When Axelle Crevier hops into the pool to play Canada's opening water polo match against Australia at the Tokyo Olympics, she'll be reprising some Canadian history.
Crevier will be the second Olympian in the family, following in the wake of her mother, Marie-Claude Deslières, who competed for Canada in the same sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
And, in a stroke of luck at what will be pandemic-restricted Games, her mother will be able to see her accomplish it in person in Tokyo.
While foreign fans aren't allowed at the Games, Deslières will be there as one of Canada's international officials, her third Olympics in that role. She was the first woman to referee an Olympic final when she did it at the London 2012 Olympics.
"I know I'm so lucky," Deslières said over a recent call from Anaheim where the Canadian team was in camp with the world No. 1 United States. "We had bought her father his ticket to see her play, but unfortunately he won't get to do it on site. I feel very lucky to travel with the team and have that chance."
Parent-child Olympic duos are rare, but Canada has seen a few over the decades. There are two from the Olympics in Rio, shooter Lynda Kiejko (2016, 2020) and her late father, shooter Bill Hare (1964), and swimmer Kennedy Goss (2016) and her father, swimmer Sandy Goss (1984, 1988). If the Canadian men's basketball team qualifies for Tokyo, Andrew Wiggins would join mother, track and field sprinter, Marita Payne (1984, 1988).
Wasn't pressured to play
So was there pressure for Axelle to join the family business?
"It was a choice," Crevier said. "I was introduced really young. It was already in my life since I'm the youngest sibling and I was still going to the training with my sister and brother, but I chose when I was older."
Deslières said her three children had to learn to swim.
"That was the basic line," Deslières said. "When they were tired of swimming — after a year — I still wanted them to be in the water and I said, 'hey I have a fantastic game to show you, it's full of friends and there's a ball,' and they just fell in love with the game. Axelle started to like it on her own, she started to develop some very good skills and I saw she had great potential."
Crevier is one of the youngest players on the Canadian team. A winger or driver, she's the one moving around the outside, passing the ball or shooting from distance. She's won medals at FINA events at both the junior and senior level, including a fourth-place finish at the 2017 world championships and silver medals at the FINA World League Super Final and the 2019 Pan Am Games. The latter helped earn Canada a ticket to Tokyo, the country's first Olympic appearance in the sport since 2004.
Deslières's Olympic experience as an athlete was bittersweet. She fulfilled a lifelong dream, but she didn't bring home a medal.
Bittersweet Olympic experience
She was a 34-year-old mother of three when she came out of retirement for "a chance of a lifetime," at the Sydney Games, the first time women's water polo joined the Olympic programme. Axelle, the youngest, was still a baby at the time. Marie-Claude was able to make it work as the team's training centre was in her home of Montreal and husband Richard was on board.
Canada, which had upset the powerhouse United States for gold at the 1999 Pan Am Games, went into Sydney as medal favourites, but ultimately left with a fifth-place finish.
"We didn't achieve what we wanted to do, we didn't compete as well as we were expected to do so that was a big, big disappointment," she said. "Now I can say that I'm happy that I went, but it took a lot of time for me to get over it. The Olympics was not a great experience for me at that time."
She hopes it will be different for Crevier, though the team's preparation, like most athletes around the world, has been difficult because of the pandemic. With the restrictions in Canada, the team has had to travel abroad to test themselves ahead of the Olympics.
"We're on a world tour," joked Crevier, noting the team's camp and exhibition series in California, followed by a stop in Italy and then the World League Super Final, an eight-nation tournament in Athens (and the team's first real competition in 18 months). From there they will train in Europe, eventually making their way to Tokyo for the Games.
"We needed to go outside of the country at some point to see where we were at. We've been training like crazy for two years, but we have no idea if it's going to work. We need to try our systems and our tactics against real teams," she said. "We couldn't go to the Olympics without this preparation in being ready. We needed that."
Despite her own accomplishments as a player, Deslières is a mom first and beams at the thought of her youngest in the Olympics.
"It means she's achieved her goal," Deslières said. "And I'm a very proud mother."