Top swimmers back in the pool at Saanich Commonwealth Place

This is serious splashing, but it never seemed more joyful.

Several of Canada’s elite swimmers returned to training this month in Saanich Commonwealth Place pool.

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According to health authorities, including the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the use of recreational waters.

Not that these swimmers recreate in pools. They push hard. The Victoria training group includes three-time Olympian Stephanie Horner, 2019 Lima Pan Am Games quadruple silver-medallist Danielle Hanus, FINA world aquatics championship competitor Chantel Jeffries and world junior championships double gold-medallist and double 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games finalist Faith Knelson.

They follow in the Saanich Commonwealth Place lanes pioneered by the likes of Olympic-medallists Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell.

“It was daunting to be out of the pool for four months. It’s a relief to actually feel water again after a lot of biking and dryland circuits,” said Hanus.

“But it got my mind out of the water and I refocused and am just enjoying the sport. We feel safe and are following all the safety guidelines.” Swimming Canada released Version 2 of its Return To Swimming resource document on July 10.

Despite the Saanich pool’s legacy — including world records set by legends Kieran Perkins of Australia in the 1994 Commonwealth Games and American Michael Phelps in the 2006 Pan-Pacific championships — the Victoria training centre is set to close at the end of next month.

Swimming Canada decided to have high-performance training centres at only two venues — the University of B.C. pool in Vancouver and the 2015 Pan Am Games pool in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.

In announcing the decision last year, national high performance director and national coach John Atkinson said: “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.

“We have to look at the resourcing that’s available, and all the considerations that go into how we best do that. Focusing our investment on two high-performance centres — one in the eastern part of the country, and one in the west — will allow Swimming Canada to continue to succeed in the coming years.”

The Saanich Commonwealth Place high-performance centre was set to close after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, allowing for its swimmers to have an uninterrupted lead-in to Tokyo, followed by a clean break in relocating to the Vancouver or Toronto centres for the next Olympic quadrennial. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to next summer has complicated matters and added up to a great deal of uncertainty for the Saanich training group.

“We’re not sure yet what will happen,” said Hanus. “Everything is up in the air. We’re in limbo. So we’re just living in the moment.”

Hanus credits the Saanich centre coaching and support staff, led by coach Brad Dingey, in getting the swimmers through this difficult and unusual double whammy of having to cope with both the imminent closure of their centre and postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

One of the Victoria centre’s rising stars, 2017 and 2019 FINA world aquatics championships competitor and Olympics-touted Mackenize Padington of Campbell River, has already relocated to the Vancouver centre.

It’s a triple layer of uncertainty for the swimmers when questions surrounding the upcoming U Sports and NCAA seasons are factored into the equation. Hanus is a multiple U Sports gold medallist with the University of Victoria Vikes. The psychology major is planning on graduating next spring with an eye on law school. She is currently taking five online summer classes, something she never expected to be doing in what was anticipated to be an Olympic summer.

“A lot of the swimmers are wondering about the school year,” said Hanus.

The Canada West conference announced this month its swimming championships, originally slotted for November, will be held in early 2021 at the University of Calgary on dates to be determined. The conference added, however, that is predicated on the COVID-19 situation at the time. A decision will be made Oct. 8.

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