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The Eh Game

Is two medals in the London Olympic pool enough to show Canadian swim team is heading in the right direction?

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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Canada's long-distance swimmer reached the podium again, as Ryan Cochrane won silver in the 1,500m freestyle.

The shine from two Olympic medals might hide some gloomy questions surrounding Canada's swim team after their performance at the London Games.

Ryan Cochrane of Victoria won a silver in the 1,500 metres and Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C., bronze in the 100 metres. Richard Weinberger of Victoria still has a chance at a medal in Friday's 10-kilometre open water swim.

The two medals is double the total at the 2008 Beijing Games where Cochrane won a bronze. It's also the most medals Canada has won in the pool since 1996 in Atlanta.

[Related: Cochrane, Cockburn were not robbed]

The goal in London was three medals and reaching 13 to 15 finals. Besides the two medals, Canadian swimmers reached seven finals. Three Canadians just missed finals by finishing ninth.

Considering Swimming Canada received $9.3 million from Own the Podium since Beijing - more than any other sport - you wonder if these results are good enough.

"That's disappointing,'' Pierre Lafontaine, Swimming Canada chief executive officer, told The Canadian Press. "We do have to set targets.

"I think we're going to walk out of here not necessarily reaching the target in finals and other aspects. We want to belong among the big nations. I do think our athletes are that good. We're getting there. We just have to keep plugging away at it."

It takes longer to rebuild something than it does to decay. The swim team was so dysfunctional after not winning a medal at the Athens Olympics it made the Baldwin brothers look healthy and normal. It's largely through Lafontaine's work the team has restored its pride and confidence.

[Slideshow: Swimming world records set in London]

Cochrane has seen the change in attitude on the team.

"I think it was a rough couple decades since we were the Canadian dream team, and I think you try to take the steps to get back to when your country was the greatest in the pool,'' said the 23-year-old. "For us, you have to start with talking about winning, and obviously we're still trying to claw our way to the podium

"But we've changed the complete mindset on the team. I'm proud. Our younger swimmers talk about making finals, talk about what they want to do, and it's not about the negatives. We've had a couple ninth-place, 17th places, the harder finishes, but I think it builds our character and it's exciting to see the potential in our national team for the decade to come.''

The challenge over the next four years is for the team to keep developing talent. Hayden is 28 and probably won't swim in Rio de Janeiro. Colin Russell of Toronto and Scott Dickens of Vancouver are 27 and likely to retire while Tobias Oriwol of Toronto is 26.

Among the women, Audrey Lacroix of Montreal is 28 and Victoria Poon of LaSalle, Que, 27. You wonder if another Games are in the cards. Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., is only 25 but plans to get married and wants a career in medicine.

[Video: Missy Franklin reflects on her first Olympics]

There were some bright spots among the young swimmers in London.

Martha McCabe, 22, of Vancouver finished fifth in the 200 breaststroke, an event she won the bronze medal in at the last world championships. Sinead Russell, 19, of Burlington, Ont., was eighth in the 200 backstroke and 18-year-old Brittany MacLean of Etobicoke, Ont., seventh in the 400 freestyle. All three will be stronger and more prepared in four years.

Other swimmers like Alec Page, 18, of Victoria, David Sharpe, 22, of Halifax, and Savannah King, 19, of Vancouver will have more Olympic experience under their belt and be better prepared.

Lafontaine's vision is for Canada to be among the top eight swim countries by 2020.

"I don't think it feels further away," he said. "A couple of years ago, we didn't have that many people swimming every night, every semis. We weren't hitting on many fronts.

"Now we're in the game every event almost, which is not what we were doing in 2007. We're knocking on the doors in so many events."

The next four years will be important for Lafontaine and the swim program. There has been steady improvement on the team but promise needs to turn into production.

Patience will run thin if Canada doesn't win more than two medals in 2016.

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