Photo via Swimming Canada

TOKYO – As happy as he was with the medals Canada’s swimmers won at the Tokyo Games, John Atkinson was even more pleased with the competitive spirit shown by the athletes and the potential for success at future Olympics.

A bronze in the women’s 4×100-metre medley relay on the final day of the swimming competition Sunday morning in Tokyo (Saturday night in Canada) gave Canada its sixth medal in the pool, equaling the count from the 2016 Rio Olympics. The one gold, three silver and two bronze were all won by women.

Penny Oleksiak (HPC-Ontario/Toronto) won her third medal of the Games and seventh of her career, making her the most decorated Canadian Olympian in history.

Canada’s pool performance came after a world-wide pandemic delayed the Games a year, closed pools across the country, cancelled competitions and disrupted athlete’s training.

“To win six medals off the back of the pandemic is an amazing Games for our team,” said Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director and national coach. “We hope this serves to motive the whole of Canada to build back stronger from the pandemic and that every swimming club and every swimmer, parent and official can be back with their teams, in their pools soon, to build to the next Games.”

The team’s goal coming to Tokyo was to be resilient and competitive the entire program. Canadian swimmers answered by starting the competition winning medals four straight days.

“That was fantastic,” said Atkinson. “We focused on improvement and progression through preliminaries, semifinals and finals. To achieve these goals we would require resilience.

“I believe we attend all three of these goals. The athletes, coaches and staff have delivered. We were competitive at the Games from Day 1 to 9. We came away with pride for the team’s accomplishments.”

Atkinson thanked Own the Podium, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee for their support “to enable our programs to achieve at the Olympics Games and to all within Swimming Canada.”

The six medals left Canada ranked fourth among the 20 nations who medaled competing in swimming at Tokyo.

For the first time, Canada had three triple medal-winning swimmers.

Maggie Mac Neil (HPC-Ontario/London, Ont.) won gold in the 100-m butterfly plus was a member of the silver-medal winning 4×100-m freestyle relay and captured bronze with the medley relay.

Kylie Masse (HPC-Ontario/LaSalle, Ont.) won silver in the 100-m and 200-m backstroke plus swam in the medley relay. Oleksiak was third in the 200-m freestyle plus competed in the two medal-winning relays.

Atkinson praised the consistency shown by Masse, a two-time world champion in backstroke, who since 2015 has been on the podium at every major games and championships with 10 individual medals.

“It’s a great achievement,” he said

Of the 24 pool swimmers in Tokyo, 14 were competing at their first Games.

The oldest medal winner was Masse, 25. Summer McIntosh, a 14-year-old swimming in her first Olympics, finished fourth in the 400-m freestyle, set two Canadian records and swam three personal bests.

Oleksiak said the future is bright.

“I think there is no ceiling for us,” said the 21-year-old who won four medals including the 100-m freestyle gold at the Rio Games. “I think the sky is the limit for us.

“We have such a talented group of women and men in our swim team. It’s super exciting to see how quickly everyone is progressing, how young our team is and how fast everyone can potentially be.”

Mac Neil said the team feeds off its own success.

“Our performance came from the fact we train together day in and day out,” said the 21-year-old. “We’re always pushing each other.

“We know how hard we have been working and we put the work in. It’s just about making sure the results are there.”

The men’s team was kept off the podium for the second Olympics but young swimmers like Josh Liendo, 18 (HPC-Ontario/Toronto), Finlay Knox, 20 (HPC-Ontario/Okotoks, Alta.), Cole Pratt, 18 (Cascade Swim Club/Calgary, Alta.) and Gabe Mastromatteo, 19 (Kenora Swimming Sharks/Kenora. Ont.) gained valuable experience.

The men’s 4×100-m freestyle relay finished fourth and set a Canadian record. It was the best result for that relay at an Olympics.

“This will serve the men’s program well as they progress to Paris for 2024 and beyond,” said Atkinson.

Markus Thormeyer (HPC-Vancouver/Delta, B.C.) was part of the 4×100-m freestyle relay and the 4×100-m medley relay that placed seventh on the final day of competition.

“The world is getting faster and so are we, but more especially so are these young guys who are stepping up and challenging us older guys,” said the 23-year-old who competed in his second Olympics. “They are taking notes and pushing us and I think that is pushing all of Canada.”

Canada also just missed medals with four, fourth-place finishes.

Eight Canadians reached the final of individual events and eight Canadian records were broken in Tokyo.

Five swimmers swam a total of 10 personal best times.

Atkinson said Canadian swimmers will continue to win medals at major events.

“It’s just two years, 11 months and two weeks to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games,” he said. “Before that we will see two World Championships and a Commonwealth Games.”