Swimming Canada recently published an article titled “Q&A with High Performance Director John Atkinson.” Some of the questions and answers made specific reference to elements from my recent articles, which got me excited. To continue the discussion, I decided to draft my own response to Swimming Canada’s article, section by section. Here it is.

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I appreciate this segment clarifying John Atkinson’s title; I was under the impression it was actually “High-Performance-at-the-Expense-of-Everyone-Else-and-Consequently-at-the-Expense-of-High-Performance Director”.

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I’m still waiting for evidence showing that resting and shaving for earlier meets “can compromise training and in turn results at Trials and in the summer.” Are there any sources to cite or is this just supposed to be assumed factual?

As I pointed out in my last article, and I will articulate again, many world-class swimmers repeatedly race fast over the duration of the short course season and then still throw down big performances at major international competitions in the summer. Again, during the 2013/2014 season Chad le Clos broke the short course 200 fly world record in Eindhoven on August 7th, broke it again in Singapore on November 5th three months later, and then managed to equal Ian Thorpe’s record seven medals in a single Commonwealth Games the following summer. Clearly his training wasn’t compromised too much while swimming fast for the duration of the World Cup circuit. Check out his impressive winning streak below:

Chad le Clos World Cups

Did Chad hold a single taper in 2013 from mid-July (to prepare to become World Champion in Barcelona before this circuit even began) through November? If not, something tells me he’s resting and shaving more than twice a year. If he is tapering for that entire stretch, it would seem heavy training during that time period is overrated.

Yes, I agree that Canadians should adopt a philosophy of preparing to be world-class, but what inspired the idea that world-class swimmers only rest and shave twice a year? Why shouldn’t Canadians model their seasons off Chad if they’re preparing to be world-class?

Canadian swimmers competing at the 2014 SC World Championships in December shouldn’t be resting or shaving according to John’s two tapers per year rule (at Trials and in the summer). So why is Canada even sending a team? John talks about Swimming Canada’s limited budget below – it seems like a big waste of money to fly swimmers to Doha if they’re not even allowed to prepare to race fast. Surely this money could be better allocated elsewhere. We could use a domestic focus meet around that time now that Canada Cup no longer exists.

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The above paragraphs completely contradict Swimming Canada’s philosophy from last season. Did slower swimmers meeting age weighted criteria have “an increased likelihood of progressing beyond heats at major international competitions”? I find it fascinating that age weighted standards aren’t included in the selection criteria for next summer’s meets – why is that? Why aren’t the policies staying consistent? I’d love to hear the reasoning for this – last year, the inclusion of age weighted standards for Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships selection seemed to be an important component of Swimming Canada’s philosophy. If Swimming Canada isn’t confident enough in its own policies to keep them consistent, why should swimmers have any confidence in Swimming Canada?

I’d also love for somebody to explain to me what this sentence actually means: “By setting higher standards, athletes can maximize the number of swims they are shaved and tapered for at appropriate competitions.” Swimming Canada has been using jargon like “we have to set higher standards” for years, probably decades, and it doesn’t seem to help anybody. What does it even mean? I think most top Canadian swimmers are doing everything in their power to swim as fast as possible while fully aware of their world ranking. When you tell a national team member to “set higher standards” what are you actually telling them? That they suck?

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“What we have been doing over the past few years has not made us systematically better.” Really? Selection for the Olympic Games in 2004 required meeting challenging time standards set by Swimming Canada that prevented every event winner at Trials from qualifying for the Games. It was a failed strategy; Canada got no swimming medals in 2004. Selection for every major international competition over the next eight years essentially used simple winner-goes criteria. In 2008, Canada got one swimming medal, and in 2012 it got three. In my eyes, that’s a gradual improvement.

John didn’t seem to offer any concrete reason for why we can’t use a “first to the wall” system for selection in Canada, even though it seemed to be working for us over the past two quadrennials. Why should a lack of financial resources, population base, and volume of registered competitive swimmers have any bearing on fairness, one of the most fundamental values in sport? The problem I see with “strategic investment in High Performance swimming” by “exploring other avenues” is that it compromises basic performance-reward incentives, and by extension, damages the swimming culture in Canada.

