At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, we really did not know what to completely expect from Canada’s female swimmers. They had the potential to be good based on their results over the previous season. No one would have expected four medals in the pool from Penny Oleksiak of Toronto, Ontario. However, the 17-year-old was simply spectacular, as she set the Olympic record in the women’s 100-metre event, came away with a silver in the women’s 100 metre butterfly, and bronze medals in the women’s 4×100 metre and women’s 4×200 metre relay.
As we approach the swimming events at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, the Canadian Olympic swim team will once again be led by Oleksiak. However, she will no longer be competing in the women’s 100-metre butterfly, as the top Canadian in that event is reigning world champion Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ontario (July 25, 7:30 pm MT). Oleksiak will be focusing on defending her gold in the women’s 100-metre free (July 29, 7:59 pm MT), competing in the women’s 200-metre freestyle (July 27, 7:41 pm MT), where she had the fourth-fastest time in the women’s 4×200 metre freestyle relay at the 2016 Olympic Games, and the relay events where Canada will be favoured to win bronze behind the United States and Australia. The women’s medley relay is on July 30 at 8:43 pm MT, the women’s 4×100 metre relay is on July 24 at 8:45 pm MT, and the women’s 4×200 metre relay is on July 28 at 9:31 pm MT.
The other Canadian Olympic medal contenders in swimming are Kylie Masse of Lasalle, Ontario in the women’s 100-metre backstroke (July 26, 7:51 pm MT), and the women’s 200-metre backstroke (July 30, 7:37 pm MT), and Sydney Pickrem in the women’s 200-metre individual medley (July 27, 8:45 pm MT), the women’s 400-metre individual medley (July 24, 8:12 pm MT), and the women’s 200-metre breaststroke (July 29, 7:41 pm MT). Masse won gold in the women’s 100-metre backstroke at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, as well as bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She also won bronze in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships. Pickrem meanwhile won bronze in the women’s 400-metre individual medley at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships and then bronze again in the women’s 200-metre individual medley and the women’s 200-metre breaststroke at the 2019 World Aquatics Championship.
At the 2021 Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto, Masse and Pickrem were in top form. Through a Zoom call, I was able to speak with both swimmers. Pickrem was extremely impressed with the depth and power of the Canadian women’s swim team as a whole over the last five years, and says the team is loaded with confidence at the moment. “As a whole, our team since Rio has really skyrocketed. When we made that mark in 2016, especially on the women’s side, so much has changed for us. We are excited and confident about every single world championship. It is a drive we all want to be a part of….The energy is infectious…We want to be a threat. We don’t want to be looked upon as an underdog anymore. I don’t think anyone does, but we still want to swim with that attitude because we want to make our mark in history.”
Masse meanwhile explains what she has been working on the last year to make her successful. “This last year has been interesting. I have had a change in program, and a change in coaches. It has been challenging (with coronavirus), but it has been amazing. I have done some different training which has allowed me to improve on my 200, and my backstroke endurance, which is beneficial for the 200. I am working on my skills. I have been working on my turn a lot. I have been able to work with an amazing bunch of ladies, who push me every day. One of those swimmers is Maggie Mac Neil, who I have learned a lot from.”
At the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Masse broke the world record in the women’s 100m backstroke with a time of 58.1 seconds. At the Australian Olympic Trials, Kaylee McKeown set the current world record with a time of 57.45 seconds, while at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto, Masse broke the Canadian record with a time of 57.7 seconds. When I asked Masse if she thinks she is a better swimmer today than four years ago, she offered the following response.
“I think so. I do believe I am a stronger swimmer now, and am obviously older, and I had time under my belt to work on strengths, skills, and various things that will help me in the 100.”