Alexanne Lepage, Canada’s Latest Teen Standout, Could Boost Breaststroke Leg on Star-Studded Medley Relay

Alexanne Lepage -- Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Scott Grant

Alexanne Lepage Could Boost Breaststroke Leg on Canada’s Star-Studded Medley Relay

Since a breakout meet at the 2016 Olympics, Canada has built a reputation as a third-best women’s swimming nation in the world behind dominant teams from Australia and the United States. In Rio, Canada broke a 20-year Olympic medal drought and a 28-year stretch without a relay medal with a pair of freestyle relay bronzes, but more recently, Canada’s medley relay has become its strongest squad.

At the four most recent global-level championship meets, Canada has won bronze in the 400 medley relay. A pair of established stars have been central to all four medal wins, with Kylie Masse handling the backstroke leg and Maggie Mac Neil on butterfly. Both have been global titlists in their respective 100-meter events, with Masse topping the Worlds podium individually in 2017 and 2019 while Mac Neil won Olympic gold in the 100 fly in 2021 to follow up a 2019 world title. On the first three of those relays, 2016 co-Olympic gold medalist Penny Oleksiak has anchored, while teenage star Summer McIntosh took over the freestyle leg this year with Oleksiak missing the Fukuoka meet.

The big weakness, meanwhile, has been the breaststroke leg, with Canada scrambling year after year to figure out who best to fill out this otherwise-exquisite squad. Sydney Pickrem, a swimmer with World Championship bronze medals in both individual medley events plus the 200 breast, got the nod in 2019 and 2021 over Canada’s collection of 100-meter specialists. Rachel Nicol swam in the spot in 2022 before Sophie Angus put forth an impressive 1:06.21 split at this year’s Worlds. Canada faced a strong challenge from China for the final spot on the podium, but Angus nearly matched China’s Tang Qianting on breaststroke to put Mac Neil and McIntosh in position to come home strong.

Sure, that’s an impressive swim for the 24-year-old veteran, who split more than one second quicker than her flat-start best time, but imagine this Canadian relay infused with an elite breaststroker. That could happen now after Alexanne Lepage broke through at last week’s World Junior Championships.

Lepage was seeded with a 100-meter time of 1:09.66 entering the meet in Netanya, Israel. Two days later, she took down Eneli Jefimova for an upset gold medal. Lepage turned more than one second behind Jefimova at the halfway point, but she closed in 34.92, the fastest split in the field and quicker than any swimmer went in the senior-level Worlds final outside of gold medalist Ruta Meilutyte. Her time was 1:06.58, already good enough to make Lepage the third-fastest Canadian ever behind Annamay Pierce (2009, during the polyurethane suit era) and Kierra Smith (2019).

It was more of the same in the 200 breast, where Lepage entered with a best time of 2:30.74 before securing a second gold medal, also in come-from-behind fashion. This time, it was Japan’s Mina Nakazawa leading most of the race before Lepage turned on the jets coming home to secure the win in 2:24.70.

For the moment, those times put Lepage into fringe-finalist territory in the two individual events as she heads into the Olympic year, but perhaps it’s best not to underestimate this 17-year-old after her absurd drops last week. But a senior-level debut at the Olympic Games could quickly make a difference for a Canadian medley relay, particularly if the Masse-Mac Neil-Oleksiak trio is on form in Paris.

Yes, it’s going to take a lot going right for the Canadian team to beat either the U.S. or Australia, particularly after Masse was unable to keep pace with backstroke rivals Regan Smith and Kaylee McKeown this year and Oleksiak has battled injuries in recent years, but continued progress from Lepage could make this interesting. Meanwhile, Canada’s record of producing female teenage stars over the last decade adds another name as Lepage enters the scene.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Hughsam
11 days ago

Great article! Going to check out Alexanne’s races! So outstanding , and congrats to her!

"we've got a boilover!"
11 days ago

Kelsey Wog was 106.4 in winter of 2020 and Amanda Reason 106.5 2009, so Lepage an impressive 5th 🇨🇦 all time…. So far….

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x