SPORTS

Audrey Lacroix takes Canadian swimmers under her wing

07/15/2015 12:50 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT
Chantal Van Landeghem was a little flustered on Tuesday morning when the bus schedule wasn't what she thought it was, leaving her to scramble.

A couple of words from veteran Audrey Lacroix that made her laugh and she was right back on track again.

Good thing too, because the Van Landeghem express ran over American legend Natalie Coughlin twice at the Pan Am pool in the evening, winning two gold and leading a tremendous effort by the home side that produced six medals in six events.

One of the best starts to a major swim meet for this country in a long time included a remarkable three national records — Van Landeghem's 100m freestyle win (also a Pan Am mark), the women's 4x200m freestyle relay (Sandrine Mainville, Michelle Williams, Katerine Savard, Van Landeghem), and the men's 200m butterfly (Zack Chetrat, who took the bronze). 

Lacroix led her 200m butterfly (the papillon, as it's so wonderfully called in our other official language) from start to finish, riding a crest of noise from the full house that might burst an eardrum one day in this place.

After collecting her gold medal, the 31-year-old chatted about how much she's enjoying being a veteran on the squad.

"I really like my position on the team right now," she said, remembering her first national experience in 1999 at barely 16 years old. "I was like the French-speaking kid trying to find my place, and when I got here, I was the youngest."

She was taken under the wing by such as Christin Petelski, Marianne Limpert and Joanne Malar, and that eased the transition.

"As I grew older, I realized the kids are looking towards me, and they ask questions," she said. "If I can help some of them sometimes, I'm happy to do it, and it's a great privilege."

Those are nice words, certainly, but also professional ones and something John Atkinson, the team's High Performance Director, likes to hear.

"It's really important because with experience comes professionalism," said the English native, who took the top job in early 2013 and immediately set some bold goals such as top-eight among swim nations at Rio 2016, and top-six for Tokyo 2020.

"One of the things we've taught to all the team is how they conduct themselves, the professionalism they have and how they strive to keep improving."

You could see an especial glint when talking about Lacroix's effort, one that came in year 15 of her national career, a run that includes two Olympic semifinal berths in 2012 and Commonwealth gold last year.

"A phenomenal effort, that a lady who has been in the sport for so long continues to go, year on year," Atkinson said, pointing out the Quebec native moved down to the new high performance centre in this building back in April, where she has helped lead the youngsters and kept her own career strong.

Santo Condorelli, only 20, chatted in the mixed zone about how the men's' side follows two-time Olympic medalist Ryan Cochrane, and Chetrat, who missed qualifying for the London Games by .02 and has kept pushing beyond that disappointment. 

"Having them is crucial for us, because [veterans] show us the ropes and tell us what we're going to have to get used to, and what to be prepared for," he said, admitting that yes, the youngsters can also have a positive effect on their elders by, you know, keeping them youthful.

"No doubt for sure. You see some of the old guys laying down and relaxed and you've got us nut heads running around, wanting to do something … excited."

They had all done something this night, and with four more evenings of swim finals, they could be doing a lot more.

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