As Canada's chef de mission for London 2012, Tewksbury has set the bar high for Canadian athletes.When Mark Tewksbury was a swimmer his Olympic preparation consisted of training, training and more training.
Now as chef de mission for the Canadian team at this summer's Games in London Tewksbury's days are filled by going to Olympic trials, following athletes on Twitter, attending corporate functions with the Canadian Olympic Committee, helping plan logistics for the team's time in London, and dealing with the media.
"It's a little bit of a lot of stuff,'' Tewksbury said recently.
Seeing how much time and effort is involved preparing a delegation for the Games has been a learning experience for Tewksbury.
"It's a good thing that athletes don't really understand how much work goes on behind the scene,'' said the Olympic gold medalist. "They might be totally overwhelmed and feel even more of a sense of 'gee, I'd better perform.' It's just stunning. It's for sure been the biggest eye-opener.''
The job of chef de mission is multi-dimensional. The chef is the Canadian team's official representative and spokesperson. If things go well, the person is the lead cheerleader and stands in the background while athletes accept their medals. If the team performs poorly, or there is some sort of scandal, it's the chef who has to be front and centre to answer questions.
"What I've tried to do in the role of chef is help define it,'' said the 44-year-old Calgary native. "It's a really dynamic role.
"As chef I've really been able to bridge the sport and business side of the Olympic committee, which is kind of unique.''
As a swimmer Tewksbury was sometimes frustrated by procedures and timelines placed on athletes. His experiences leading up to London gives him a better understanding of why things are done a certain way.
In April a COC official had to attend a meeting and present a list of over 2,000 names containing every Canadian athlete with the potential of making Canada's Olympic team. It was up to the different national sport groups to compile the list. But if an athlete's name wasn't included they would not be able to compete in London even if they managed to reach an Olympic qualifying standard.
"I started to understand, on the organizational side, there are some really hard timelines that just have to be meet,'' said Tewksbury. "I never really understood that as an athlete. But on this side, seeing how mammoth the organizing is, I really appreciate there has to be some process and structure in place.''
Tewksbury competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he won a relay silver medal. At the 1992 Games in Barcelona he won gold in the 100-metre backstroke and bronze in the relay. His picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
After his retirement Tewksbury worked as an athlete representative with the International Olympic Committee, but became disillusion with how the IOC operated. He accused the IOC of corruption and joined other former athletes in calling for the resignation of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Being named the 2012 chef de mission has seen Tewksbury come full circle.
He likes the direction the COC has taken under president Marcel Aubut. He also was impressed with how Canadian athletes were treated at the Vancouver Winter Olympics when Chris Rudge was COC president.
"I really thought when I left the Olympic movement I would never be back,'' he said. "I can certainly, 100 percent stand behind the leadership of the Olympic committee in Canada. I think it's incredible. They really walk the talk about coach led, athlete centred.
"I'm really proud to be back. I never would have imagined myself saying that even four years ago. I wasn't interested. I think Vancouver was a turning point for me.''
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Tewksbury still has reservations about working for the IOC again.
"No, not at the moment,'' he said. "I was offered to be put forward on a commission at that level. I chose to focus on Team Canada at the moment. That's simply where I want to put my energy.''
Sylvie Bernie, who won gold in diving at the 1984 Games, will be Tewksbury's assistant chef. She also was Canada's chef de mission at the 2008 Beijing Games. Other recent summer chef de missions include David Bedford, who worked in sports sponsorship and marketing, at the 2004 Athens Games, and two-time Olympian Diane Jones-Konihowski for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Nathalie Lambert, a gold medalist in short-track speed skating, was Canada's chef de mission in Vancouver. Shane Pearsall, who had a history in sports management, had the job in 2006 at Turin.
The goal at London is for Canada to win enough medals to finish among the top 12 countries. Tewksbury thinks it's an ambitious target.
"Goals aren't always realistic,'' he said. "It's a bit of a stretch and it's not going to be easy. We are going for excellence and excellence isn't necessarily easy.
"Let's at least set the bar high. If we surpass it, if we meet it, if we just miss it, we will do the analyses after. Realistically we want to trend toward the best Games ever.''