One less pool to ride wave

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Paul Midgley knows he was part of something special in Beijing this summer.

Incomparable Michael Phelps rode the shuttle bus like everyone else, then put on an Olympics performance like no other. Even the Canadian swim team showed signs of life by winning its first medal in eight years and setting numerous national records.

"It was a thrill and I don't think we'll ever see anything of the magnitude the Chinese put on ever again," said the London Aquatic Club and Western's university swim coach who was with the national team. "From everything I'm reading, the (International Olympic Committee) is talking about belt-tightening because of the economic crisis and for the first time, sponsors are talking about cutting back. That hasn't happened at the Olympics before."

Phelps propelled swimming back into the spotlight. The Canadian showing could help infuse more hope and talent in the much-maligned program.

But it comes when there are still many challenges. Laurier University in Waterloo, once the site of a Canadian high-performance swim centre, is closing its facility.

The school's competitive swimmers are sure to scatter following the winter semester. Western could be the most practical destination when a new eight-lane, 50-metre pool opens as part of an on-campus recreation package expected to begin operations in February after the current university swim season ends.

"I haven't heard anything yet and it'll be up to the Canadian and Ontario university (associations) to decide what happens (to the Laurier swimmers), probably before next fall," Midgley said. "The swimming community is small. Any time we lose another 50-metre pool, it hurts.

"We just had a meet at the (Canada Games) Aquatic Centre with 600-700 swimmers. Logistically, you can't accommodate many more than that in one weekend. All you can do is turn some people away."

London, though, will be in better shape than most communities for elite swimming after the Western project is complete. But once a relatively inexpensive sport, the price tag on swim gear has skyrocketed because of the Fastskin LZR Racer suit technology -- which costs more than composite hockey sticks and doesn't last as long.

"They're in the $500-800 range and they have a very short shelf life, usually one international meet," Midgley said. "But everyone's using them and they make a difference. You need them now to win."

Though the Olympics are sure to be a different animal at London (England) in 2012, Midgley said he'd love to be invited again by Swim Canada. One of his students -- Canadian butterfly champ Joe Bartoch -- is bent on being a contender there after failing to make the 100-metre final during his first Olympic experience in China.

"We wanted to have a better showing," Midgley said.


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