TORONTO - Swimming Canada launched a search for a new national team director Wednesday and unveiled a long-term strategic plan it hopes will get more Canadians to the top of the podium.
The organization announced Pierre Lafontaine will remain as director through the London Games before focusing solely on his duties as chief executive officer. The changes are part of the program's Vision 2020 plan, which includes a short-term goal of winning three Olympic medals in 2012.
"I think it's where we've almost outgrown the structure that we've had at Swimming Canada," Lafontaine said at a news conference at the University of Toronto.
After holding the same positions at the Australian Institute of Sport, Lafontaine returned to the national program in 2005 after Canada's disappointing showing at the Athens Olympics a year earlier.
Since then he has helped build a solid foundation that includes Olympic bronze medallist Ryan Cochrane of Victoria, former world champion Brent Hayden and world-record holder Annamay Pierse, both of Vancouver.
“When Pierre arrived we had no medals and a fragile national program," said Swimming Canada president David de Vlieger. "He has done an incredible job in a short time of putting all of the necessary pieces in place to restore the credibility of our sport in Canada by recreating a medal-winning program.”
Dubbed Vision 2020, Swimming Canada is hoping to build on its recent growth with an eye to the two Olympic competitions after London. The team finished 16th in Beijing and is shooting for a top-eight performance at the 2016 Games in Rio and a top-six effort by 2020.
To do that, the program wants to strengthen the sport at the grassroots level while creating a top training and competitive development model. And that includes a wide search for a new team director.
"We're going to be looking through our national coaches here in Canada and around the world for somebody who's going to back me up in terms of servicing our high-performance department," Lafontaine said.
Swimming Canada plans to generate funds for Vision 2020 through a mix of sources, including government contributions, corporate sponsorships and membership fees. De Vlieger is confident the program can get the $4 million needed to put the pieces in place.
"With the money we can build our programs, we can hire more people, higher-level coaches," de Vlieger said. "It drives everything."
Lafontaine said one of his goals is to have a consistent intimidation factor when Canadian swimmers step up on the blocks.
"We need to be able to not just fight above our weight all the time," he said. "We need to be a force to be reckoned with all the time in any event, in any conditions, anywhere in the world."
Swimming Canada has also set a goal for 20 Paralympic medals next year in London. Para-swimmer Summer Mortimer of Ancaster, Ont., said she's motivated by the new program.
"It will help get Canada more on the global scale and perform better," she said. "It will show that Canada is a serious competitor at big events like the worlds and the Olympics."