Canada Commemorates Elaine Tanner As Penny Oleksiak Arrives


A few months after Canadian women’s swimming had one of its best weeks ever at the Olympic Games in Rio, the country will commemorate the 50th anniversary of another. While 2016’s rally was spearheaded by 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak, 1966 was the year of 15-year old Elaine “Mighty Mouse” Tanner.

Tanner won seven medals, four of them gold, at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, that year. The British Commonwealth still followed the imperial measurement system at the time, so her golds came in the 110-yard butterfly, 220-yard butterfly, 440-yard IM and 440-yard free relay. For those efforts, Tanner was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as the country’s top athlete, the youngest-ever recipient of the award and, at the time, only the fifth swimmer. (Graham Smith and Mark Tewksbury have won since.)

After her exploits at the Commonwealth Games, Tanner went on to sweep the backstroke events at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg a year later, and she also won three silver medals at that meet. Her career ended after the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where Tanner won silver medals in the 100 and 200 back and helped Canada earn a bronze in the women’s 400 free relay. Those medals were the first Canada had ever won in women’s swimming.

Canada won its first women’s gold medal in swimming in 1984 when Anne Ottenbrite finished first in the 200 breast in Los Angeles, but prior to the Rio Games, Canadian women had not won a medal in swimming since 1996.

That changed on the first night, when Canada won a surprise bronze medal in the women’s 400 free relay. Over the next two days, Oleksiak won silver in the 100 fly, before Kylie Masse added a bronze in the 200 back. The Canadians then added another bronze in the women’s 800 free relay before the magical moment when Oleksiak tied Simone Manuel for gold in the 100 free. Canada’s sixth medal of the Games arrived as Hillary Caldwell earned bronze in the 200 back.

Canadian women had won 17 Olympic medals in history before picking up six in Rio, and it’s only fitting that such a landmark performance came on the 50th anniversary of Tanner putting Canadian women on the map in the sport. Swimming Canada is celebrating Tanner with an open-to-the-public event in Toronto this weekend, just months after it found its next teenage swimming hero in Oleksiak—even if Oleksiak, a full eight inches taller than Tanner’s five-foot-three, is no “Mighty Mouse.”


Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x