Saanich loses national swimming training centre

An era in swimming will end when Saanich Commonwealth Place is phased out as a Canadian training centre following the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The High Performance Centre-Victoria has produced Olympic-medallists Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell while Olympic-medallist open-water swimmer Richard Weinberger also trained in Saanich Commonwealth Place. But HPC-Victoria will be shut down as Swimming Canada announced Thursday it will streamline operations post-Tokyo at two east-west training centres in Toronto and at UBC in Vancouver.

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The news was not met by approval on the part of retired two-time Olympic medallist Cochrane, who said he “greatly benefited from being associated” with the centre.

“It saddens me to hear Swimming Canada has chosen to discontinue its support for swimming in Victoria,” added Cochrane.

“We have one of the best facilities in the country, some of the brightest and hardest working coaches and support staff in the world, as well as incredible club support from Island Swimming. All that, which alongside the centre, helped develop some of our top Olympians over the past 15 years. It’s very disappointing to see a sports federation pull its support from athletes who continue to progress on the international scene. Olympic and world championship medals were won because of the support of the centre here in Victoria, and without that, it is even more difficult for our swimmers to reach their full potential.”

Swimming Canada did not deny the Victoria centre’s success, but said it was time to rationalize operations.

“The Victoria centre has had some successful results over the years. Now the time is right to best position ourselves for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028,” said John Atkinson, high performance director and national coach of Swimming Canada.

“Swimming Canada wants to ensure we have a robust high-performance network across the country, for east and west. We have to look at the resourcing that’s available, and all the considerations that go into how we best do that.”

That appears to leave the current Tokyo Olympic trainees at Saanich Commonwealth Place in a bind. But Swimming Canada said they will receive coaching and support through to Tokyo 2020 in Saanich Commonwealth Place.

This summer provided a bounty out of Saanich Commonwealth Place with Danielle Hanus winning four silver medals and Faith Knelson silver and bronze at the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, Eric Hedlin 5K open-water bronze at the 2019 FINA world aquatics championships and Jade Hannah two gold medals and a bronze at the world junior championships. Also part of the Saanich Commonwealth Place Tokyo 2020-hopefuls mix are Mackenzie Padington, Jeremy Bagshaw, Jon McKay and Chantel Jeffrey, all who represented Canada in the 2019 FINA world aquatics championships in South Korea.

Their former head coach, Ryan Mallette, has already been moved to the High Performance Centre-Ontario.

“The Victoria athletes will continue to receive support from coach Brad Dingey, Swimming Canada senior coach Martyn Wilby and a world-class integrated support team,” said Atkinson.

Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi and Atkinson met with Victoria staff and swimmers Thursday to discuss training plans for them through the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

“We would like to thank every staff member, service provider and volunteer who has supported the centre for all the years of great work they have put into developing Canadian swimmers,” said El-Awadi.

Saanich Place was built for the swimming and diving events of the 1994 Commonwealth Games. A 25-year operating and funding agreement with the federal and provincial governments, which prioritized access to the facility for high-performance sports organizations, expires next August. The two senior levels of government provided a total of $330,000 annually toward facility operating and maintenance costs as part of the agreement.

Saanich council voted in September to continue providing preferred access to high-performance athletes after the agreement ends, but required sports organizations to pay a six per cent annual increase in usage fees beginning in 2020. Saanich said it will also increase its facility operating funding by nearly $300,000 per year. Saanich said the additional funds are needed to cover Commonwealth Place’s operating costs, which in 2018 were $2.3 million.

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