RIO- Sixteen-year-old Penny Oleksiak from Toronto won an historic gold medal in the women’s 100-metre freestyle on Thursday night at the Olympic Games. She tied with American Simone Manuel for top spot as both clocked an Olympic Games record 52.70 seconds in a dramatic finish.
Oleksiak is the first Canadian athlete to win four medals at the same summer Games and tied the late Victor Davis for most medals overall.
‘’I never thought I’d win a gold,’’ she said after the race. ‘’It means so much.’’
The victory was Canada’s first Olympic gold in swimming in 24 years. Mark Tewksbury was the last champion winning the 100-m backstroke in 1992. ‘’So proud to pass the baton to Penny Oleksiak,’’ he tweeted. Also at 16-years-old and 59 days, she is the youngest ever Canadian Olympic champion summer or winter.
Oleksiak’s winning time bettered her Canadian senior and world junior record. She adds a gold to her silver in the 100-m butterfly and bronze medals in the 4X100-m freestyle and 4X200-m freestyle relays. She is expected to challenge for a fifth medal in the 4X100-m medley relay which gets underway Friday morning.
She seems just as surprised as anyone else with her torrent of success in Rio.
‘’I just wanted to make a few finals, even semifinals I would have been really happy with,’’ she said about her goals entering the Games.
‘’I JUST WANTED TO MAKE A FEW FINALS, EVEN SEMIFINALS I WOULD HAVE BEEN REALLY HAPPY WITH,’’ SHE SAID ABOUT HER GOALS ENTERING THE GAMES.
In the race, Oleksiak tied for first place with Manuel while Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden won the bronze in 52.99. Oleksiak was seventh at the 50-m mark but produced what has become her trademark incredible final length to reel in almost the entire field.
Her family in the stands and millions watching live on CBC TV and Radio-Canada went crazy.
‘’I knew I was pretty far behind at the 50-m mark,’’ she said. ‘’On the last length I just put my head down and went for it. When I saw Simone’s name I thought I came second but both our names had Olympic record beside it. I thought that was crazy because no one ties at the Olympics.’’
Another Oleksiak tradition is staring at the finish wall before turning to look at the scoreboard to see the result. The delay was longer than usual this time but the reaction sweeter than ever.
‘’When I hit the wall I was trying to catch my breath and tell myself whatever number is on the scoreboard I’ll be happy with it,’’ she said. ‘’To be able to turn and see you won the Olympics is an amazing feeling.’’
There was more big news for Canada in the women’s 200-m backstroke. Hilary Caldwell of White Rock, B.C., qualified second for Friday night’s final clocking 2:07.17 just off her Canadian record of 2:06.80 set in a bronze medal performance at the 2013 World Championships.
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, a triple gold medallist so far, was the fastest qualifier in 2:06.03. Dominique Bouchard of North Bay, Ont., tied for ninth missing the cut by one spot.
Kierra Smith of Kelowna, B.C. was seventh in the women’s 200-m breaststroke final. Rie Kaneto of Japan took the gold in 2:20.30, Yulia Efimova of Russia the silver in 2:21.97 and Jinglin Shi of China the bronze in 2:22.28.
‘’I was excited to be in the race but disappointed with how it turned out,’’ said Smith. ‘’I wanted to go 2:20-21 and I knew if I could do that that would get me on the podium which was my goal. With the team doing so well too it personally gave me a lot of confidence.’’
Santo Condorelli of Kenora, Ont., fourth in Wednesday’s thrilling men’s 100-m freestyle, was in the 50-m freestyle and 100-m butterfly semis but didn’t advance in either ranking 12th in both semis.
Two-time Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane of Victoria returns to action Friday in the 1500-m preliminaries. Cochrane won bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012 in the event.
Also on deck for Canada in Friday’s preliminaries are Chantal Van Landeghem of Winnipeg and Michelle Williams of North York, Ont., in the women’s 50-m freestyle. Canada is also entered in both the men’s and women’s 4X100-m medley relays.
The preliminaries are at noon (EDT) and the finals at 9 p.m.