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london games

Ryan Cochrane, an Olympic bronze medal winner in the 1500m freestyle in Beijing, China in 2008, has been busy training as he prepares to compete in this year's Olympics in London.Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail

To perform on the grandest stage requires diligent rehearsing, and in a sporting circumstance where you have one – and only one – chance to shine, nothing can be left to chance.

Which is part of the rationale behind a weeklong run-through for Canada's elite swimmers, who will compete for 2012 Olympic berths under conditions that closely mimic what the successful ones will see this summer.

"From the competition schedule, to the media area, everything is a repetition of what they'll experience in London," said Pierre Lafontaine, chief executive officer of Swimming Canada and the national team's head coach.

Three athletes have already prequalified for the 2012 Summer Games: Ryan Cochrane, the Beijing 2008 bronze-medal-winning freestyler, former world champion freestyler Brent Hayden, and breaststroker Martha McCabe, who won bronze at the 2011 world championships.

But they shouldn't take anything for granted, Lafontaine cautioned. "If someone goes faster, they'll lose their spot."

This year's national trials, which are to be held at Montreal's Olympic pool, have also been timed to allow the team plenty of time to make its final preparations for London, and to build to their peak condition.

"It allows for a competitive selection, No. 1, and this way we'll have 16 weeks exactly to prepare for the Olympics as a team and work on the fine details," Lafontaine said.

It's an article of faith in competitive swimming that the difference between ninth and the podium is generally in the order of 1 per cent – just a few splinters of a second.

"This gives us a chance to work on that 1 per cent," Lafontaine said. "And you have to be a family before you can be a team."

The stated goal for the Canadian team is to take home between one and four medals (it won four at last year's worlds).

In addition to competing against each other, the national team swimmers will also be seeking to beat the Olympic standard times – there is a maximum of two entries per individual event and one team in each of the relays.

Beyond favourites such as Cochrane, Hayden and McCabe, this week's competition will feature leading athletes such as Annamay Pierse of Edmonton, a former world record holder in the 200-metre breaststroke and 2008 Olympian, and two-time Olympian Mike Brown of Perth, Ont.

"My preparations are going really well. It's been a great season in training since the start in September. I really picked up after the world championships and racing some World Cups in Europe was also great. I have kept that going through till now. I've come a long way and I feel like I've surpassed myself since 2008," said Brown, who hopes to erase the memories of an agonizing fourth-place finish in the 200-metre breaststroke in Beijing (he missed the podium by 9/100ths of a second).

But as in all Olympic years, this week is also an occasion for the emerging generation of swimmers to strut their stuff.

The rookie class is headlined by 18-year-old butterfly specialist Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., and includes youngsters Sinead Russell (100-metre backstroke), Alec Page (400-metre individual medley), and Chantal Van Landeghem (100-metre freestyle).

Savard burst onto the international scene in 2010, reaching the final at the Pan Pacific championships; last year, she set the Canadian record in the 100-metre butterfly (then bettered it a few months later) and finished ninth at her first senior world championships.

Though Savard had initially expected to compete for an Olympic spot in 2016, she should comfortably meet the standard this time around.

"I'm really anxious to get going and race and see how I will fare against some tough competition. My preparations are going really well and I'm swimming faster than ever. … Every competition I've been in this year, I've hovered around my Canadian record [in the 100 butterfly]so it's a great springboard for this event," she said.

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