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Canadian men have the hardware, but women have the numbers

Dec 17, 2013  - Adam Sioui

Canada Cup and the Big Splash Awards Showcase Canada's Best

As American Thanksgiving weekend winds down and pangs of hunger are replaced by feelings of regret, Canadians culminated the month of November in traditional fashion. As 2013 wanes, the country’s best battled one another under the lights at the University of Toronto at this year’s version of the Canada Cup.

December’s always a tricky month to pass judgment. Summer nationals are a few months past; swimmers now are no doubt in a heavy phase, where mileage is at a seasonal high. As it’s been for the last number of years, results were across the board, but in truth, it’s only fair to give a grade of incomplete with a litany of athletes missing either by choice or away at American universities.

Women’s backstroke continues to be a strong point. Hilary Caldwell seemingly came out of nowhere to snatch the bronze in last year’s World Championships. She joins former and current talents like Jennifer Fratesi, Julia Wilkinson and Sinead Russell, among others. Canadian women just know this stroke. Caldwell actually took the weekend off, but Dominique Bouchard picked up the slack winning the 100 and 200-meter distances.

Veteran Savannah King handily won the distance events, while the butterfly love was spread between three women. Noemie Thomas took the 50, Katerine Savard the 100, and the immortal Audrey Lacroix won the 200. Martha McCabe was strong in the breaststroke, winning the 100 and 200.

On the men’s side Coleman Allen earned five victories across a few disciplines; Russell Wood won two of three backstrokes. The majority of the winners are very green to the national stage, though. That’s exciting for the fact that no one really knows what these guys are capable of when given the opportunity. I’ve long been a proponent of “the win and you go” dynamic at selection competitions. I can respect the positives of achieving a certain time standard to be eligible to compete, but too often occasions are missed and experience is forfeited because of misguided intentions.

The competition also coincides with “The Big Splash” a celebration of the previous year.

Award winners are as follows:
Men’s Swimmer of the Year: Ryan Cochrane
Women’s Swimmer of the Year: Hilary Caldwell
Men’s Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett
Women’s Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett
Open Water Swimmer of the Year: Richard Weinberger
Open Water Coach of the Year: Ron Jacks
Men’s Para-Swimmer of the Year: Benoit Huot
Women’s Para-Swimmer of the Year: Valerie Grand-Maison
Men’s Para-Coach of the Year: Pierre Lamy
Women’s Para-Coach of the Year: Peter Carpenter
People’s Choice Race of the Year: Eric Hedlin

2013’s individual stroke recipients were also presented:
Chantal van Landeghem and Blake Worsley (sprint freestyle)
Ryan Cochrane and Alexa Komarnycky (distance freestyle)
Charles Francis and Hilary Caldwell (backstroke)
Richard Funk and Martha McCabe (breaststroke)
Zack Chetrat and Katerine Savard (butterfly)
Alec Page and Alexa Komarnycky (individual medley)

Granted, it’s early on in the season, but since the 2012 Olympic Games, there’s been a slight power shift in regards to the strength of the Canadian team. In London, at the 2012 Olympic Games, three medals were won, all by men: Ryan Cochrane, silver in the 1500-metre freestyle, Brent Hayden, bronze in the 100-metre freestyle, and Richard Weinberger, bronze in the 10-kilometre open water.

A year later, at the 2013 World Championships there’s a noticeable power shift in regards to the Canadian team. Take a look at a list of finalists:

Men’s finalists
• Ryan Cochrane, 400-metre freestyle; 800-meter freestyle (bronze); 1500-metre freestyle (silver)
• Eric Hedlin, 5-kilometre open water (silver)
• Richard Weinberger, 10-kilometre open water

Women’s finalists
• Hilary Caldwell, 200-metre backstroke (bronze)
• Martha McCabe, 200-metre breaststroke
• Sinead Russell, 200-metre backstroke
• Katerine Savard, 100-metre butterfly
• Noemie Thomas, 100-metre butterfly
• 4x100-metre freestyle relay
• 4x200-metre freestyle relay
• 4x100-metre medley relay

You can argue the men still come out on top in sheer physical hardware, but it’s clear that the women reign supreme when it comes to diversity. Keeping the results in between the lane ropes, the fairer sex completely dominates when it comes to final placings, eight to three (eight to one if you count individual people and events).

Cochrane remains the undisputed leader through his consistency, but it’s a scary prospect if he ever has an off week at a major site. Ultimately, medals are the endgame, but you have to first allow yourself the chance to get on the podium. Getting into the finals is the first step. You can always tell how strong a team is by the success of their relays, and most unnerving is the lack of a presence on the men’s side, currently, especially glaring given that the women found a way into the final eight for all three of their opportunities.

Now it’s possible that these statistics are a little misleading. Post Olympic years, there’s always a slew of vacancies that occur due to retirement. As well, many simply need a break from the rigors that only competitive swimming can produce. It should (and will be, I imagine) a point of emphasis to find and develop the next wave. The good news is, there’s time before the next Olympiad, but a test is upcoming in 2014 in the form of the Commonwealth Games and the Pan Pacific Games.

Several Canadians will have a leg up thanks to the Canadian Olympic Committee which just announced an injection of $320,000 to the top 64 female and male summer athletes across Canada, as part of the Athlete Excellence Fund. The fund is awarded to athletes based on results from international competition to prepare for Rio 2016.

Six female and two male swimmers earned a $5000 bonus from the COC:

  • Hilary Caldwell
  • Samantha Cheverton
  • Sandra Mainville
  • Victoria Poon
  • Katerine Savard
  • Chantal Van Landeghem
  • Ryan Cochrane
  • Richard Weinburger

As part of the same program, in 2016 swimmers will earn $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze in Rio.