ABU DHABI – Already an Olympic and world champion, Maggie Mac Neil can add the title of world record holder to her accomplishments as she highlighted a super night for Canada at the FINA World Championships (25m).
Mac Neil, from London, Ont., lowered the world mark in the women’s 50-m backstroke in a 1-2 Canadian finish with Kylie Masse second. Earlier Sydney Pickrem triumphed in the women’s 200-m individual medley and the women’s 4×200-m freestyle relay capped the night with another incredible victory.
It’s the first time Canada has ever won three gold medals in a day at a major world championships or Games. Mac Neil and Masse are only the second Canadian duo to go 1-2 in a single event, joining Joanne Malar and Nancy Sweetnam, who accomplished the feat in the 400-m IM at these championships in 1995.
With those four medals Canada sets a new team record at the short course worlds with 12 medals (six gold – five silver- one bronze) so far. The previous high was eight in 1999 and 2016. The six gold tie the U.S. on the medal leader board at these championships with one day remaining, and are the most ever for Canada.
Masse, based at the High Performance Centre – Ontario, also made history becoming Canada’s most decorated swimmer at FINA World Championships (long-course and short-course combined) with 10 career medals. She was previously tied at nine with Penny Oleksiak and Ryan Cochrane.
In the women’s 50-m backstroke, Mac Neil clocked 25.27 for the victory to eclipse the previous world short course mark of 25.60 set by Kira Toussaint of the Netherlands in 2020. Masse followed in a personal best 25.62, under the previous Canadian record of 25.84 she and Mac Neil shared. Louise Hansson of Sweden was third in 25.86.
“If you told me my first world record would be backstroke I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Mac Neil, the Olympic champ in the 100 butterfly in Tokyo, and world long-course champion from 2019. “But I knew if I could fix my turns, there was a chance. That was definitely my goal coming into this meet.”
Masse won the silver in all three backstroke events.
“The 50 in short course is all about power and underwaters and the swimming part is my strength so the 50 is always the biggest challenge for me,” she said. “I’m really happy to be on the podium. To be next to Maggie and watch her get that world record, I knew she had been close a couple of times and was gunning for it.”
As for the FINA team medal record, Masse says she wants to continue a tradition of excellence in Canadian swimming.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Masse. “It’s a great honour to achieve that title. I started off a young kid in club swimming wanting to achieve big things in the sport and I’m thankful to be in this sport, to be surrounded by so many amazing athletes, coaches and support personnel.”
Masse has reached the podium at eight straight major Games and world championships.
“I never imagined my career would be like this so far,” she said. “I’m extremely competitive and I feel like I’m never satisfied and that’s the beauty of sport and that’s what keeps me motivated.”
Canada lowered the national and Americas mark in the women’s 4×200-m freestyle relay for the gold in 7:32.96 with Summer McIntosh and Kayla Sanchez, both of HPC-Ontario, Katerine Savard of Montreal’s Club CAMO, and Rebecca Smith of the University of Calgary. They missed the world mark by a mere 0.11 seconds. The U.S. was a distant second in 7:36.53 and China third in 7:39.92.
“We wanted to win this event,” said Smith. “We wanted to try and get as close to the world record as possible and produce the best 200 free relay we could. It’s been a long meet, a lot of races for some of us, so we wanted to finish it off strong.”
Tessa Cieplucha and Sydney Pickrem, who helped the relay qualify through the morning heats, will also receive a gold medal.
In the women’s 200-m individual medley, Pickrem won the gold medal in two minutes and 04.29 seconds. Yiting Yu of China was second in 2:04.48 and Kate Douglass of the U.S. was third in 2:04.68.
“I knew I had to have my best back half, that’s my strength,” said Pickrem, third at the halfway point of the race. “The times don’t really matter with how my prep has been this season, it’s just getting up and racing.”
Pickrem, based at HPC-Ontario, admitted her presence at these worlds was uncertain due to a pressure-packed season that also included the Olympics and the International Swimming League.
“Emotionally, this has been the hardest year of my swimming career,” said Pickrem. “This means a lot, there is so much I’m grateful for.”
Bailey Andison of Smiths Falls, Ont., was fifth in 2:06.13.
Joshua Liendo is headed to another final after qualifying second in the men’s 100-m freestyle semis. The HPC-Ontario swimmer clocked 46.29 seconds just behind Alessandro Miressi of Italy first in 45.58. Liendo was the fastest in the morning heats in a personal best 46.26.
“I was just focusing on technique tonight,” said Liendo, with bronze in the 50-m freestyle and gold in the mixed 4×50-m freestyle relay so far at the championships. “I just wanted to swim big. I was really pumped up by Sydney’s win as well.”
After ranking 14th in the morning heats, Mac Neil came roaring back in the 100-m butterfly semis to clock the fastest time in 55.45.
“That was a lot better than this morning,” said Mac Neil. “I had a lot of things I needed to fix from my turns to my dive, to my finish.”
John Atkinson, director high performance and national coach for Swimming Canada, called Monday’s finals the best night for Canada at a world championships.
“It was a fantastic night for Canadian swimming,” said Atkinson. “The performances the athletes have put together at the end of the year make it a fantastic way to close out 2021 and move forward. The athletes, the coaches, the support staff have worked tirelessly all year and to come here and have what’s probably the best night for Canadian swimming at a world championships is outstanding and they deserve all the credit.”
Nine women and three men, all of whom represented Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, are at the six-day event. Finals are at 9 a.m. ET each day on CBC digital platforms (CBCSports.ca, CBC Sports App and CBC GEM).
Competition ends Tuesday.