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Lafontaine’s enthusiasm for bringing world short-course swim championships to Canada may exceed event’s importance

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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Swimming Canada CEO and national team coach Pierre Lafontaine. (The Canadian Press)

Enthusiasm is something Pierre Lafontaine never lacks. One of the few things Swimming Canada's chief executive officer loves more than swimming is promoting the sport.

That would explain the excitement in Lafontaine's voice Tuesday as he talked about the 2016 FINA world short-course swimming championships being awarded to Windsor, Ont.

"For us it's huge to have it in Canada," Lafontaine said during a telephone conference call from Istanbul, site of this year's world championships. "We have to keep setting the standard of world's best all the time.

"Whether it's swimming . . . but also in a hosting capacity. We need to keep setting the tone of where we want to be. That certainly for me is one of the reasons I want to keep bringing these events to Canada."

Windsor beat out Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates to host the world championships. They will be held in December 2016, a few months after the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A portable swimming pool will be used in a new centre currently under construction.

The event is expected to attract about 700 athletes and 2,500 visitors. It could cost up to $3 million to host, depending on government and corporate sponsorship.

Canada has taken just 13 athletes to Istanbul but expect a full team of about 40 swimmers to compete in Windsor. Any Canadian Olympic medallist who thinks about retiring after the Rio Games will probably be persuaded to stick around for a few more months.

Lafontaine also sees Windsor as the first step toward the 2020 Summer Olympics, for which Istanbul is one of the cities bidding.

"For us it's to inspire our 2020 group of kids, to kick-start our preparation for the Olympics," Lafontaine said.

While Lafontaine's ardour over bringing the short-course world championships to Canada is genuine things should be put in perspective.

Short-course competitions are held in a 25-metre pool while long-course is the 50-metre Olympic length.

In swimming's pecking order, an Olympic medal is still the pinnacle. Next is winning a medal at the world long-course championships, then setting a world long-course record. After that it's the world short-course championships and then setting a short-course world record.

Comparing long-course and short-course swimming is a bit like debating the merits of long-track and short-track speed skating. They are different animals, or fish in swimming's case.

Long-track speed skating appeals to purists of the sport but the spills and thrills of short-track is great for audiences.

Short-course swimming is fast and very exciting. Just don't expect all the biggest names to appear in Windsor.

According to SwimNews.com, just eight swimmers who won solo medals at the London Olympics are competing in Istanbul. Among those attending are American Ryan Lochte, who won the 400-metre individual medal gold medal, and Chad Le Clos of South Africa, who beat Michael Phelps in the 200-metre butterfly.

So far, just 1,000 tickets have been sold for the five-day world championships in Istanbul.

Of course where others might see a problem, Lafontaine sees only possibilities.

"We can't worry about who is not here," said Lafontaine. "This is about the future. This is about using this as a steeping stone for Rio in 2016."

Looking ahead to Windsor, Lafontaine already is talking about hosting a kids swim meet, or maybe a high school or master's competition to coincide with the short-course world championships.

"Hopefully we can build capacity the next three or four years," he said.

"For us it's about developing coaches, developing officials and helping create the next generation of kids."

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