Cultural, higher standards play a role in Canadian women’s continued swimming success

The bar has also been set higher.

“I think just the philosophy, ‘You don’t just make a team, you have to make a team because we know that you’re going to be able to perform,’ has had a huge impact,” said Cynthia Pincott, senior manager of high-performing Canadian Swimmers for her Olympic program.

“I remember in the 2000s it was a lot of, you know, ‘Let’s get everyone on the team as much as possible so they get that international experience,’ whereas now our philosophy seems to be ‘Get in the team because you’re going to get to the semifinals and You will reach the final, you will swim again.’

“So we’ve set a higher bar that makes people reach higher standards and that’s been part of our success.”

Oleksiak has, across two Olympics, been Canada’s most decorated Olympian with seven medals. Masse has taken four over the same span, while Mac Neil won three in his Olympic debut in Tokyo.

McIntosh, however, has almost completely taken over the spotlight. His debut at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago featured two fourth-place finishes across four events.

The 16-year-old Toronto native went on to win two gold medals at the 2022 worlds, along with one silver and one bronze in the four events she contested and followed that up with a five-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games.

But her performances so far at the Canadian swim trials have been eye-opening to what the future could hold.

McIntosh set a world record in the women’s 400 meter freestyle on Tuesday and finished 0.77 seconds short of the world record for the 200 individual medley on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon, McIntosh credited the program’s culture with its ability to handle such moments.

“Yeah, I think that comes from experience and being surrounded by so many amazing people who have been through very similar situations and have had a lot more time to spend in this sport,” he said. “I think a lot of people at Swim Canada, when it comes to coaches, but a lot of teammates too, have taught me so much over the last few years, and I’m so grateful for that.

“I think overall, the Swim Canada team has really just come out over the last couple of decades and we’ve really grown. And I think that comes from the culture of the team and everyone around us. We motivate each other every day to be better. And I think it’s not just one person, it takes the whole team, of course.”

While the current group is certainly successful, significant changes in sport make it difficult to compare the current swimmers to the women’s team that won a total of 12 medals between the 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympics.

“I think our sport is a living, breathing, changing sport and it’s difficult to compare, … in my feelings, from one group to another,” said Pincott. “Technology has changed, the training environment has changed, the science has changed, the rules have changed in our sport.

“So it’s very difficult to say that this group is the best we’ve ever had. But I’d like to think so.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 31, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, Canadian Press

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