03/06/2013 11:43 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

New Swimming Canada high-performance coach likes what he sees in juniors

On the job for only a few days, the new high-performance director for Swimming Canada has already seen a lot of potential in Canada's junior swimmers.

"They were third on the points score at the last world junior championships," John Atkinson said Wednesday.

"That's tremendous effort. For me that proves that there's talent in the system. What we have to do is nurture that talent."

Canada's potential was one of the factors that helped him decide to take the job, he said.

With a coaching career than spans more than 26 years, Atkinson most recently led the British Paralympic swim program to 39 medals. He has also had success in Australia.

While he prefers to talk more about developing athletes than medal counts, he said one thing Canada must do is get more swimmers into more finals at world events.

Canada qualified eight finalists in the pool and came away with three medals at the London Olympics.

"Eight finalists is a figure that we've got to see increasing and the more people you have swimming in finals, the more shots you have at medals when you're at those world championships or Olympic Games," he said.

He said transitioning successful junior athletes into the senior program is one key.

"One of the things that I think we have to do is target resources at athletes that are improving and can bridge the gap from where they're currently ranked in the world to standing on the podium," he said.

He'll spend the next three weeks meeting athletes and coaches across the country, on the lead up to the world trials in Victoria April 3-6 which determine who will represent Canada at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona.

While he says he has a lot to learn about the Canadian program, he already has some plans for how to move forward.

"Across the world, . . . high performance sport and high performance swimming is the same thing and what makes swimmers swim faster is the same the world over," he said.

"What I would be looking to do is not import anything specific but bring principles to what I can do that can enhance the high-performance program in Canada and give the athletes the best build-up to Rio that we can possibly do."

He inherits a goal to see Canada finish in the top eight at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and in the top six in 2020.

What he'll be looking for in Victoria is whether athletes have improved their times over 2012.

"Are they ahead of the curve? Are they swimming faster than in 2012 or are they behind the curve?"

If they're not improving, the challenge is to work with them and turn that around. But it's also the challenge Swimming Canada in general faces if its wants to improve compared to other nations.

"What we have to do is move forward faster than the rest of the world," Atkinson said.

"If we want to improve what we did in London, we have to improve ahead of other nations and against our major competitors in world swimming."