All roads, they say, lead to Rome. But for Canadian athletes embarking on the World Aquatics Championships this is one thoroughfare where, as a winter country, success has meant swimming upstream.

“The chemical mix is the same,” says Pierre LaFontaine, Canada’s head swim coach. “Ice and water … hockey and swimming. They are both things that we as Canadians naturally do — only in opposite seasons.”

Indeed, Canada is a player in the life aquatic.

An inordinate number of divers have worn the Maple Leaf with distinction including Olympic medallists Irene MacDonald, Sylvie Bernier, Annie Pelletier, Anne Montminy and Blythe Hartley. At the worlds, both Alex Despatie and Emilie Heymans bring multiple Olympic medals to the mix. Both are former world champions who can still make an impact. They are backed up by the next generation of Canadian talent ready to take the plunge in Italy.

Both of the water polo teams are underdogs. However, the women won a bronze medal at Montreal in 2005 and recently claimed silver in the World League Super Final. The men have beaten some of the world’s best recently and were competitive at last summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

In synchronized swimming, the legacy of Carolyn Waldo and Sylvie Frechette is strong. No Canadian entry should be counted out in this discipline.

In swimming, Canada is once again surfacing. While the glory days of Victor Davis and Alex Baumann are but a fond memory, the exploits of world champion Brent Hayden and Beijing Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane speak volumes. Hayden has beaten Michael Phelps this season and Cochrane seems poised to replace the retired Grant Hackett of Australia as the No. 1 threat in the watery version of the metric mile.

Don’t forget the women.

Annamay Pierse was just off the 200-metre breaststroke world record at the recent trials in Montreal. In the meantime, 15-year-old Amanda Reason smashed the world mark in the 50m breaststroke, a distance known as the “splash and dash.”

All of this is reason to believe that Canadian fish will do more than tread water in the Tiber River, which runs through the eternal city of Rome.

Indeed, they may dive deep to claim golden treasure and swim with the sharks en route to more medals than the five they won in Melbourne, Australia, two years ago.

– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.

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