Montreal program priming swimmers for Tokyo success

September 16, 2016

Benoit Huot trained at high performance centre ahead of Rio Games

By Ciarán Breen

Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium

Sept. 15, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – On opening night at the Olympics Aquatic Centre, Canadian coach Mike Thompson saw one-armed Chinese swimmer Haijiao Xu swim the 400-metre freestyle in 4:25.65. For the head of Swimming Canada’s Para-Swimming Intensive Training Program – Quebec (PSITPQ), it was a glimpse of a fast moving Paralympic movement he is charged with keeping Canada in touch with.

“It absolutely blew my mind,” said the 37-year-old poolside in Rio after Monday’s morning session. “I couldn’t believe I saw that.”

The Montreal-based program, Canada’s only high performance centre for para-swimmers, opened its doors in September last year, with the goal of priming the national team for success at the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo - but it has already borne fruit in Brazil.

Benoit Huot, one of a trio of swimmers to have spent the last 12 months working under Thompson, crowned his career by securing his 20th Paralympic medal on Thursday night, taking bronze in the S10 400-metre freestyle.

“It’s great to see where para-swimming is going in the country,” said Huot after finishing fourth in the 200IM final last Sunday. “There’s a lot of investment, a great structure, a great environment for the next generation so I think it’s very positive.”

Housed in the Institut National du Sport du Quebec at the renovated Olympic pool in Montreal, the PSITPQ has been in the works for a while, where athletes train at a centralized one-stop shop. From French doors in the changing rooms, to nutritionists, psychologists and doctors on hand, “You name it, we have access to it,” said Thompson, who is responsible for seven of the swimmers on the Canadian team in Rio.

“It removes all the other distractions,” said the former head coach for Waterloo Swim Club and Wilfrid Laurier University. “It’s strict performance. We have no excuses to not be fantastic.”

Huot was joined in Rio by training partners Issac Bouckley and Jean-Michel Lavallière. The program will expand this fall with the addition of several young swimmers, including 17-year-old Tess Routliffe, who won silver in the SM7 200-m individual medley on Tuesday.

“It was really great to train at a high performance centre, where you have all these resources available to you,” said Bouckley on Sunday after racing with Huot. “It really converts so I’m really glad that they have invested and it’s paying off in the pool.”

For Olympic swimmers, Thompson says there is often resistance to high performances centres from their home clubs, who may feel they can do an equivalent job. He suggests that on the para-side, swimmers are not always getting what they need in the club setting.

“People want to swim with people their age and people their speed,” said Thompson, who is faced with an ever-increasing depth of field at the Paralympic level.

“We spend a long time doing things in the way we believe is the right way. Then we come here, we watch and we see that other countries are developing.”

As for his incoming charges, he has some sober reflection.

“They’re probably going to see me more than anyone else in their life.”