Penny Oleksiak becomes most decorated Canadian Summer Olympian after bronze finish in 200m freestyle
Published Tuesday, July 27, 2021 9:48PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, July 28, 2021 8:16AM EDT
TOKYO -- Penny Oleksiak cemented herself as Canada's ultimate summer Olympic Games competitor with an unexpected medal in the pool Wednesday.
Her bronze in the 200-metre freestyle for a sixth career medal makes the 21-year-old from Toronto her country's most decorated summer Olympian.
"I just love the Olympics," Oleksiak said. "I think they're so fun. Just knowing the whole world is watching is super crazy."
She surpassed the five medals of rowing's Lesley Thompson-Willie and track and field's Phil Edwards.
One more medal and Oleksiak would move ahead of speedskater Cindy Klassen and speedskater/cyclist Clara Hughes into Canadian sport pre-eminence.
With more races to come in Tokyo, Oleksiak didn't have time to think about her place in history.
Defending a gold medal in the women's 100-metre freestyle and two more relays will keep her on the hop at the pool.
After claiming her bronze in the morning, Oleksiak swam the 100 heats in the evening and advanced to the semifinal.
A 16-year-old Oleksiak won gold in the 100-metre freestyle, silver in the 100-metre butterfly and a pair of freestyle relay bronze five years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
She anchored the women's 4 x 100 freestyle relay team to silver Sunday for a fifth medal.
"I don't think I'm here by chance," Oleksiak said. "I think every time in Rio I got a medal I was like 'I'm so lucky, I'm so lucky' but I think now I have a lot of confidence in my training and I know that I've put in a lot of work."
She didn't race the individual 200-metre freestyle in Rio, although she anchored Canada to bronze in the 4 x 200 relay.
Wednesday's final in Tokyo was just her second internationally after placing sixth in the 2019 world championship. What Oleksiak has discovered about the distance is it hurts, a lot.
"My legs are killing me right now," Oleksiak said afterwards.
Gold medallist Ariarne Titmus of Australia set an Olympic record of one minute 53.3 seconds ahead of silver medallist Siobhan Bernadette of Hong Kong in 1:53.92
Oleksiak led at the first turn, but was fourth at 150 metres. She clawed her way back into podium position and held off a late push by China's Junxuan Yang to touch the wall in 1:54.7.
"I knew it was going to be a dogfight and I was just happy to be a part of it, as weird as that sounds," Oleksiak said.
Oleksiak's medal was the fourth produced by the Canadian women's swim team in as many days following the relay silver, Maggie Mac Neil's butterfly gold and Kylie Masse's backstroke silver.
The Canadians are discovering they haven't lost ground to their competitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though they were out of the water longer than any other top-10 swim country in the world in the spring of 2020.
"Every country dealt with it differently and Ontario did not deal with it in the most ideal way for us, but for Team Canada, it's insane how many of our athletes, pretty much all of them, are coming in every single day positive, ready to race," Oleksiak said.
"I love that. It's really motivating for me."
Tokyo's Olympics were postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the pandemic. June's domestic trials were Oleksiak's first real races in 15 months.
While she learned to appreciate huge volumes of training at Toronto's Pan Am Sports Centre in the absence of competition, racing gets her blood going.
"I'm just really happy to finally be here and get to race and get medals," Oleksiak said. "I love pressure a little bit, I guess. When I know it counts, I know I'm able to kind of show up for it."
Oleksiak posted the sixth-fastest time in the 100-metre preliminaries. Toronto's Kayla Sanchez also qualified for the semifinals in 10th.
Oleksiak sat out the 4 x 200 freestyle relay heats Wednesday, but she's expected to be inserted for the final Thursday morning (Wednesday evening in Canada).
Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., Marie-Sophie Harvey, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Sydney Pickrem of Clearwater, Fla., qualified Canada by finishing fourth in the heats.
The women's 100-metre freestyle final is Friday and Sunday's final swim session includes the medley relay.
Pickrem, who is a dual citizen with parents from Halifax, was sixth in the 200-metre individual medley Wednesday.
Markus Thormeyer of Delta, B.C., qualified for the men's 200-metre backstroke semifinal.
Toronto's Josh Liendo and Calgary's Yuri Kisil placed 14th and 15th respectively in the men's 100-metre freestyle semifinals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2021.