Need for a review of priorities

John
John Browne
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St. John’s Legends and Memorial University Sea-Hawks varsity swim coach Aaron Dahl says if there’s any desire to have world class athletes in world class facilities, or even facilities that meet the minimum standard across Canada, then something needs to be done, and not only about the facilities. He said there needs to be a review of access and the cost associated with these facilities.

Outdated facilities holding back athletes

New St. John’s Legends and Memorial University varsity swim coach Aaron Dahl suggests there needs to be a change in attitude regarding athletic facilities and the delivery of competitive sport in Newfoundland.
“New facilities,” says Dahl, “won’t make any difference if the mandate continues to be recreation and profit first, and sport second.

“The situation in St John’s isn’t desperate if the goal is to maintain the minimum standard,” he said.

The Aquarena, situated on the Memorial campus, was constructed in 1976 for the 1977 Canada Summer Games, and remains the only 50-metre pool in the province.

Dahl replaced former Legends and Memorial head coach Brad Hutton in August and even in his short time in the city he recognizes the need for a new pool.

He said if there’s any desire to have world class athletes in world class facilities, or even facilities that meet the minimum standard across Canada, then something needs to be done, and not only about the facilities. He said there needs to be a review of access and the cost associated with these facilities.

“Ideally,” Dahl said, “there needs to be a mandate inside of sport in St. John’s where performance comes first. Where facilities are designed and built with the end in mind, and access is granted to high performance sport based on performance metrics in place to move aquatic sport forward in Newfoundland to be competitive with the other provinces.”

One former Legends executive told The Telegram that under the stewardship of The Works — the body which runs the Aquarena, Field House and other recreation facilities on the university campus — the Aquarena is operated on a strict cost recovery basis which has, “marginalized competitive swimming in favour of recreational users.”

The permanent recreational water slides and toys, multiple users, limited pool time availability as well as high water temperatures, he said, are all impediments to high performance sport. Playing host to a swim meet at the Aquarena costs the St. John’s Legends in excess of $15,000.

Dahl agrees high performance sport in aquatic facilities rank very low in access priority. The biggest challenge in St John’s, he said, is access to appropriate training space and time.

As determined by Dahl, the best swimmers in St John’s are able to access the facility approximately two-thirds of the time needed for them to be competitive with the best swimmers in Canada.

“New facilities,” he said, “with a focus on performance will enable aquatic sports to move forward, attract better coaches and properly develop our athletes.”

Dahl, from Victoria, B.C., and a three-time Swimming Canada youth male coach of the year who coached at the FINA junior world championship in Peru, said he could only speak for the Legends and the university’s varsity team, but neither, he maintains, have the appropriate space or time to develop a top level competitive program.

St. John's recently      announced plans for a $32M facility that will include a six-lane, 25-metre lap pool and a separate pool for people with physical disabilities in Wedgewood Park, but that doesn’t impress Dahl.

Construction is currently ongoing in Mount Pearl on a new aquatics facility, but that, too, also only features a 25-metre pool.

“Why would you build a pool that’s six lanes and 25 meters with a separate pool for disabled patrons,” Dahl asks of the St. John’s facility, “when you could build a 10-lane, 52 meter pool with two one-meter bulkheads that has a movable floor at the one end for people with disabilities?

“And $32 million? I don’t know what that includes, but it’s a ton of money for another community pool that will likely not be used for anything but swimming lessons and lane swim.

“We are hosting the (2021) Canada Games in 92 months’ time and we don’t have a facility that can host the Games. The Aquarena is dated and isn’t spectator-friendly. The meet requires a 50-meter pool, and the Aquarena is the only one in the province.”

Dahl wants to know why the provincial government isn’t on this now, and trying to partner with the City of St. John’s on a facility that can host the Games.

“If it cost an additional $4 million to $5 million to make this a facility that we can actually use and is different from all the other facilities, isn’t that a better investment than building another facility before the Games that can’t host the swimming competition?”

Dahl said having the proper facility to host the Games is very important, but having a facility that aquatic users can access at a price in line with what other clubs in other provinces pay is more important. And having proper access to that facility for years before the Games is even more important.

According to Dahl, Newfoundland needs to have access to a facility not just to host the Games, but to be competitive at the Games.

“If we build a facility one year before the Games like we did in 1976 for the ’77 Summer Games, we have the facility but we don’t have the team to be competitive.

“The last thing we did in Newfoundland to really move swimming forward was to build the Aquarena. And now, 37 years later, we have the same facility, with less access, a higher price tag and decreased ability to host due to poor viewing and an outdated competition tank.

“We need to look forward and be proactive in this regard, and now is the time to do that. If we build a pool for 2021 in 2020, then all we have is a pool without a team that will be competitive when the Games arrive in 2021.”

Dahl said the municipal and provincial governments need to understand that fielding competitive teams for initiatives like the Canada Games starts the moment we find out that we’re hosting. He said there’s a legacy that will be passed down from this Games.

“We need to decide if that legacy is to be performance, or if it’s simply to be a good host to the teams that will come here and beat us.”

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canada Games, The Telegram, Field House Swimming Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland, Victoria Peru St. John's Wedgewood Park Mount Pearl

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • jen
    December 06, 2013 - 21:51

    There seems to be several athletes commenting on this post ...they seem to be saying alot...but for some reason... I can only hear exscuses

  • J
    December 06, 2013 - 06:33

    I give him a couple of years before this place wears him down. I'm from here and after two years of being back I won't be here much longer. Nothing has changed here with regard to people and attitudes. I won't be raising my kids in this with no opportunities to excel and any chance they may have is shouted down by the Proletariat.

