SANTIAGO, Chile – It took a team effort to make Maggie Mac Neil the winningest female swimmer of all time at the Pan American Games.
The women’s 4×100 medley relay team of Danielle Hanus, Rachel Nicol, Mac Neil and Mary-Sophie Harvey won gold for Canada in a time of 3:58.76. That gave Mac Neil her fifth gold medal, tying American Cynthia Woodhead’s mark from San Juan 1979. She’s the only Canadian athlete across all sports to win five golds at a single Pan Am Games.
“It’s so special and obviously there was pressure on myself to do well. But I also wanted to represent Panam Sports well as they chose me (to be a Games Ambassador) originally back a year ago so I definitely wanted to do them proud, and obviously Canada as well,” said the 23-year-old London Aquatic Club product whose face is plastered on colourful display advertising all over Santiago.
“I’m really stoked with the results, especially for October, and obviously there’s a lot to work towards but I’m really pleased with that.”
Mac Neil bookended her individual wins (100-m butterfly, 100-m freestyle and 50-m freestyle) with relay wins on the first and last day.
“I think my most favourite golds are the (4×100-m freestyle relay on) the first day, because I think it set the tone for everyone and then having that relay on the last night is always really hard,” Mac Neil said. “I think that just shows our team spirit and our grit to be able to pull something out like that on the last night when we’re all tired and hungry.”
Mac Neil (5G-1S-1B) and Harvey (3G-2S-2B), who took 200-m individual medley silver earlier in the session, both finished with seven medals, an all-time best among Canadian swimmers.
“I kept telling the coaches to put me last on the relay because I wanted to have that pressure. It was extra hard for me because I had the 200 IM and it really hurt the last 50. But that’s OK, I wanted to step up for Canada and it was a really fun race because I executed what I wanted to,” Harvey said.
The relay was one of five medals – three gold – for Canada Wednesday.
Finlay Knox and Sydney Pickrem owned the top of the 200-m IM podium with back to back wins earlier in the session.
The win is first gold medal for Knox, a Tokyo 2020 Olympian who broke through with two individual bronze medals at last year’s short-course world championships.
“It’s my first international win so I’m very happy with that,” said the 22-year-old Olympian from Okotoks, Alta. “It’s October, we’ve just come off a little summer break and you have that little voice in the back of your head telling you every excuse why you can’t win. You just have to tell it, ‘Watch this,’ and prove that little voice in your head wrong.”
Pickrem capped her successful return to the national team, winning in a Pan Am Games record 2:09.04.
“I’m a little disappointed with the time, but that’s just nitpicking,” said the multiple international medallist and two-time Olympian, whose personal best is 2:08.61.
The 26-year-old, who took this summer’s world championships off due to anxiety and depression, came into the Games fresh off a gold medal at the World Aquatics World Cup in Athens, where she went 2:09.67.
“Me and my coach, when I decided to do the first two World Cups and then come here, (my goal was) good, better, best to get back and start the season. To consistently do 2:09 definitely helps,” she said. “I think as a nation as far as wanting to be the best, we all want each other to be the best.”
Harvey was second, taking silver in 2:11.92.
The men’s medley relay of Blake Tierney, Gabe Mastromatteo, Knox and Javier Acevedo added bronze to bring Canada’s five-day swimming total to 25 medals (11 gold, 6 silver, 8 bronze).
“It’s just about coming together as a team and giving everything we have,” Knox said. “It’s the last race so you leave it all in the pool and make sure when you’ve touched the wall you’ve done everything for the team possible.”
It’s the most golds the country has ever won in swimming at a Pan Ams held outside Canada. Only the Winnipeg 1999 team (13) won more. It’s the most total medals at a Games held outside Canada since San Juan 1979 (28) and just two short of the 27 from Toronto 2015, which featured Canada’s strongest team.
“The Pan Am Games is a fantastic opportunity for a significant number of athletes, coaches and staff to get a games experience,” said John Atkinson, High Performance Director and National Coach. “Tonight, when I’m watching the final session and I’m watching our eighth relay, out of eight relays win a medal, in the environment of a Games with an electric atmosphere, you can’t replicate that except in a Games time environment. We’ll have a number of our athletes come out of this with an experience they haven’t had before they came here, a significant number of athletes with medals from relays, which is going to put us forward into a really good position as we go forward to the Worlds in Doha, to Trials and then to Paris. To come away with 27 athletes winning a medal also shows, one, the depth of the team to surpass Toronto 2015 at the home games with 11 golds compared to 8 then is also a really great achievement. And a full respect to the athletes, the coaches, the support staff who really did their absolute best on this tour.”
In other finals, 20-year-old Alex Axon, who represents Markham Aquatic Club, finished seventh in the men’s 1,500-m freestyle (15:35.05), just over half a second behind him was teammate, Timothé Barbeau who finished in eighth spot. Laila Oravsky’s time of 17:18.64 was good for eighth place in the women’s 1,500. The 16-year-old rookie from the Barrie Trojans heads back to high school with some great senior national team experience.
“It feels good to get that experience,” Oravsky said. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity and I hope to do stuff like this in the future. Just being around some of the best swimmers in the world in every event, not only in the race but on the team with Team Canada and a lot of the older girls that I look up to. I’m getting to learn a lot from them, taking as much as I can and applying it to my own.