NEWS
03/03/2016 15:35 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 00:12 EST

Canadian synchro swim team uses unique measures in Olympic pursuit

The Canadian women's synchronized swimming team finds itself in a difficult position as it prepares for the Olympic Games qualifying tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this weekend.

Canada has qualified for every Olympics since the event was first introduced in 1996 at Atlanta.

The team won silver and bronze, respectively, in the first two Olympics Games and has finished no lower than fifth in the ensuing three Olympiads.

But with only the top three nations securing Olympic berths this weekend, the margin for error is small. Japan and Ukraine are the favourites while Canada, which ranks among the top seven in the world, will be in a battle with Spain and Italy for the final Olympic spot.

"We came here with a specific goal and that's to qualify for the Olympic Games," said Synchro Canada CEO Jackie Buckingham, adding Canada will be an underdog at this event.

"What we've focused on as a team is a personal-best performance and not leaving anything on the deck. They want to bring everything that they have, all the training that they've done for the last six months, in particular, that's been gearing towards this day. They want to get out of the water knowing they did everything that they could possibly do and we'll be satisfied. But the depth of talent in the world has really increased."

The team consists of Gabriella Brisson (Montreal), Annabelle Frappier (Montreal), Sandy Gill (Coquitlam, B.C.), Claudia Holzner (Calgary), Rebecca Maule (Guelph, Ont.), Samantha Nealon (Morriston, Ont.), Jacqueline Simoneau (Saint-Laurent, Que.), Karine Thomas (Gatineau, Que.), Janelle Ball (Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.), Marie-Lou Morin (Westmount, Que.).

Thomas and Gill will only perform in the technical routine, Morin and Ball will take part in the free routine, while the other six swimmers will compete in both.

To date, only Thomas and Simoneau have qualified for Rio in the duet event.

Unique opportunity

The Canadian women haven't competed since a fifth-place finish at the world championships in August. Yet out of that competition, a unique opportunity may have opened the door for the Canadian team by using different approach.

Buckingham said the organization received feedback from sports scientists, high-level athletes, judges and several coaches after the world championships in the hope of making several improvements.

"One of the scientists has developed a software package that is actually doing performance analysis in a way the sport has never seen before," said Buckingham.

"So we took all that data from worlds, all the routines that we competing against and we ran them through performing-analysis observation, good and bad. It really broke down the routines down into small, finite pieces and the computer software package that is being developed produces reports that does a comparative analysis from team to team, routine to routine, based on the data that has been inputted.

"We're definitely using it to build routines that we think will get us more marks and higher scores. We're also taking a really hard look at every component of the routines and rebuilt both [technical and free] routines."

Blame it on Rio

The other nations won't be the only obstacle standing in Canada's way. Rio has been hit hard with rain this week, and since the athletes will be competing in an outdoor pool, performances could be affected if the weather continues to cause problems.

"The weather is calling for thunderstorms for the rest of the time we're here," said Buckingham. "There's a potential that we could get delayed by rain. The worst case I guess is we would have to two routines in one day. Any number of things could happen. There is a fair amount of flexibility with the schedule here because there's just the two competitions: duet and team. It could be a problem. At this point we're crossing our fingers but we don't know."