Pelletier earns Coach of the Year honours following memorable Paralympic Games debut
A member of the Canadian coaching staff at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Marc-André Pelletier will not soon forget his first Paralympics assignment, which came almost a decade later, last summer in Tokyo.
The long-time head coach of Club de Natation Région de Québec in Quebec City, Pelletier was accompanied in the Japanese capital by three of his CNQ swimmers, who collectively reached 11 finals and claimed six medals, including two gold.
Those successes earned Pelletier Coach of the Year – Paralympic Program recognition from Swimming Canada.
“I quite enjoyed the experience at the Paralympic Games. I was very busy with swimmers competing for 10 straight days,” said the three-time Big Splash award winner. “In terms of performances, I’m very pleased with my swimmers.”
He should be.
Canadian superstar Aurélie Rivard, who moved to Quebec City in January 2020 to join the CNQ, merited Female Swimmer of the Year – Paralympic Program honours after reaching the podium a remarkable five times in Tokyo and defending her Paralympic titles in the 100 and 400-m freestyle S10, both in world-record time.
Nicolas-Guy Turbide, whom Pelletier has been coaching since 2014, won the male award after taking silver in the 100-m backstroke S13, improving from his bronze-medal performance at Rio 2016. He also made the final in his only other event, the 50 free.
The other member of the CNQ trio in Tokyo, Alec Elliot, reached three finals in four events.
While Pelletier has a long-standing partnership with Turbide and a relatively new working relationship with Rivard, he said his approach with his two standouts was fairly similar in preparation for the Games.
“The preparation was only different because of Nicolas-Guy’s back injury and the different type of events they were racing. In Aurélie’s case, the additional year, due to the pandemic, allowed me to get to know her much better, both as an athlete and as a person.”
While he agrees the global pandemic affected his protégés leading up to the Games, Pelletier also saw a silver lining.
“The extra year allowed us to reach the next level in our preparation. On the other hand, the anxiety caused by the challenges of accessing sport facilities was mentally exhausting. This said, in the end, I’d say the anxiety was like mental training that helped us deal with the pressure of performing at the Games.
“I don’t believe our good results in Tokyo are extra special because of all we went through due to the pandemic. However, rightly or wrongly, it gives us the impression that we’re much more resilient in the face of various obstacles on the path to performance.”
When it comes to Turbide and Rivard’s accomplishments in Tokyo, two races stand out for their mentor.
“Nicolas-Guy finishing second in the 100 back… with that medal on the second day he managed to change the momentum for the team and give everyone confidence.
“His medal and his final in the 50 free were also very satisfying because of the physical challenges he dealt with during the year. He was able to return to his level at the right time.”
In Rivard’s case, Pelletier points to the race that followed her disappointing – by her standards – third-place finish in the 50 free on opening day.
“In the preliminaries of the 100 free, when she broke the world record. It was at that moment, despite the surprise, that she really started to believe. From then on, the rest would get back to normal for her.”
Turbide and Rivard credit their coach for a big part of their success in Tokyo.
“Marc-André has certain qualities that only a very small number of coaches have. It’s these types of coaches who take athletes to finals and to the podium at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Turbide.
“When I started training with Marc-André, I saw a difference within 10 days. I knew I was going to Tokyo to break my records,” added Rivard.
Next up on the international Para swimming calendar are the world championships in June, in Portugal.
Pelletier will once again be a busy man when the Bell Canadian Swimming Trials get under way on April 5 in Victoria.
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