TOKYO – Penny Oleksiak waited until the last day of swimming at the Tokyo Games to earn herself a place in Canadian Olympic history.
Oleksiak (HPC-Ontario/Toronto) swam the freestyle anchor leg to help the women’s 4×100-metre medley relay win a bronze medal and set a Canadian record Sunday morning (Saturday night in Canada).
It was Oleksiak’s seventh Olympic medal, surpassing the six won by Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen.
“I’m honestly glad I didn’t win it in an individual (race) because this just makes it 10 times sweeter knowing I have accomplished this history with girls that are also making history,” said the 21-year-old Oleksiak, who won her third medal of the Games.
“This is only the beginning for Team Canada. We were young in 2016, we’re still young.”
The team of Kylie Masse (HPC-Ontario/LaSalle, Ont.) (backstroke), Sydney Pickrem (HPC-Ontario/ Halifax) (breaststroke), 100-m butterfly Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil (London Aquatic Club/London, Ont.) and Oleksiak were timed in three minutes, 52.60 seconds.
Australia won in 3:51.60 and the U.S. were second in 3:51.73.
The Canadian time shaved almost a second off the old record of 3:53.58 the same four women swam at the 2019 world championships. It was also the first medal in the 4×100-m medley relay since the 1988 Seoul games.
It was the third medal of the Games for Masse, (silver in both the 100-m and 200-m backstroke) and Mac Neil (4×100-m freestyle). Oleksiak won bronze in the 200-m freestyle and was part of the silver medal 4×100-m freestyle relay.
The men’s medley relay team of Markus Thormeyer (HPC-Vancouver/ Delta, B.C.) (backstroke), Gabe Mastromatteo (Kenora Swimming Sharks/Kenora, Ont.) (breaststroke), Josh Liendo (butterfly) and Yuri Kisil (HPC-Ontario/Calgary) (freestyle) finished seventh in 3:32.42.
The U.S. won gold in a world record 3:26.78.
Liendo, 18, said his first Games was a learning experience.
“I’ve learned so much from this meet,” he said. “There are still a lot of things I can improve on. It’s really looking up.”
Canadian swimmers won six medals in the Tokyo pool, tying the total from the 2016 Rio Games. The one gold, three silver and two bronze were all won by women.
The women had the fastest time in qualifying after Taylor Ruck (HPC-Ontario/Kelowna, B.C.), Pickrem, Mac Neil and Kayla Sanchez (HPC-Ontario/Toronto) (freestyle) swam 3:55.17. Ruck and Sanchez also collect medals. They were also part of the silver medal 4×100-m freestyle relay.
Masse said it was a long road to the medal.
“These girls have been my people,” said the 25-year-old. “They’ve always been but especially this last year with all the challenges through COVID. We’ve been together by each other’s sides.”
Pickrem admitted to feeling some nerves during the race.
“I was absolutely shitting myself; I’m not going to try to sugar coat it,” said the 24-year-old who won her first Olympic medal. “We have each other’s back every day in and out of the pool.
“To come into a relay with girls you train with every day is something special.”
Mac Neil swam a personal best time of 55.27 in the third leg.
“I knew we were going in a little behind,” she said. “I’ve raced these girls before.
“Just try to keep up with them and catch them.”
Oleksiak won four medals including gold in the 100-m freestyle at Rio.
Hughes won two cycling medals at a summer Olympics and four speed-skating medals over three winter Games. Speed-skater Cindy Klassen also won six medals over two Olympics.
The swimming medal count in Tokyo could have been more as there were four, fourth-place finishes, including 14-year-old Summer McIntosh (HPC-Ontario/Toronto) who just missed the podium in the 400-m freestyle, and Oleksiak in the 100-m freestyle.
Eight Canadians also reached the final of individual events.
Eight Canadian records were broken in Tokyo.
Mac Neil (55.59 seconds) and Masse (2:05.42) both broke their own records in their medal-earning swims. McIntosh, swimming in her first Olympics, lowered the 400-m freestyle mark twice, finishing at 4:02.42.
Oleksiak broke her 100-m freestyle record (52.59) while both the women’s 4×200-m freestyle relay (7:43.77) and the men’s 4×100-m freestyle relay (3:10.82) set Canadian marks.
Five swimmers swam a total of 10 personal best times.
Oleksiak twice in the 200-m freestyle; McIntosh in the 800-m freestyle and twice in the 200-m free; Sanchez in three 100-m freestyles; Kisil in the 100-m freestyle and Katrina Bellio (Etobicoke Swimming/Mississauga, Ont.) in the 1,500-m freestyle.