RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Only a world record could deny Penny Oleksiak, who illustrated that she is not only Canadian swimming’s future and its present by winning the nation’s first Olympic silver medal in women’s 100-metre butterfly on Sunday.
Oleksiak, 16, won her second medal in 24 hours, swimming a world junior record 56.46 seconds at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström won in typical fashion in a world-record 55.48.The Toronto-raised Oleksiak maxed out over the final 10 metres to outstretch the United States’ Dana Vollmer (56.63, bronze).
“I was definitely nervous a few hours ago, like shaking in my hotel room,” said related Oleksiak, who swam the anchor leg for the bronze-earning women’s 4 x 100-m relay team on Saturday. “I think about 10 minutes before the race I wasn’t nervous at all because I knew I had the support of my teammates and my coach [Ben Titley]. They told me I just had to be here have a fun time, because I still have the next Olympics to get a medal. That just took the nerves away.
It is Canada’s first Olympic individual women’s medal since legendary Marianne Limpert’s silver in 200-metre individual medley in Atlanta in 1996. It is also the country’s first Olympic medal in women’s 100-m butterfly.
The 6-foot Oleksiak has become mature beyond her years during the last 12 months as a protégé of Titley at HPC – Ontario.
“It’s definitely been a long time, but Canada’s developed a lot, especially the sprint crew,” said Oleksiak, who trains at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario. “They’re amazing. I get to race with them every day.”
All told, Swimming Canada’s day included a pair of top-5 finishes and two more finalists. The nation’s running tally of seven finals and two medals already matches the output from London 2012.
Brittany MacLean (Etobicoke Swim Club/Etobicoke, Ont.) was fifth in women’s 400-m freestyle in 4:04.69, improving on her seventh-place result in her first Olympics four years ago. The men’s 4 x 100-metre relay of Santo Condorelli, Yuri Kisil, Markus Thormeyer and Evan Van Moerkerke placed seventh in 3:14.35.
“Really good performances on Day 1 and Day 2 put us into a situation where by the end of the day Monday, we will have matched the total number of finals from London – we had seven finals,” Swimming Canada high performance director John Atkinson said. “In terms of our overall targets and what we want to achieve, we’re doing well. We have to keep rolling, make the most of our opportunities and get to the finals. Anything can happen in a final.
“The men’s freestyle relay – great effort from the guys,” Atkinson added. “They have a long future and they’ll bounce back from the seventh place and I’m sure there is more to come from. There were great individual performances from Santo and Yuri as they transition into individual swims.”
Kylie Masse (Windsor Essex Swim Team / LaSalle, Ont.) and Rachel Nicol (Lethbridge Amateur Swim Club / Lethbridge, Alb.) advanced to Monday’s finals in 100-m backstroke and 100-m breaststroke respectively.
Masse, 20, qualified fifth after a Canadian record-tying 59.06 backstroke. Dominique Bouchard (Oakville Aquatic Club / North Bay, Ont.) swam 1:00.54, good for 12th.
Masse and Nicol were both spurred on by Oleksiak’s outstanding swim.
“I honestly think we feed off each other’s vibe,” Masse said. “One person does well and then someone else goes out and does well.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow night and hopefully I can be a bit faster,” Masse added. “I’m going to look at my race analysis and hopefully I can make some changes.
Nicol qualified eighth by swimming 1:06.73 in semifinal.
“I had just got into my racing suit and came out and saw [Oleksiak] do that,” Nicol said. “It’s just incredible what this new young team is doing – we’ve already topped 2012 on Day 2.”
Six of the eight finalists were in Nicol’s heat.
“I didn’t believe I could make the final until I touched the wall,” Nicol added. “Like I wanted to do a better time but if that didn’t place me in the top eight I wouldn’t have been crushed. I just went a best time and it paid off.”
MacLean, Pickrem, Savard, Seltenreich-Hodgson compete Monday
Four Canadians have preliminaries on Monday. Second-time Olympians Brittany MacLean (Etobicoke Swim Club / Etobicoke, Ont.) and Katerine Savard (Club Aquatic Montreal / Pont-Rouge, Que.) are first up in women’s 200-m freestyle at 12 noon ET, with MacLean competing in the final heat. It is the first Olympic 200-m freestyle for MacLean, 22, and Savard, 23.
Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson (HPC – Vancouver / Greater Ottawa Kingfish / Ottawa, Ont.) and Sydney Pickrem (Island Swimming / Oldsmar, Fla.) will make their Olympic debuts in women’s 200-m individual medley qualifying. Pickrem is also in the final heat.
The top 16 in the heats of each event move on to the semifinals on Monday evening.