As the Olympics opened this Friday in Beijing, Nick Baker finished up his camp full of future Olympic swimmers.
Well, at least that’s the plan.
This week, Baker, who was a swim coach for the Canadian team at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, coached promising young swimmers from all over the country at the Nike-sponsored Peak Performance Camp at the Park City Aquatic Center at Ecker Hill.
Baker, who lives in Orlando, Fla. has been running his camps ever since he got home from the Games in 1993.
"When you become an Olympic coach, you usually stay at that level," Baker said. "I moved on because I like to teach and motivate."
Before that he coached in both his native country of Canada and in the U.S., coaching individuals and club teams.
The Peak Performance camps set themselves apart with their emphasis on technique. Baker figures that swimmers that are serious enough to attend an out-of-state camp are getting plenty of training with their home clubs. So, he chooses to spend the week helping the kids to improve their strokes and swim more efficiently and faster.
"Swimming is physical, mental and technical," Baker said. "These are the formative years. If they don’t get the technique now, it’s too late."
He also chooses to limit his numbers. Unlike some of the super camps held around the nation, where a hundred kids or more converge on one pool, Baker settles for a more reasonable 30 swimmers that he can give plenty of one-on-one time to.
Alongside Baker is a coach from Texas and another from Spain. The campers include local Parkites and Salt Lakers, as well as other locales as close by as Idaho and as far away as Egypt and Zambia.
Each day, the kids spend four hours swimming. The rest of their time is spent doing dryland training, yoga and fun activities like ice skating, shopping or visiting local attractions. He praised Park City as a backdrop for the camp as well as the pool facility and its staff and the help of age-group and high school swim coach Mike Werner.
Baker wears a blue and white bracelet that looks like water that says, "Swim positive." He gives these to each of his campers and encourages them to always have a good attitude in their swimming and in life. Any whining and getting down on themselves, and they have to snap the bracelet against their skin to remind them to be positive.
"It’s an umbrella philosophy," Baker said. "Positive thoughts. Positive actions and positive results."
The Peak Performance participants range in age from 8 to 16 and Baker tries to cater to the needs of each. Different levels receive different distances to swim but all of them get a good dose of Baker’s techniques, tips and terminology. Every stroke has rhyme or action or drawing that goes along with it to illustrate his points. Over lunch on Wednesday, Baker worked individually with 8-year-old Tyler Bowen from Nebraska instructing him in and out of the pool to help him execute his strokes correctly.
This week, Baker’s focus will extend beyond the camp. One of his former students, Sarah Bateman, a swimmer for the University of Florida, will compete in the Olympic Games for the Iceland. Although Bateman was raised in the U.S., her mother is from Iceland and they agreed to send her over to represent their country. In the U.S., swimming is so competitive that America could sweep almost every event if they were allowed to send over all of their top swimmers. To qualify for the Olympics in swimming there is an A standard and a B standard time. The U.S. team qualified using the A standard, but because Bateman met the B standard, Iceland was happy to let her go.
Bateman’s mother sent Baker an email after her daughter arrived in Beijing relaying how beautiful the city was and how friendly and helpful the Chinese people are. Bateman will compete in the 50-meter freestyle on Aug. 10. Baker said in four years she should be good enough to compete for the U.S. and will return to the Olympic spotlight with experience.
Baker also had some brushes with the Games as a swimmer, making the Olympic trials a few times after a successful collegiate career in Ontario, Canada. It was then that Baker first caught the coaching bug. One weekend when he was home visiting his parents, he headed to the local pool to do a workout. When he arrived, he was recruited to fill in as coach for a youth swim team. He was immediately hooked.
"That was the first time I got encouragement for something besides actually swimming," Baker said.
After that, swimming was his life first as an athlete, then as a coach and now as a coach and businessman in the industry. He hopes to make it part of life for many others. For more information about Peak Performance Camps, visit http://www.swimcamp.com.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.