The conclusion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, in August of 2021, represented the culmination of more than five years of working towards that goal for Canada’s artistic swim team. It was also the most unusual of preparation times, with Covid restrictions reeking havoc on the planning and training to represent the country on the largest stage for high performance sport.

Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) recognized that there was a natural transition period for many of the Tokyo Olympians. They knew that some might want to take a break from full-time training, to pursue education or seek out other goals for their lives. Taking that necessary time meant they might not be ready to participate in the selection process for the Senior National Full Time Training Group that was scheduled for the fall of 2021. To support those athletes who might want to return at a later date, the CAS Board of Directors established a 2021-2022 Senior Full Time Training Group Challenge Process.

This procedure outlined how senior athletes could request to challenge for a place if they didn’t participate at one of the four Development and Audition Camps run in early fall 2021 or the November selection camp.

One of the athletes who made that decision was Andrée-Anne Côté from St-Georges, Québec. A member of the senior national team program since 2017, she was on the 2019 gold-medal winning Pan American team and made her Olympic debut as Canada finished 5th in the technical and 6th in the free at the team event in Tokyo.

She had already put off starting full-time studies in medicine for a year, because of the Olympic postponement. Exhausted after the strenuous season, Andrée-Anne moved from Montréal to Québec City to begin the fall semester at the University of Laval. She also added a new German shepherd puppy to her life as well – appropriately named Oly!

In November, when the National Team selection program held its final camp in Montreal, Andrée-Anne came in to help out. That rekindled her love for the sport. She realized that she missed the discipline of the training environment and the energy of swimming alongside her teammates. She decided to return to the team, and took advantage of the provision for Olympians to challenge for a place.

“Even though I’d only been away for a few months, it was demanding to come back to full-time training,” said Andrée-Anne. “It took a few weeks for my body to feel normal, and not ache after a workout!” But now she feels back to her high performance level and is enjoying serving as a mentor to her new teammates. “So many of them hadn’t had a chance to compete in person for over two years, so I’m trying to help them get ready. I just tell them about my experiences and try to make them feel comfortable.”

She’s proud of the work her teammates have put in to learn the two programs that were designed for the Olympic Games. “They are difficult Olympic-level programs. And we recorded them for the first competition after only four weeks of practice. Already we can see big changes since we filmed them. Our performances are already way better, and you can really see the progress that we have all made. I think that’s important to show that we are improving all the time.”

She appreciates that she didn’t have to make a decision about her future right after the Tokyo Games, and that she was able to have some time before deciding to return. Although it’s challenging to balance training with school, she’s able to attend some classes online, and then drive back to Québec City when she needs to attend in person. It’s allowing her to pursue her goal of becoming a doctor, and she hopes to work in the sports medicine field down the road.

Up next, Andrée-Anne will travel with the team to compete at the next FINA Aquatic Swimming World Series event in Paris, and then they will compete in another virtual competition before the FINA World Championships coming up in June.

With the next Olympic cycle underway, and the Paris Olympic Games scheduled in just over two years from now, Andrée-Anne is taking things day-by-day, but is energized by the prospect of competing for Canada again. She is also looking forward to the plans for a new judging system, which opens up new possibilities in creative choreography and highlights. For now though, she is just happy to be back in the pool and being part of the national team program!