Aquatics Universities

HIGH ACHIEVERS: uOttawa artistic swim team wins 5 medals in virtual nationals

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

The 2020-21 Canadian university varsity sports year is over, but there were no scores to report, standings to compile, or championships to award. We know the reason: the COVID-19 pandemic was too dominant.

Yes, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees head coach Dave Heinbuch and his coaching staff divided their swimmers into four squads for an in-house, round-robin competitive league, and there were a few exhibition basketball games out West, but there was nothing meaningful.

But if you look at the university club sports program, you’ll find at least one athletic competition. Granted it was virtual, but give credit to the Canadian University Artistic Swimming League for staging a national championship.

The league’s 18-member universities were invited to submit videos of their athletes performing team, duet/trio and solo routines in the varsity and novice classes. The judging and medal presentations were on Zoom on March 13.

uOttawa Gee-Gees artistic swimming. File photo

The Gee-Gees, who are one of nine Ontario schools in the 20-year-old league along with Carleton University, executed their programs well and won five medals – two gold, two silver and one bronze.

The league’s first virtual national championship was staged by the Gee-Gees, whose two varsity synchro teams won gold and silver medals in that category. The novice team also captured gold in its duo/trio category.

The Gee-Gees other two medals were in the solo division as freshman Gabrielle Gillian took silver and Madeleine Berry earned bronze. Berry is a former national team swimmer for Great Britain and has international experience.

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The medal performances also earned the Gee-Gees a berth in the virtual Canadian national qualifiers, which will be held Thursday through Sunday, organized by Canada Artistic Swimming.

“Our sport usually prioritizes the close proximity of athletes during routines as an integral element of our score,” said Gee-Gees team president Isabelle MacLean, the national championship meet manager and a varsity team gold medallist.

But the pandemic forced all athletes to follow physical distancing rules and stay six feet away from each other in the pool during their training and competition. This eliminated the exciting throws, flips and flexibility displays.

The Gee-Gees also had to deal with limited pool time during January’s provincial lockdown. But when the swimmers returned to the pool after online workouts and discussions, they worked on endurance and their video for two weeks.

“Our dedicated volunteer coaches, who continuously supported the team’s development through modified choreography and knowledge of the sport, working closely with the athletic department to stay on top of upcoming restrictions as well as increase our practice times post-lockdown,” were also key factors, according to MacLean, who has been associated with the team for the past six seasons.

The Gee-Gees team was created in 2003 and has won 12 club or individual awards in the league since 2014. The Gee-Gees were the top overall Canadian club in 2018.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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