Penny Oleksiak standing on the pool deckMark Blinch/COC
Mark Blinch/COC

Swimmers make Tokyo 2020 a Games to remember for Canada

Through the first week at Tokyo 2020, Canadians couldn’t keep their eyes off the pool — and with good reason.

Team Canada equalled its Rio 2016 total with six medals in swimming, one of the country’s best-ever hauls at a single Summer Games. But while Penny Oleksiak made the biggest splash by becoming Canada’s most decorated Olympian of all time, there were plenty of other notable achievements at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as well.

Penny The GOAT

Alright, we just said this wouldn’t be all about Penny. And it won’t. But come on, we can’t not acknowledge how remarkable it is for a 21-year-old to have more Olympic medals to her name than any other Canadian in history.

She picked up a silver (4x100m freestyle relay) and two bronzes (200m freestyle, 4x100m medley relay) to bring her lifetime medal count to seven.

Oleksiak also set a Canadian record with a time of 52.59 seconds in the 100m freestyle final, faster than her gold-medal-winning race in Rio. In an incredibly fast field, however, that produced a fourth-place finish in Tokyo.

Swimmer Margaret Mac Neil, wearing a Canada jacket and protective mask, holds up her Olympic gold medal.
Margaret MacNeil, of Canada, poses with the gold medal after winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Mac Neil Strikes Gold

The only Canadian swimmer to hit the top of the podium was Maggie Mac Neil, who won gold in the 100m butterfly on Day 3. In the process, she set a Canadian record time of 55.59 seconds.

She also collected a pair of bronze medals, as part of the 4x100m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay. Not too shabby for a first trip to the Olympics.

Kylie Masse celebrates after winning a medal
Canada’s Kylie Masse celebrates a silver medal in the women’s 200m backstroke final during the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Saturday, July 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Back On Track

Speaking of swimmers setting personal bests and winning three medals in Tokyo, it’s Kylie Masse! Having worked for years to improve her performance in the 200m backstroke, Masse set a Canadian record (2:05.42) in this year’s final, earning a silver.

She also “upgraded” to a silver in the 100m backstroke (after winning bronze in Rio) and got the Canadians off to a great start in the 4x100m medley relay, en route to a bronze.

Summer McIntosh, wearing a swim cap and goggles, swims in the Olympic pool
Canadian swimmer Summer McIntosh competes in the Women’s 800m Freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Stephen Hosier/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Summer Time

She was Canada’s youngest athlete at these Games, but 14-year-old Summer McIntosh wasn’t in Tokyo to simply be the answer to a trivia question.

McIntosh nearly hit the podium on two occasions. She finished a close fourth in the 400m freestyle with a time of 4:02.42, a Canadian record. She also swam alongside Oleksiak with the 4x200m freestyle relay team that finished fourth.

Three male Canadian swimmers stand on the pool deck
Canadian swimmers Brent Hayden, Joshua Liendo Edwards, Yuri Kisil and Markus Thormeyer compete in the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Monday, July 26, 2021. Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Passing the Torch

On the other end of the age spectrum is Brent Hayden. The 37-year-old was the oldest swimmer at these Games, and the oldest swimmer to ever compete for Canada at the Olympics.

He’d retired after London 2012, but made a surprise comeback to compete in his fourth Games. In Tokyo, he guided the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team — Yuri Kisil, Markus Thormeyer and 18-year-old Joshua Liendo — to a Canadian record (3:10.82) and a fourth-place finish in a very strong field.

Canadian swimmers stand on the deck watching the score board
Canadian swimmers Summer McIntosh, Rebecca Smith, Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak react after placing fourth in the Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC

Stroke of Tough Luck

Speaking of near-podium relay results: the team of Oleksiak, McIntosh, Kayla Sanchez and Rebecca Smith swam an incredible race in the final of the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay.

They set a Canadian record time of 7:43.77, nearly two seconds faster than the time of 7:45.39 that won Canada bronze in the event at Rio 2016. McIntosh, swimming the first leg, set a Canadian age-group record of 1:55.74.

As it happens, however, all three of the medal-winning teams (China, USA, Australia) broke the previous world record in that final. Sometimes you just have to tip your (swimming) cap.

Taylor Ruck swimming the backstroke
Canadian swimmer Taylor Ruck competes in the Women’s 200m Backstroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Stephen Hosier/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Taylor Made

You may not have seen Taylor Ruck on the podium, but she’s still leaving Tokyo with a pair of medals. Swimming in the heats in the 4x100m freestyle relay (silver) and 4x100m medley relay (bronze) bumped the 21-year-old’s lifetime Olympic medal count to four.

READ: A look back at five great Olympic Games for Canadian swimming

Saving Their Best

Five Canadian swimmers swam personal bests in Tokyo, including Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle (twice) and McIntosh in the 800m freestyle and 200m freestyle (twice).

Sanchez set a personal best not once, not twice, but thrice in the 100m freestyle. Kisil also hit a new PB in the 100m freestyle, and 17-year-old Katrina Bellio hit new heights in the 1500m freestyle.