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It’s great that Swimming Canada is using “On Track” times to identify swimmers to invest in. I placed 2nd at World Junior Championships back in 2008 – I had potential! Based on the High Performance criteria in the first paragraph, I would have been identified!

I’m just wondering how exactly Swimming Canada plans to invest in identified “On Track” swimmers to assist with continual improvement. Will identified swimmers be supported all the way into their elite career, or discarded once they’re too old?

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First of all, I’ve meticulously examined the data for male medallists in London, and I concede that the average age was 24.5 rather than 25 (see “Notes” below for a full explanation and breakdown). I’m including the 10km open water event in my calculation. If you remove that event and the associated ages, the median age of male medallists in London does become 24. So I can’t help but wonder: how did Mr. Atkinson arrive at a median age of 24? Did he round down from 24.5 (I’m not a math expert, but I don’t think that’s a correct operation) or exclude the 10km open water from his calculation? I surely hope he didn’t exclude the 10km event – after all, Richard Weinberger earned one of Canada’s three swimming medals in that race. Surely his performance was valuable to Swimming Canada.

Secondly, how many swimmers demonstrate a “steady rate of improvement” over their entire careers? It seems unfair to apply that standard to all Canadians when not even our top swimmers continually improve; it’s a near impossible standard. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ryan Cochrane, but his mile didn’t get any faster over the four years between Beijing and London. He didn’t meet “continual improvement” requirements, and he’s our best swimmer – so why should everyone be held to that unrealistic standard?

Lastly, if I’m understanding the logic correctly, I’ll go ahead and propose that every swimmer in Canada who is a) over the age of 21 and b) lacking a World Championship medal quits swimming immediately. According to John Atkinson, you have not met Swimming Canada’s standard for High Performance and are not a worthy investment.

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Notes:

Male Medallists at the 2012 London Olympic Games Gold Silver Bronze
50 free Florent Manaudou, 21 Cullen Jones, 28 César Cielo, 25
100 free Nathan Adrian, 23 James Magnussen, 21 Brent Hayden, 28
200 free Yannick Agnel, 20 Sun Yang, 20, Park Tae-hwan, 22 Tie for silver
400 free Sun Yang, 20 Park Tae-hwan, 22 Peter Vanderkaay, 28
1500 free Sun Yang, 20 Ryan Cochrane, 23 Oussama Mellouli, 28
100 back Matt Grevers, 27 Nick Thoman, 26 Ryosuke Irie, 22
200 back Tyler Clary, 23 Ryosuke Irie, 22 Ryan Lochte, 27
100 breast Cameron van der Burgh, 24 Christian Sprenger, 26 Brendan Hansen, 30
200 breast Dániel Gyurta, 23 Michael Jamieson, 23 Ryo Tateishi, 23
100 fly Michael Phelps, 27 Chad le Clos, 20, Yevgeny Korotyshkin, 29 Tie for silver
200 fly Chad le Clos, 20 Michael Phelps, 27 Takeshi Matsuda, 28
200 I.M. Michael Phelps, 27 Ryan Lochte, 27 László Cseh, 26
400 I.M. Ryan Lochte, 27 Thiago Pereira, 26 Kosuke Hagino, 17
10 km Open Water Oussama Mellouli, 28 Thomas Lurz, 32 Richard Weinberger, 22

17, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 21, 21, 22, 22, 22, 22, 22, 23, 23, 23, 23, 23, 23, 24, 25, 26, 26, 26, 26, 27, 27, 27, 27, 27, 27, 27, 28, 28, 28, 28, 28, 28, 29, 30, 32

There are 42 data points, meaning the median falls between the 21st and 22nd oldest medallists. Those ages are 24 and 25, which, when averaged, become 24.5. I invite you to please double check my data.

The reason I mistakenly arrived at 25 in my last calculation is because I subtracted two years off the current age of the London medallists (based on their ages on Wikipedia) at the end of August 2014, when I wrote my first article. Since the Olympics actually happened a month earlier than that in 2012, there were some August birthdays that slightly changed the values – for example, Ryan Lochte turned 28 during the 2012 Olympics, so I changed his age to 27 for this round of calculation. This was my mistake, and it did effect the outcome slightly.

You could argue that a 24.5 year old is actually 24, but you could also argue that 24.5 rounds up to 25. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t change my argument.