RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Canada’s freestyle depth came to the fore Wednesday. The women’s 4×200-metre relay gave the nation another Olympic finalist, while Penny Oleksiak and Chantal Van Landeghem took a step toward ending a half-century absence from the women’s 100-m freestyle final.
Overall, Canada went 4-for-5 at sending swimmers to the evening session, where Santo Condorelli (Kenora, Ont.) is in Lane 6 for the men’s 100-m freestyle final at 10:03 p.m. EDT. The 4×200-m relay is at 11:15. Canada was fourth in the event in 2012.
The 4×200-m relay of Katerine Savard (Club Aquatic Montreal / Pont-Rouge, QC), Taylor Ruck (Kelowna, B.C.), Emily Overholt (Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Vancouver / West Vancouver) and Kennedy Goss (Granite Gators Swim Club / Toronto, Ont.) qualified sixth in seven minutes 51.99 seconds. Oleksiak (Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario / Toronto) and Van Landeghem (HPC – Ontario / Winnipeg) and breaststroker Kierra Smith (Liquid Lightning Swim Club / Kelowna, B.C) all produced top-10 heat times. Veteran Martha McCabe (HPC – Vancouver / Toronto) performed the final Olympic swim of her illustrious career.
The relay adapted with aplomb. Overholt, who has contended with an ailing hamstring since April, drew in for the third leg after Brittany MacLean (Etobicoke Swim Club / Etobicoke, Ont.) was subbed out due to illness.
“[The time is] good, but I think we can do better than that,” Savard, 22, said. “Penny and Brittany didn’t swim this morning. They [the relay coaches] will do little adjustments for tonight.
“The goal was to make the final. Three of the four girls were in the relay last year and we are six seconds faster now. The United States and Australia will be in front but I think it’s open after that. A lot of teams already had their best swimmers this morning.”
“THE GOAL WAS TO MAKE THE FINAL. THREE OF THE FOUR GIRLS WERE IN THE RELAY LAST YEAR AND WE ARE SIX SECONDS FASTER NOW. THE UNITED STATES AND AUSTRALIA WILL BE IN FRONT BUT I THINK IT’S OPEN AFTER THAT. A LOT OF TEAMS ALREADY HAD THEIR BEST SWIMMERS THIS MORNING.”
The relay was followed the final men’s 200-m IM heat, where the Brazilian fans got loud to urge on Thiago Pereira as he kept pace with American superstar Michael Phelps.
“Hearing the cheers during Phelps’ and Pereira’s race really gave us energy,” Savard said. “It put us in the right mood.”
In 100-m freestyle, Oleksiak, 16, tied for the fifth-fastest heat time in 53.53 seconds. Van Landeghem qualified ninth in 53.89. They will be in Lanes 2 and 3 for the 9:20 p.m. semifinal. Canada has not had a finalist in the event since Marian Lay finished fourth in Mexico City in 1968.
“I’m not super-happy with the time just because I can go faster here and everything,” said the 16-year-old Oleksiak, already an Olympic double medallist with her 100-m butterfly silver and 4×100-m relay bronze. “I was just hurting a lot in that race and I think I just need to work on stuff for tonight.
“It probably is [attributable to] a little fatigue but nothing that’s going to slow me down,” Oleksiak related. “I just need a longer warm-down and an ice bath and stuff before tonight.”
Van Landeghem said she benefited from being in the lane next to Oleksiak, who is one her training partners under coach Ben Titley at HPC-Ontario.
“I knew Penny would come home so strong so I tried to get near her lane and follow along,” Van Landeghem told the CBC. “The whole second 50 I was breathing on her side. I think I was out really well. Just get the recovery done and hopefully I will be all right.”
The pair are slated to be side-by-side for the semifinal.
Smith qualified sixth in 200-m breaststroke in 2:23.69 after leading her heat over the final three lengths. The 22-year-old swim in Lane 3 during her semifinal at 10:11.
“I’m a lot more confident in the 200 so to get out there and race those girls and see that I can win a heat is good for tonight,” Smith said. “You need to have the confidence to win a heat like that. I want to go a lot faster tonight and a lot faster tomorrow if I get there. I want to take a second off tonight.”
McCabe was 23rd in the heats in 2:28.62. The 27-year-old was a 2011 world championships bronze medallist and was fifth at the 2012 Olympics.
Canada’s scheduled competitors in Thursday heats and semifinals include:
Men’s 50-m freestyle, 12:02 p.m.: Condorelli, Yuri Kisil (HPC – Vancouver / Calgary).
Women’s 800-m freestyle semifinal, 12:26 p.m.: MacLean.
Men’s 100-m butterfly, 1:16 p.m.: Condorelli.
Women’s 200-m backstroke, 1:36 p.m.: Dominique Bouchard (Oakville Aquatic Club / North Bay, Ont.), Hilary Caldwell (HPC – Victoria / White Rock, |B.C.).