“I didn’t even think I would make the team,” Oleksiak makes her Olympic mark in Rio
Make it two medals in two races in two days for Penny Oleksiak at Rio 2016.
On Sunday, the Canadian wunderkind captured silver in the 100m butterfly, one night after anchoring the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay to bronze.
That perfect record is something she couldn’t imagine, even in her wildest dreams.
“Before trials I didn’t even think I would make the team and I mean just getting to be here and medal is such an unreal feeling,” said Oleksiak, who becomes Canada’s first individual female Olympic swimming medallist since Marianne Limpert at Atlanta 1996, four years before she was born.
Coming off a night in which she says she only got about five hours of sleep, the 16-year-old Canadian set another world junior record with her time of 56.46s, breaking the mark she had set in the heats on Saturday.
Sitting in third place at the midway mark, Oleksiak followed the advice of her first coach Gary Nolden, who always told her to have a good finish.
“I definitely don’t try to hold back but I think that last 10 metres you just have to put in everything else you have left because once the race is over you’re probably going to regret it if you don’t put everything else in it,” she said.
When she touched the wall, the crowd could clearly see the second place lights on her lane block and the number two next to her name, but it took Oleksiak a little longer to recognize what she had done.
“The first few seconds after I touched the wall I didn’t look back, I was just trying to catch my breath,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure I medalled until I looked up and I saw the Canadian flags in the air around me. Getting to see that and then getting to see that you medalled is just an amazing feeling.”
She also looked for her parents, brother and sister, who were all in the stands to watch her remarkable performance.
“I saw my dad, he stood up and waved to me. He was literally the only person I saw, everything else was just blurred.”
Oleksiak’s silver is the first ever Olympic medal in a butterfly event by a Canadian woman. The only other Canadian Olympic butterfly medal is Bruce Robertson’s silver in the 100m at Munich 1972.
The only woman to beat her in Rio was Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who swam a world record time of 55.48s. In third was the defending Olympic champion, American Dana Vollmer.
“I think a lot of people knew that Sarah was going to win this race just because she’s the world record holder and she’s such an amazing swimmer,” said Oleksiak. “I definitely had my eye out for her when I turned and I saw her ahead of me and I was just trying to hold on as long as I could.”
Although it sometimes seems like nothing fazes her, Oleksiak did admit to nerves earlier in the day.
“I was even shaking in my hotel room and everything,” she told reporters. “I think about 10 minutes before the race I wasn’t nervous at all because I had my coach’s support, my teammates’ support and they all just told me I have to be here to have a fun time because I still have the next Olympics to medal in everything and that just took my nerves away.”
But Oleksiak may not be content to wait until the next Games to stand on the podium again. She still has the 100m freestyle ahead of her and another relay or two.
“I mean for sure I want to get there again. I’m an Olympic medallist already and I mean I can’t complain if I don’t get another medal but it’s just going to be an amazing time and I don’t think people really expect what’s going to happen.”