The integration of able-bodied sport with sport for the disabled took a big leap off the starting block with the announcement Tuesday that Swimming Canada will stage its Olympic and Paralympic swim trials together.
The six-day trials, March 27-April 1, will be held at Montreal's 1976 Olympic pool. RBC, which has a historic position with the Olympic movement in Canada as the COC's first corporate backer, will be the title sponsor of the trials for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The trials are a partnership of the national swim federation with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) as Swimming Canada continues to eliminate some of the barriers that exist between able-bodied elite swimmers and elite athletes with disabilities.
"We held the trials together in 2008 but we weren't allowed to call them Olympic trials. They were the Beijing trials," said Pierre Lafontaine, CEO and National Coach for Swimming Canada in an interview.
Olympic and Paralympic officials are proprietary about the use of the terms that describe the respective competitions. It can be an impediment to sponsorship.
"Being able to integrate the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic brands within our marquee event of the quadrennial will provide our organization with a greater platform to promote the values of our sport, athletes and coaches," said Lafontaine.
"As part of our new Vision 2020 strategic plan, Swimming Canada aims to be a world leading swimming nation. Having the COC and CPC partner with us for our key domestic competition is a step forward to achieving this mandate," said Lafontaine.
About 700 swimmers will take part in the trials. Races at the trials will be intermixed, he said, though Lafontaine doesn't foresee the complete elimination of the Olympic-Paralympic distinction. "It would make for too big an event, almost impossible. It would also take highlights away from Paralympians. They're tremendous athletes and we need to concentrate on them," he said.
The aim is to grow swimming's profile and to create this new model for how Canadian Olympic athletes are unveiled to their fans, said Chris Overholt, COC chief executive officer and secretary general.
"One of the primary goals for the COC is to cast the spotlight on our great athletes and our partners in the sport community," Overholt said.
Putting together high-profile events such as trials for the Olympics and Paralympics are important to showcasing Canada's elite-level swimmers with a disability said Henry Storgaard, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
National English-language broadcast coverage for the 2012 Canadian Olympic and Paralympic swim trials will happen every night on Sportsnet, while the French-language Société Radio Canada will air highlights of the event on its network.