BUDAPEST, Hungary – Toronto teen sensation Penny Oleksiak will swim for a medal Friday at FINA World Championships after advancing Thursday through the semifinals of the women’s 100-m freestyle.
The 17-year-old’s time of 53.05 at Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary, moved her through as the sixth seed for the final. Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who swam a world record 51.71 in Sunday’s 4×100-m freestyle relay, was fastest in 52.44 to earn Lane 4. Simone Manuel of Team USA, who tied Oleksiak for Olympic gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, sits second with a semifinal time of 52.69.
“I’m excited for tomorrow, just to get back in and race again. I have no expectations again, I just want to get in and race it,” said Oleksiak, who trains at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario.
Oleksiak is the youngest finalist in the stacked field, in which just a quarter of a second separates third from seventh.
“I want to get my speed up on my first 50. I think my second 50 has been pretty strong,” said Oleksiak, whose world junior record 52.70 earned her Olympic gold last year. “Going into the race I’m just excited to see how low I can get my time.”
Defending world champion Bronte Campbell of Australia (5th, 53:04) and London 2012 Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands (7th, 53.09) are other big names in the mix. The 26-year-old Kromowidjojo is the veteran of the group, with 13 career worlds medals to her name including Sunday’s 4×100 free relay. Kromowidjojo swam a final leg of 51.98 to hold off Oleksiak for bronze as Canada settled for fourth, returning the favour from Rio where Oleksiak anchored Canada to bronze ahead of the Dutch.
“I’m not really focused on whatever anyone else is doing,” Oleksiak said. “I’m able to keep my head in my own lane, and not focus on anyone else.”
Oleksiak already has one medal herself at these championships, having swum the butterfly leg of Canada’s bronze-medal 4×100-m mixed medley relay, which set a Canadian record Wednesday.
Boucherville, Que., native Sandrine Mainville, who trains with Oleksiak at the High Performance Centre – Ontario, finished 13th in a time of 54.01. It was the first best-on-best individual final at the international level for the 25-year-old relay stalwart. She was 0.21 faster than her morning swim, good for the sixth-fastest time of her life. But even her personal best of 53.77 would have left her outside the final, which took a 53.20 for eighth place. Qualifying for the final was .33 faster than in Rio and .72 faster than the 2015 worlds in Kazan, Russia.
Kierra Smith of Kelowna, B.C., also advanced to a final. Her semifinal time of 2:23.18 was good for fifth seed in the women’s 200-m breaststroke.
“It felt great, it totally went according to plan,” said Smith, who finished sixth in the 100-m breaststroke Tuesday.
“It’s a really fun race. It’s good to know that I have speed at the back half to finish the race, and that I have a little more speed on the front end from my 100 improving. It went smooth, I’m ready for tomorrow.”
It was the third-fastest time of her career for Smith, who has a personal best of 2:22.82 to her name from 2015 worlds, where she finished eighth. She moved up to seventh last year in Rio.
“Tomorrow I’m going to try to get on the podium and go under 2:22:”
Montreal’s Ashley McGregor, making her world championships debut at 24 after a seven-year hiatus from the senior A team, finished 14th at 2:25.75.
Also in action Thursday was the women’s 4×200-m freestyle relay team of Mary-Sophie Harvey, Rebecca Smith, Katerine Savard and Mackenzie Padington. Savard, 24, was the only returning member of the Olympic bronze medal team, and combined with the three rookies for a time of 7:55.57, nearly a second faster than their morning time to finish eighth.
“It’s my first relay on the senior team and I was nervous this morning. I think coming out tonight we just wanted to be better and we did,” said Harvey, 17.
With fellow 17-year-old Smith, and 18-year-old Padington, Canada was the second-youngest team in the final. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Kayla Sanchez swam the morning heat to help them qualify.
“We’re trying to keep the momentum from last year, but only Kat was there and we’re all super young. It’s really good for us to already be in the top eight at our age, so I feel like we can be really good in a couple years.”
The FINA World Championships run through Sunday. Finals begin at 11:30 am ET each day and will be streamed live by CBC in English at http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/aquatics and in French on Radio-Canada Sports Facebook Live.
Full results are available at http://omegatiming.com/Competition?id=000111010AFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF&day=5