Cowan Named Breakout Performer of the year Thanks to Sensational Worlds Debut
Following a sensational World Para Swimming Championships debut in Portugal last June, Félix Cowan has been named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Performer of the Year (Paralympic Program).
“I guess it would be fair to say Félix was kind of flying under the radar,” said Jean-Michel Lavallière, the recently-appointed head coach of Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec, about the then 19-year-old who had yet to make a national team going into the 2022 season. “But keep in mind, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was basically no competitions for two years. Also, in 2021, Félix was reclassified from S9 to S8, so that too changed the situation a little.
“This to say, he was definitely on our radar, but he simply hadn’t had the opportunity to truly make a name for himself before the 2022 worlds.”
Cowan, who has been training at the HPC-Quebec since 2020, says the competition hiatus caused by the pandemic served as extra motivation ahead of the 2022 campaign.
“I was eager to prove myself. It motivated me even more,” said the now 20-year-old from Brossard, Que., who was born with mild cerebral palsy. “My goal going into last year’s Trials in Victoria was clear. It was to make the team.
“I knew when I got there I had put in the efforts and done the work required.”
That hard work clearly paid off.
At the 2022 Bell Canadian Swimming Trials last April, Cowan won a trio of multi-class medals, including gold in the 50-m freestyle, to qualify for his maiden world championships.
“The Trials was Félix’s breakthrough moment, for sure,” said Lavallière. “To be honest, we knew he’d get to that level, but maybe not that quickly. He had been at HPC-Quebec for a few years, more on the next generation side. He developed at his own pace, put in place the right technical foundations.”
Once at Madeira 2022 last summer, the worlds rookie could have been excused for being a little overwhelmed. Instead, he not only showed remarkable poise, he managed to take his game to the next level.
Cowan reached the final in all four of his individual events, setting three personal best times in the process. In the 50 free S8, he missed the podium by seven hundredths of a second, finishing fourth in a Canadian record time of 27.63.
He was also part of the 4×50 medley 20 points and the 4×100 free 34 points relays that set new national standards.
“I finished fourth with a Canadian record and a PB by almost a second over 50 metres, which is huge. I couldn’t be happier,” Cowan said at the time. “Next time, we’ll go get the medal.”
Reflecting on his world championship debut eight months after the fact, Cowan says he felt confident but was still surprised with his results.
“Coming in, I was excited. I wanted to do well and prove myself. I didn’t really have any expectations in terms of results, I just wanted to swim my best. Yes, reaching the final in all my events was a bit of a surprise for me and my coaches.
“I knew I was capable of world-class performances but I really didn’t expect to finish fourth, seven hundredths off the podium. It’s definitely a great source of motivation. It makes me want to work even harder to do better next time.”
Not surprisingly, Cowan calls the 50 free final the highlight of his worlds debut.
“When I looked at the board and saw my time… it was the first time I had gone under 28 seconds. I thought to myself ‘Oh wow! It’s good!’. Then I realized it was a Canadian record and I was like ‘Oh wow! It’s really good’.”
When asks what it’s like to work with Cowan on a daily basis, Lavallière has nothing but praise.
“Félix is very coachable. It’s really easy to work with him. He’s a very calm person. He’s not the loudest on the pool deck but he’s extremely business like. I’d call it quiet confidence.
“His work ethic is impeccable. With him, you know he’ll give 100 per cent every time, and exceed your expectations most of the time.”
With the 2023 Bell Canadian Swimming Trials scheduled next month in Toronto (March 28 – April 2), Cowan now faces a new challenge.
Along with 17 of his national team teammates, he opened the season in Australia, where the delegation held train-and-race camp before competing in the 2023 Citi Para Swimming World Series opener.
There, Cowan went through a classification review and was moved back “up” to S9, with the exception of breaststroke events, where he remains an SB8.
When asked about the change, the CEGEP humanities student showed wisdom beyond his years.
“Of course, it’s still new. I still have a lot of things to process. If I take the 50 free, I’m now one second from the time required for worlds this summer. But last year, I improved my 50 free by 1.6 seconds. So I know I can do it.
“I have two opportunities ahead of me this year, worlds and the Parapan Am Games. It’s not the end for me in swimming, that’s for sure. I’ll continue to work even harder.”
Senior manager, Communications, Swimming Canada
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