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With Olympic dream on the line, Canada’s best swimmers must hold for applause

While many sporting events around the world have returned to pre-pandemic normalcy – with packed stadiums and raucous crowds – COVID-19 still looms large over the 2021 Canadian swim trials.

Toronto’s cavernous Pan Am Sports Centre, an esthetic marvel, would usually be packed for this event. Instead, it will remain largely empty as Canadian swimmers take their shot at fulfilling their Olympic dreams.

The vacant seats would have been inconceivable six years ago at the 2015 Pan Am Games. An event that has largely been heralded as a turning point for the Canadian swim program.

“The crowd was unbelievable, and the support was fantastic,” recalls Swim Canada’s high performance director John Atkinson. “That was one of those key moments where the swim team developed. Of course, coming back now it is not going to be like that.”

Canadian athletes hoping to realize their ultimate goal after years of training and sacrifice will not be able to celebrate with family and friends – or soak up the adulation of a roaring crowd.

“It’s different, obviously, but it’s something we had to accept a long time ago,” says LaSalle, Ont., native Kylie Masse, who is swimming at these trials but has already been guaranteed a ticket to Tokyo. “We have been in the pool by ourselves with limited groups and limited swimmers for so long.

“Obviously it’s difficult when you put so much on the line and you are trying to get to Tokyo without your support system around you.”

With the Olympics a little over a month away, athlete safety is paramount.

Anybody accessing the building must complete multiple forms and pass a COVID-19 test before entering. The only place masks aren’t required is in the pool.

It’s something swimmers need to get used to as the safety protocols in Tokyo are likely to be even more restrictive.

“I really feel that our athletes that are going to go to Tokyo who are able to stand up and do it in a very sterile environment will get a bounce off it and take it into the Games,” Atkinson says.

That being said, Swim Canada has endeavored to create some atmosphere and energy in the building. Before the pandemic, Alan Raphael, Swimming Canada’s marketing director, planned to “put on the greatest and innovative trials we’ve ever done.”

With those plans shelved, Raphael has done his best to add some pizzazz to these trials, while adhering to the numerous health and safety protocols that are in place.

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