After a Huge 2019, Maggie MacNeil Ready For Bigger Things in 2020

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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After the upset of the world championships, Maggie MacNeil was at the high point of her career.

The Canadian star stunned Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom to win gold in the 100-meter butterfly in Gwangju, South Korea, last July.

Where to go from that high? More pioneering pace was MacNeil’s answer. After returning to the University of Michigan for her sophomore season, the Canadian had one more stunning race to go in 2019, tying the NCAA record in the 100-yard butterfly at the midseason Minnesota Invitational.

Maggie MacNeil told Swimming World:

“I think before the race, Rick was trying to get me stressed to see how I would perform under pressure like at NCAAs. At night it was just about turning on the jets to see how fast I could go. I knew that I could go faster than a best time, but I wasn’t expecting to go a 49.2.”

MacNeil tied the NCAA record set by USC’s Louise Hansson.

“It means a lot. I have raced Louise a couple times and it is great I got to share that record. When she did it, I was right next to her, so it means a lot,” MacNeil said.

“We swim it so differently. She goes out harder on the first 50 and I come back harder in the second 50. So it was great to see that we could swim it so differently but have the exact same time. I think it is a big deal. It definitely increases the pressure for NCAAs, but I want to focus on swimming as fast.”

Fast at the right time. Last year, she swam a 49.59 at Big Tens in the 100 fly but couldn’t go faster at NCAAs.

“That opened my eyes to make sure I am at my best when it matters most,” she said.

That also includes the Canadian Olympic trials, which begins a week after the conclusion of the NCAA championships.

“It begins nine days after NCAAs. I think that gives me more confidence going into trials. I did it last year with the same amount of time and my trials were OK,” she said.


Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

At Trials, she won the 100 fly with a 57.0, which was over a second quicker than she was the previous summer and it qualified her for her first World Championships, where she dropped another second to a 55.83.

She takes only the positive from her Gwangju gains and experience, saying:

“I don’t think anyone sees me any differently. I have higher standards for myself now. I still can’t believe it happened.”

MacNeil’s victory was one of the most stunning moments of the meet, handing Sjostrom her first loss in a major international 100 fly since 2014.

“I was definitely super nervous going in. I don’t think I had been that nervous in my entire life. I think it helped that I was right next to Sarah in prelims and semis,” she said.

“I knew I had a shot at making it back to semis. I just wanted to focus on my race. It was my first race of worlds so that was scary. To be honest, it is kind of a blur now. I only remember part of it because people have asked me about certain parts of it. Once I came up off the turn I thought I had a shot. I could see Sarah beside me. I felt like I could do this. But at the wall, I couldn’t tell who touched first because I had a bad finish. My stroke count was off, for some reason I didn’t hit completely right.

“I don’t wear contacts when I swim. I could see the 1 by my name. Emma McKeon said 55 and she was the one that told me because I couldn’t see.”

Now, she is doing the same thing that Olympian Siobhan Haughey felt like she was doing at Michigan. Haughey is well-recognized in her Hong Kong home but not so much in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“I am kind of hiding out down here,” MacNeil said.

“No one really knows who I am in America. I really noticed it when I went home for American Thanksgiving. I was watching my sister swim a meet and all of these kids wanted to take pictures with me and get my autograph.

It won’t be the last time, especially with MacNeil being such a big part of the Canadian youth movement with Taylor Ruck, Penny Oleksiak and Kayla Sanchez. MacNeil said:

“It has been incredible. I actually think Taylor and I are in the middle of it now. We aren’t the youngest anymore. The 400 free relay we got bronze and we were the only team where every member was under 20. That definitely bodes well for 2020 and 2024 and if the youngsters keep improving, 2028 and beyond. It is incredible. Average age was 18.75.”

She is one of the young guns in the NCAA as well, still just a sophomore — but no longer a freshman.

“I am not the youngest one anymore and I understand how everything goes. That has been very helpful and hopefully I have been able to help the freshman a little bit,” she said. “It has definitely been different. We are really learning how to vibe with our new team. We are really impressed with our overall midseason times. We have a really good shot at winning Big Tens this year.”

Then MacNeil will be in the hunt for a couple of NCAA titles, though her best events the 100 fly and 100 back are on the same night.

After that, the quick turnaround to trials with, perhaps, a shot at Tokyo. In 2016, MacNeil was sixth in the 100 fly at Canadian trials. Says MacNeil:  “It is crucial that I had that. I will be super stressed at trials but that experience from trials and from world champs will help.”

“I have always had high expectations for myself. I think those haven’t changed. But I am the same person. There weren’t any major life changes other than winning. I am going to keep working hard going into 2020 — but I am going to try not to stress myself out.”