GWANGJU, South Korea – Team Canada won a bronze medal and earned chances for two more on Day 1 of the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
The all-teenage women’s 4×100-m freestyle relay of Kayla Sanchez, Taylor Ruck, Penny Oleksiak and Maggie MacNeil set a Canadian record of 3:31.78 to finish third in the relay. Australia won in a championships record 3:30.21, followed by Team USA in 3:31.02. Canada was more than two seconds faster than last year’s Commonwealth Games silver and more than a second faster than its bronze medal time from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It’s Canada’s first medal in this event at a world championships since 1978.
“That was incredible,” said MacNeil, who entered the water between American Olympic co-champion Simone Manuel and Australian former world champion Cate Campbell. “I was hoping they’d give me a strong enough lead that I could hold on as best I could. It’s really an honour to do this with these girls and I’m so proud of what we did tonight.”
It was Ruck’s first race of the championships, as she rested during the morning heats.
“I couldn’t even sleep for my nap, I was so excited to see what could come out of it,” said Ruck, who had the team in second at the halfway point, then watched Oleksiak take the lead and MacNeil hold on for third. “I was screaming. It was intense but Maggie and Penny brought it home so well.”
Red Deer, Alta., native Rebecca Smith of the High Performance Centre – Ontario, who helped the team advance through the morning heats, will also receive a medal. The team also qualified Canada’s spot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“It’s great to get on the podium with a group of young women, three being age 19 and Kayla Sanchez being 18. We’re progressing year by year,” said Swimming Canada High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson.
It was a double for MacNeil: the 19-year-old from London, Ont., was second-fastest in the 100-m butterfly semifinals earlier in the session to advance to Monday’s final. MacNeil’s personal best time of 56.52 was just .06 off Oleksiak’s Canadian record from her Rio 2016 Olympic silver medal. Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom sits first at 56.29.
“Day 1 was amazing,” said MacNeil, who had four swims on her first day of world championships competition.
Rebecca Smith finished 10th in a personal best 57.59.
In other semifinal action, Sydney Pickrem advanced through the women’s 200-m individual medley semifinals in second spot with a time of 2:08.83.
“It was way better than how I was feeling this morning. I was OK with how I swam it but I didn’t really swim my own race, I just kind of swam through just to kind of get through the prelims. I knew tonight I just needed to swim my own race and get a better time because I wasn’t super happy with it,” Pickrem said. “I’d like to see what I can get better at and what I can focus on more for finals.”
The 22-year-old, who earned bronze in the 400-m distance at the 2017 worlds, took a few glances at 2012 Olympic champion Ye Shiwen of China on her left, then buried her head for a strong finish on the freestyle. Only Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who swam in the other semifinal, was faster (2:07.17).
“I know at that point our coaches always teach us, get your head down. In the end, looking at her isn’t going to change anything, so I kind of just wanted to see where I was, then I put my head down at the end and tried to get a good time,” Pickrem said.
Winnipeg’s Kelsey Wog finished 15th in a time of 2:12.96 after swimming a personal best 2:10.54 in her preliminary heat.
“The first day of any world championships or Olympics is an important day to set the tone for the rest of the championships. Our heat swims this morning showed that we were getting people through to semifinals and finals. Tonight with the women’s 100 butterfly and 200 IM we had two athletes in Maggie MacNeil and Sydney Pickrem through to the final tomorrow in a good position to work on converting what they’ve done today,” said Atkinson.
In other highlights from the prelims, Sanchez swam a personal best 53.61 to lead off the relay in the morning. Edmonton’s Emma O’Croinin finished 12th in the women’s 400-m freestyle. O’Croinin was one of four Canadians making their long-course world championships debuts, joining MacNeil, Wog, and Josh Liendo of Toronto. Liendo finished 44th in the 50-m butterfly with a time of 24.52.
Meanwhile, the men’s 4×100-m freestyle relay of Markus Thormeyer, Yuri Kisil, Will Pisani, Carson Olafson finished 13th in 3:15.06.
The eight-day meet continues through Sunday at the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.
FINA TV (https://www.finatv.live/en), CBC (https://www.cbc.ca/sports/broadcast) and Radio-Canada (https://ici.radio-canada.ca/sports/horaire-diffusions) will webcast finals live at 7 a.m. ET each day, with highlights on CBC’s Road to the Olympic Games show. Viewers can download the CBC broadcast schedule to sync with smartphone calendar apps here: http://calrep.ly/2JDCwxx
Visit www.swimming.ca for bios, profiles, preview stories and recaps, and follow Swimming Canada on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates throughout the championships.