Ukraine's Anna Voloshyna named new head coach of Canadian artistic swim team
Anna Voloshyna will feel loyal to two countries chasing Olympic Games berths at the world aquatics championship.
She was announced as the new head coach of Canada's artistic swim team Monday, but she won't start the job until after February's championship in Doha, Qatar.
Voloshyna's contract as an assistant coach for the United States includes Doha. She will join Canada's team based in Montreal on Feb. 19.
The 32-year-old Ukrainian hopes she'll step to the helm of an Olympic-bound Canadian team. The world championship Feb. 2-18 is a last-chance qualifier for the summer's Paris Olympics.
The top five countries in the team event in Doha that have not already qualified gain Paris entries.
"I'm part of Team U.S.A. and as part of Team U.S., my goal is to qualify this team, but for sure in my head, I'm thinking about Team Canada," Voloshyna said.
"They are also in the same situation at the world championship. In Doha, it will be a qualifier for both countries."
Voloshyna won 10 world championship medals for Ukraine as an athlete. She moved to the U.S. in 2019 to coach that country's junior team.
It's been a turbulent few years for Canada's artistic swimmers. Former athletes alleged in a 2021 lawsuit against Canada Artistic Swimming that it failed to provide a safe environment.
CAS and head coach Gabor Szauder parted company in 2023 just over four months out from the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
After winning Pan Am gold in both duet and team in 2011, 2015 and 2019, Canada took bronze in team and ranked fifth in duet in Santiago.
Mexico won team gold to qualify for Paris ahead of silver medallist United States.
"Our team for the past six months has gone through a lot of crap I'm going to say," Canadian athlete Jonnie Newman said in Santiago.
Chief sport officer Kerri Morgan and assistant coach Lyza Yakhno stepped in to shepherd Canada's team in Santiago. They and NextGen coach Kasia Kulesza will continue to oversee the team through Doha before Voloshyna's arrival.
CAS didn't provide an explanation for Szauder's departure at that time, but did Monday in a statement.
"Our focus on providing a safe and welcoming environment for athletes is unwavering," CAS said.
"Regrettably, in our efforts to meet the necessary government safe sport requirements, we were unable to reach agreements with the previous head coach, leading to Mr. Szauder's departure on June 14, 2023.
"While challenging, this decision was imperative for the future of sport in Canada."
Since artistic swimming made its Olympic debut in 1984, Canadians have competed in every Games, but have hovered just outside the top three since a team bronze medal in 2000.
A new judging system was introduced in 2023. An acrobatic routine added to the team competition will debut in Paris, where men can also compete in the team routines for the first time.
Voloshyna is tasked with returning Canada to the world's medal podium.
"I think Canada has everything to get back to the podium," she said. "My plan is to build very good relations based on trust between me and the team and the athletes.
"This last team, from competition to competition, they improved a lot and I see their potential. I know I can build something really good and strong."
She will reunite with her former Ukrainian teammate Yakhno. The two women earned a pair of world championship duet bronze medals in 2017, which was also the year the sport rebranded from synchronized swimming to artistic swimming.
"When I knew the information they were looking for a new head coach, for sure one of the factors was I will have as my assistant one of my best friends," Voloshyna said.
Canada Artistic Swimming says its five-year strategic plan announced recently "underscores our commitment to a holistic, athlete-centred approach both in and out of the pool."
"Our athletes and coaches have displayed tremendous resilience, maintaining a strong team culture," the organization said in a statement.
"We are confident that the addition of Anna Voloshyna as senior national team head coach aligns seamlessly with our dedication to an athlete-first, balanced and supportive philosophy on the road to the podium."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2024.