Swimmers Blaze New Records, Baumann Honoured in Montreal

The first six days of April proved quite the time in Montreal. Canada’s high performance swimmers came to the Olympic Swimming Trials, held at the 1976 Olympic Pool. And records fell. Beating previous Canadian records on the men’s side were Ryan Cochrane, Mike Brown, Joe Bartoch and the 4×100-metre relay team. On the women’s side, Victoria Poon, Annamay Pierse and Julia Wilkinson set several new national marks. Overall, a team of 27 will hit the pools at the 2008 Olympic Games.

“I think there are very positive signs with Canadians swimming,” said Alex Baumann who is not only the executive director of the Road to Excellence (RTE) program but also a double gold medallist from the 1984 Olympic Games. Before his performance, the last time a Canadian athlete had won Olympic gold in swimming was 72 years earlier. Then, for 15 years, Baumann moved to Australia and helped build that country’s strong swimming program. (He returned, to lead the RTE program, in 2006.)

“Pierre (Lafontaine) has done a terrific job coaching,” he said. “At the trials there was a great atmosphere there; it really reminded me of the kind of atmosphere in Australia.”

The atmosphere in Montreal was electric during a special presentation made to Baumann. Swimming Canada officially inducted him into the Circle of Excellence Hall of Fame. The award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to swimming in Canada.

Baumann told Podium that it was a great honour and a “humbling experience” when the crowd gave him a standing ovation. “It was quite interesting, the reception I got,” he said. “It makes me think that being away for fifteen years and then coming back gets you a bigger reception that if I’d stayed for those fifteen years! It’s been twenty-four years since my Olympic success and it’s incredible that it still resonates now.”

Baumann said that the team is “extremely young” at the moment and pointed to 2012 as a potentially key Olympic year for Canadian swimming. “The team is gaining depth, but we still have a long way to go to get to the level of many other nations. The deeper team will start to create rivalries between swimmers, which will push them further and make the team better.’