  • Stephanie
    December 05, 2013 - 16:06

    I 100% agree with this article. All of the people commenting and saying that medals aren't important and all they mind is another pool for the community, maybe you should have tried competitive sports when you were able to. As a competitive athlete myself, it's extremely difficult to go away to national and international competitions knowing that you're not prepared simply because we do not have the proper training in Newfoundland because of the lack of training space and equipment. And that goes for all sports in Newfoundland. There are enough recreational pools and gyms in this province to meet the needs of the people who are not competitive athletes. It's time for sports to be taken much more seriously.

  • Mike
    December 05, 2013 - 13:51

    Oh please sir, this is Newfieland, we couldn't care less about winning, it's all about being friendly to the outsiders. We Newfs are known as the friendliest in the country for a reason and our leaders as the highest paid and useless in the country. It's an image we've worked hard to attain, why change now? As an athlete that represented this province on many occassions I know and understand your point, but us Newfs have never properly prepared our athlete's for anything! Certain people involved with the games will benefit personally and that's the Newfie way!

  • david
    December 05, 2013 - 12:21

    As the singlemost obese, unfit, elderly and unhealthy province in Canada, with by far the most broad array of societal needs to be met form the most limited of budgets, I am not in the least bit concerned with eventually...perhaps...winning medals in sports. Seriously.

    • Stef
      December 05, 2013 - 13:27

      Maybe if we had more local sporting role models more kids would get involved in sports and perhaps we wouldn't end up as the " singlemost obese, unfit, elderly and unhealthy province in Canada" though I doubt anything can be done about elderly. We're all aging.

    • Jane
      December 05, 2013 - 13:59

      With amateur sports success comes MONEY. If the province invests money now in high quality facilities that can HOST national level competitions, that increases the chance of success for our local athletes, increases tourism revenue, and brings corporate sponsorship. This will then feed down to the grassroots level so that we can build the community pools. The governemtn has no clue how to invest it's money!!!! But yet they complain on our lack of success at National level competition...Aaran your article should be on the front page.

    • Jane
      December 05, 2013 - 14:01

      With amateur sports success comes MONEY. If the province invests money now in high quality facilities that can HOST national level competitions, that increases the chance of success for our local athletes, increases tourism revenue, and brings corporate sponsorship. This will then feed down to the grassroots level so that we can build the community pools. The governemtn has no clue how to invest it's money!!!! But yet they complain on our lack of success at National level competition...Aaran your article should be on the front page.

    • david
      December 05, 2013 - 15:11

      Newfoundland...the land of hoping g "Maybe..." far too often, and saying "Most likely...." almost never. Also a place where the word "investment " gets slung around like a codfish on the end of a gaff. The correct word is 'expenditure' everyone...politicians call it "investing" because it often pays THEM back. But for everyday people, this stuff is just a shovelfull of 'free', ribbon-cutting happy pills.

  • Eric
    December 05, 2013 - 10:33

    From a former swimmer with the legends and an athlete in the 2011 and 2013 Canada Games, Coach Aaron Dahl is 100% right and this is same story heard all across NL in all sports. The NL government is just not concern with sports in the province, and then can't understand why in sherbrooke we only came home with one medal. This is an issue that Sports in NL have brought up many time but never been address by the government. Welcome Aaron to sports in NL, I'm sure you're going love it :P

    • Natalie
      December 05, 2013 - 14:08

      I agree with Eric however I would like to point out that NL got two medals in Sherbrooke - one in swimming and one in Athletics (Special Olympics).

  • Chantal
    December 05, 2013 - 07:34

    I'm not interested in a lavish complex for a few elite swimmers. That money should go to community pools throughout the province where people, regardless of their age or abilities, can enjoy a healthy activity at no cost to the user. A healthy and happy population is more of a legacy than a few stupid medals.

    • T Tompkins
      December 05, 2013 - 14:06

      Are you nuts? You already have community pools to swim in and now you want more? Us ATHLETES need better facilities. Some people take sport seriously you know? Good god, try watching a Michael Jordan interview or something for once. (Oh wait, you have no interest in that, you just want more pools to float in.)

    • Joe
      December 05, 2013 - 19:10

      Healthy Population? Take look around. Afraid something will come out of your welfare check?

    • James
      December 05, 2013 - 20:18

      When you say "a few elite", you should understand that that means 300 youth between the ages of 12 and 18, at one club alone, year after longitudinal year, until that age range does in fact represent "all ages". Also, when you say "lavish" you should think "industrial", large enough to accommodate everyone, for only 15-20% more cost*. *Probably no more cost, maybe even less cost, when you look at 2 buildings (and the need to build a 3rd complex within 15years anyway) compared to one large, efficient complex.

    • Kelli
      December 06, 2013 - 08:48

      “A healthy and happy population”, an awesome point, couldn't agree more. My children swim competitively up to 8 times a week. With the expectations that they have to achieve high grades in school to continue swimming - my children will be well educated and able to prioritize and balance their work loads. With emphases put on achieving their best - there is no want for junk food, drugs and alcohol. The special bond that is created within a swim team - they will have friends for life. I am interested in any sports complex that can allow our children to find out how elite they are ……….lets not forget how many hockey arenas are in Newfoundland!!!!!!