-m final. Although his sixth place left him short of his third Olympic medal in, Canada’s most decorated international swimmer added another chapter to his incredible record of consistency.
While Cochrane, 27, and Caldwell, 25, are back in the pool training, HPC-VIC head coach Ryan Mallette is also looking ahead to the next generation of new blood in the centre.
“The end of the quad was seeing everything come to fruition. Now the excitement is to go back and do it even better,” says Mallette.
The latest recruit to join the program is Grande Cache, Alta., native Sarah Darcel, fresh off a successful Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships. The 17-year-old was a big part of Canada’s record 15-medal performance in Maui, winning the 400-m individual medley and contributing to three relay silvers.
“She’s exactly what I want in a centre athlete,” Mallette says. “She’s dedicated to getting better at virtually everything she does and she’s highly competitive. She’s becoming a good young professional athlete and just pursuing high performance.”
Darcel is moving up from the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific Swimming NextGen Program, coached by Brad Dingey.
“I came into that program being the youngest and least experienced swimmer out of everyone but that only pushed me harder,” Darcel says. “It had always been a goal of mine to join the centre, because the centres around the country tend to be the places that produce the best swimmers.”
Darcel and fellow HPC-VIC newcomer Danielle Hanus of Newmarket, Ont., bookended the medley relay to a silver medal at Junior Pan Pacs, with the 18-year-old Hanus swimming the backstroke and Darcel the freestyle. It could be a sign of things to come for HPC-VIC – and future Canadian senior teams.
“We’ve got a really young group and we want best times at Trials, that’s what we’re looking for,” says Mallette, whose swimmers will have home-pool advantage for the 2017 Canadian Swimming Trials next April at Saanich Commonwealth Place. That meet will be used to select next year’s FINA World Championships team.
“We can do what’s best for each one of them. The dynamic this quadrennial will be different and we all need to adjust to that but we are so able to provide everybody exactly what they need to improve. We are very confident in that.”
In preparation, Mallette has challenged his world-class support staff, which includes Swimming Canada Integrated Support Team Director Dr. Allan Wrigley. Swimming Canada’s lead physician Dr. Steve Keeler is also part of the team, as are nutritionist Susan Boegman, mental performance consultants Sharleen Hoar and Kirsten Barnes, physiologist Liz Johnson, physiotherapist Matt Rose, and performance therapist/strength and conditioning coach Danya Douglas Hunt.
“We are re-establishing what we do, questioning how to be better this year, what we can do to just teach better skills, prepare better athletes,” Mallette says. “The staff has been asked, ‘What skill set do you want to see next Olympics and how do we start implementing that now? How do we start teaching some of those skills now?’ That’s exciting and it’s just getting back to doing what we know how to do.”
Darcel, for one, is confident she’s made the right choice to pursue her goal of competing for Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The support team in Victoria is absolutely amazing and so are the athletes and the coaching. This is the exact kind of environment where world-class swimming meets its peak,” Darcel says. “I’m extremely excited to see what next season will bring for me training full-time with some of the best athletes in not only Canada, but the world. I hope to keep moving forward keeping 2020 on the horizon and seeing what the future holds.”