Canadian artistic swim team inspires next generation during pre-Olympic camp in Saanich

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is Friday but the Canadian artistic (formerly known as synchronized) swim team is across the Pacific at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

Since artistic swimming is not until the final week of the Games from Aug. 2-7 — and competitors can arrive in the Tokyo Athletes Village no earlier than five days before their competition due to the COVID restrictions — the Canadian team will depart Victoria on Sunday.

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“Once we got on the plane to Victoria, and getting here, made it feel more real. It now really feels like the final step before the Olympics and we’re super excited to be here,” said Canadian Olympic team member Audrey Joly of St-Eustache, Que.

The Olympians are inspiring the next generation as young competitors from the Victoria Synchro Club have been keen observers of the training sessions.

“The facility is awesome and it’s really nice to still be in Canada because we get to have little fans in the stands and it’s really nice to have their support,” said Joly.

“I never thought I would be a role model for kids when I grew up. Just seeing them so excited brings me energy and helps me get through practices. It’s really awesome.”

The artistic swim team is centralized at the Institut National du Sport du Québec in Montreal, but Victoria provided a more logical departure point for Tokyo. So the swimmers have come to Canada’s West Coast training centre hub, where national teams across several sports are centralized on the Lower Island.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s so incredible to be here and training for our last push toward the Games,” said national team member Kenzie Priddell of Regina.

“Having these young fans here, and the sign they made us and their cheering, is inspiring. It’s great to have people who are looking up to us. It gives us that extra push as we look forward to compete in the Games. I remember watching the national team when I was younger and it was my biggest dream. Now it’s like full circle.”

The Island swimmers are all eyes and ears this week watching the Olympians.

“This is an opportunity that will inspire youth to stay in sport and will perhaps motivate others to try something new,” said Victoria Synchro head coach Tara Gant.

“This is an amazing reward for all our club athletes who have persevered throughout the pandemic.”

Added Victoria Synchro president Mary Murrell: “This year in particular, I am so proud of our club and its athletes for their perseverance and am so excited to welcome the national team to our pool. This [is] such a wonderful opportunity for our athletes after an extraordinarily challenging year.”

The Canadian team, gold medallist from the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, is ranked No. 3 in the world and favoured for the Tokyo Olympic podium in the team event. (Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau will also compete in duet).

But back in 2019 the athletes could not have anticipated a 2020 Summer Olympics delayed by a year and still with the threat of the pandemic hanging over the Games in 2021.

“I’m not concerned,” said Priddell, about the health aspects of going to Tokyo.

“We have a plan laid out and have lots of protocols in place. We’re ready to go. There are no concerns for us.”

All Canadian athletes competing in Tokyo are fully vaccinated.

“The COC has worked really hard to keep us safe and there are so many protocols,” said Joly.

“We trust the process and I don’t believe they would send us somewhere that isn’t safe. I’m not concerned.”

As part of the countervailing measures to guard against COVID, no fans will be allowed into the Tokyo venues to watch the Olympic events.

“It will be a different experience but it’s the same for everybody,” said Priddell.

“We’re just going to support each other and make the best of it.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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