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High performance director John Atkinson excited about Swimming Canada's future


EDMONTON — As the 2018 Canadian Swimming Trials wrapped up five days of competition on Sunday, Swimming Canada high performance director and team leader for the Olympic program John Atkinson said the program is at its most promising level in decades.

"When you look at our results in Rio, it was our best Olympic Games since 1984 and 1976," he said. "In world swimming now, where the depth goes down so much deeper than it did back in the day, we have a number of swimmers who are world ranked and performing at the international level and I think we are well positioned to continue that for the next few years."

The women's side of the program has been making the most waves, with the likes of Taylor Ruck, who won eight medals at the recent Commonwealth Games in Australia, Penny Oleksiak, who won four medals in Rio in 2016, and world record holder Kylie Masse. However, Atkinson believes the men's portion of the program is also making progress.

"In 2012 we had three medals in London and they were all from men," he said. "Four years later in Rio and we had six medals, all from women. What we have seen over the last five days of racing is the emergence of some younger guys in the 18 to 22 range and they have a long future ahead of them. It takes a little longer to cultivate and develop your men's team."

The Trials served as the qualifiers for next month's Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, also home to the 2020 Summer Olympics Games.

"It's going to be a really good rehearsal for what comes in two years time," Atkinson said.

The swim of the meet awards went to Taylor Ruck for winning the women's 200 freestyle and to Yuri Kisil for his performance in winning the men's 50 freestyle.

Nick Bennett was awarded the swim of the meet for men's Para competitors, while Shelby Newkirk earned the same honour for the women after setting a new world record for her S7 classification in the women's backstroke.

There were few events on the final day of competition.

Winning the women's 200 breaststroke was Kelsey Wog of the University of Manitoba. She swam a personal best time of 2:23.83 to edge out Kierra Smith.

"I'm super excited, I raced my best and I am happy with the outcome," said the 19-year-old. "I used to get really nervous all the time and I finally got over it. I'm looking forward to the whole experience of getting to compete in Tokyo."

Finishing first in the men's 200 breaststroke was Ottawa native Eli Wall, a student at the University of Toronto.

"It was all about hitting the wall first, that's all I cared about," he said. "I hadn't swam since Wednesday, so it was a long week of waiting and watching everybody else make the team. But it was worth it. I'm just happy to add my name to the list."

Victoria, B.C.'s Peter Brothers captured gold in the men's 800 freestyle, his second gold of the meet after also winning the men's 400 free on Friday.

The Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships also take place next month in Cairns, Australia, although the qualification process isn't the same "win and you are in."

In Para swimming on Sunday, Morgan Bird and Nicolas Turbide won the 50 free multi-class races. Turbide's time of 25.41 set a new Canadian record for his S13 classification.

Aurelie Rivard and Phillippe Vachon finished first in the 400 free multi-class races.

Shane Jones, The Canadian Press

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