Since the resounding success of Canada’s women’s swimming team in Rio last summer, athletes, coaches and officials have been doing everything they can do ensure the wave of momentum continues into the world championships.
After Canadians reached the podium six times at last year’s Olympics, with 11 different women contributing to the effort, expectations will be higher when swimming competition opens at the worlds in Budapest, Hungary this weekend.
“I think a little bit of pressure is a good thing,” says John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director. “I don’t think stress is a good thing. But everybody who is on the team knows they are going to Budapest to perform.”
Atkinson says there’s no question Penny Oleksiak — the breakout star who won four medals in Rio, including a gold in the 100m freestyle — will carry much of the pressure on her shoulders. But he also wants to temper expectations for the entire women’s team.
“We should be careful,” he says. “You are dealing with young ladies who can progress and also plateau. It’s a long journey back to Tokyo in 2020.”
For her part, Oleksiak seems to be taking the increased attention in stride.
“People will always have expectations for me,” she told reporters before worlds. “But I really don’t pay attention to it. I honestly don’t really care. I’m just trying to reach my own expectations.”
Atkinson looks at these world championships as an early step on the road to Tokyo. Think of it as hitting the reset button on the Olympic cycle.
“World championships the year after the Olympics have a different level of expectation,” he says. “By the time you get to the one a year before the Olympics, it’s probably more of an event where you want to show what you’ve got, how well you can do, because the Olympics are coming.”
Atkinson says these worlds will give the team a chance to evaluate where it’s at and what it needs to improve upon. The swimmers who competed in Rio want to keep the momentum going, while some newer, younger athletes want to make their breakthrough.
While the success of Canada’s women in Rio may have been a surprise to many, Atkinson says it was the result of years of work. Swimming Canada is constantly evaluating talent in the years leading up the Olympics, and in the case of the Rio Games, Atkinson and the coaching staff had been grooming the athletes for at least four years for their big moment.
“In 2012 at the Olympics in London, the…