Canada making a splash

ALISON KORN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

With cottage season upon us and lakes and rivers warming up to swimmable temperatures, it's inviting for us competitive types to leap right in and see how far we can go. How about 10 kilometres?

Ah, maybe not quite that far, eh -- I'm just happy if I finish two or three.

The 10k is the Olympic distance in open-water swimming -- called the marathon of swimming, since it takes elites around two hours -- an event that debuted at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. There were no Canadians ranked high enough to qualify for those Games, but Swimming Canada wants to change that for the next Olympics in London in 2012.

That's why the team has taken 18 swimmers to Long Beach, Calif., to race from June 4 to 6 for eight spots on the Canadian world open water championships team in distances of five, 10 and 25 kilometres.

"This will be an exciting summer for open water swimming in Canada," said Pierre Lafontaine, the organization's CEO and national coach. "With the world open water championships being hosted in our backyard and a new national circuit starting this summer, our swimmers will have great opportunities to showcase and develop the sport as we lead into the 2012 Olympics."

The 2010 FINA open water world championships will be July 15 to 23 in Roberval, Que., home of the gruelling annual 32-km Lac Saint-Jean crossing. The new national circuit will provide opportunities to race the Olympic distance at three lake swims in Quebec -- a hotbed of the sport -- and modest prize money.

"I think hosting events in Canada is really important because it just opens opportunities for kids to dream," Lafontaine said. "I also believe we've got to push like crazy to get every kid in the country to enjoy what Canada has to offer in the summer and to be water safe."

With the inception of the 10-km event at the Olympics in Beijing, the distance has grown in popularity around the world. Lafontaine says many top pool distance swimmers are now trying open water, because more races are being held in protected rowing basins and quiet lakes, as opposed to the high seas. In fact, Canada pioneered the first world championship open water swim in a rowing basin, in Montreal at the 2005 aquatic worlds.

"(International Olympic Committee president) Jacques Rogge came to see the 10k at the rowing tank in Montreal and he was really, really impressed," said Lafontaine. "The purists find it a little too tame, like they're not tough enough. It's friendlier to spectators now. We do a 2k loop and just swim around."

Canada has a strong history in marathon swimming. Cambridge's Greg Streppel dominated the sport in the mid-'90s, including winning the 25-kilometre world title in 1994. Now, young Canadian swimmers are starting to pick up.

At last year's worlds in Rome, Italy, large waves, a scorching sun and jelly fish stings couldn't slow Simon Tobin, 25, of Ste-Foy, Que., from posting an impressive ninth in the men's 25 kilometres. Canada's top female finisher was 19-year-old Zsofia Balazs of Toronto, placing 33rd in the 10-kilometres. In April this year, Tobin, Richard Weinberger of Victoria and Nadine Williams of Edmonton all earned top-10 finishes in the 15-kilometre races at a FINA Grand Prix competition in Mexico.

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


Videos

Photos