By Nathan Sager (@naitSAYger)
Call her Penny, call her Penelope, or call her phenom.
At the Canadian Olympic & Para-swimming Trials, 15-year-old Penny Oleksiak won the women’s 100-metre freestyle in 53.31 seconds, the fourth-fastest time this season.
It was also a world youth record, and the Toronto native’s second Canadian record set this week at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, where she trains. Oleksiak and 22-year-old Chantal van Landeghem (53.91) each qualified for Rio. Training partners Sandrine Mainville (54.14) and Ohio State alumna Michelle Williams (54.45) rounded out the top four to form Canada’s women’s 4 x 100 relay for Rio.
Meantime, freestyler Brittany MacLean added the 800 to her repertoire by swimming 8:21.40, the third-fastest time of 2016, without a challenger to push her along. Breaststroker Kierra Smith had her second win of the week; her 2:23.91 was the season’s sixth-fastest 200 breast, while Martha McCabe clocked 2:25.13 to become a second-time Olympian.
“It’s been pretty crazy – I say that every race, but I have the same feeling every race,” Oleksiak told CBC Sports in a pool deck interview. “I was just proud to do it with three girls that I train with every day [van Landeghem, Mainville and Williams] that I really, really look up to. That just makes it all the more special.”
All four work with coach Ben Titley at Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre-Ontario in Toronto. The national body has also stepped up its investment in relays; the women’s 4 x 100 was 11th in London.
“It’s been our goal all year for the four of us to make it,” Williams said. “This is kind of a stepping stone to something really big.”
MacLean, 22, burned through a 61-second final 100 metres. The recent Georgia Bulldog grad will have four events in Rio, with the other two freestyles and a 4 x 200 relay.
“It’s been a long week of racing, but this is what I need to get used to going into Rio,” said MacLean, who was nearly 17 seconds ahead of the silver medalist, 16-year-old Olivia Anderson (8:38.34, short of qualifying). “I’m really honoured that I get to compete in a lot of events this time around. I think I can bring out a little more this summer.
“It’s really nice to know that I am back in my fast swimming ways,” added MacLean, who missed the 2015 Pan Am Games and world championships due to hip and shoulder woes.
Smith and McCabe reprised their Pan Am Games duel, with the Minnesota Golden Gophers senior pulling away in the third and fourth lengths.
“I felt a lot less pressure than I did in the 100,” Smith said. “I just wanted to get as close to 2:20 as I could. I am just really happy with the times right now.”
McCabe, who was fifth in 200 back in London, fended off a spirited challenge from incoming University of Manitoba freshman Kelsey Wog to get the second spot.
No man made the mark in men’s 100 butterfly or 200 backstroke after Santo Condorelli was disqualified from the latter. Condorelli swam 52.32, .04 shy of the Canadian 100 butterfly record, but was ruled to have made a non-simultaneous touch during a turn.
Jeremie Dezwirek won men’s 200 back in 1:58.31, less than a tenth of a second short of the mark of 1.58.22.
On Sunday, Ryan Cochrane will try to seal his Rio ticket in men’s 1,500 freestyle. In women’s 200 backstroke, formers worlds medalist Hilary Caldwell, Dominique Bouchard, Phoenix-based 15-year-old Taylor Ruck and University of Toronto standout Kylie Masse come in with the four fastest seed times. Masse and Bouchard have already qualified in the 100.
Twenty-year-old Luke Reilly owns the fastest men’s 200 individual medley seed time.