Missing Worlds a Small Setback for Taylor Ruck

Photo Courtesy: Brooke Wright

By David Rieder.

Just 16 years old, Taylor Ruck had reached the pinnacle. She helped Canada’s women’s swimming break a two-decade streak of podium futility at the Olympic Games. Twice, she won bronze medals, first in the 400 free relay and four days later in the 800 free relay.

Ruck and relay teammate Penny Oleksiak were the first Olympians in any sport born in the 21st century to stand on an Olympic podium. Oleksiak captured the majority of the headlines—deservedly so, as she won gold in the 100 free in Rio—but Ruck’s contributions were critical in both of those relay efforts.

canada-400-free-relay-bronze-medal-rio, chantal-van-landeghem, michelle-williams, penny-oleksiak, taylor-ruck

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, Ruck figured to be a huge part of that rising Canadian core moving forward, but she won’t be in Budapest this summer for the World Championships.

At Canada’s national championship meet in Victoria earlier this month, Ruck qualified for five finals, but her highest finish was a tie for fourth in the 100 back—hardly her signature event. With relay spots in Budapest on the line in both the 100 and 200 free, she finished eighth in each of those finals.

In Rio, she split 53.19 on the second leg of Canada’s 400 free relay. At Trials, her best mark was a 55.03. Ruck picked up a bronze medal behind Olympic gold medalists Federica Pellegrini and Katinka Hosszu at December’s Short Course World Championships, but in the long course version of the event at Trials, she could not even get under 2:00.

What happened?

“I don’t really know,” Ruck said. “I think it was part mental, and I might have started tapering too soon, in a different way than I’m accustomed to. I tried to stay positive throughout the meet and just do well in every race.”

Kevin Zacher, Ruck’s coach at Scottsdale Aquatic Club in Arizona, never saw it coming. He thought her training and preparation had gone well but realized after the meet began that something wasn’t clicking.

“Certainly going into the meet, I felt like she was in a good place,” Zacher said. “For whatever reason, she just was nervous. It took her out of her groove, out of her game.

“Usually, under high-pressure situations, she performs well—the Olympics and at the World Championships were the highest-pressure situations, and she performed at her best. But for whatever reason, I don’t know if she was feeling pressure, if she was just out of her element, those things got to her this time.”

But even as she dealt with one of the biggest setbacks of her career, Ruck was mature about the situation and maintained her composure.

“She kept a smile on her face, kept a great attitude and kept working through it. I could tell she was disappointed, but we tried to just move past it, take one event at a time and move forward,” Zacher said. “It’s never fun going through a meet like that, but she got right back in the pool when we got back and got back to work.”

Six days after Trials was over, Ruck found herself on deck competing at yet another swim meet: The Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Mesa, about a 40-minute drive from her home in Scottsdale. Trials ended April 9, and Ruck swam in Mesa April 15.

Competing in a loaded 200 IM field that included Olympic finalist Melanie Margalis and fellow Canadian Mary-Sophie Harvey, Ruck finished fifth with a lifetime best time of 2:14.98.

“I wanted her to swim that event because it’s something that she doesn’t have any expectations on. You could see from her performances in Mesa, without those expectations, she performed quite well,” Zacher said. “Points to one of the lessons we need to learn—when you swim without pressure and without expectations, great things happen.”

Whatever the reasons behind Ruck’s subpar Trials, she never wants to experience a meet like that again. If she lost any of her edge post-Rio, it’s back now.

“I was really hyped after winning two Olympic bronze medals. I guess that kind of made me, in a way, not work not as hard but kind of take it easier,” Ruck said. “Now, having this Trials put in perspective, I’m definitely going to get back to the grind and work really hard.”

She will have a chance to show off that hard work this summer at the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis—the same meet where, two years ago in Singapore, Ruck launched her international career with gold medals in both the 100 and 200 free.

Beyond defending her titles and proving that she still deserves to be named among the rising stars of Canadian women’s swimming, Ruck will be tasked with posting times quick enough to merit a spot at next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

No, it won’t be the Olympics, and it won’t be the World Championships, but it’s international racing experience, vital for Ruck in this stage of her development. She doesn’t even turn 17 until the end of May, so there’s plenty of reason to believe Ruck will be back in form soon enough.

“Long-term, I’m not worried about her,” Zacher said. “She’s going to be great, going to do great things and continue to swim fast. Just something we have to learn from and be better prepared for.”


  1. Carolyn Sheehan

    You’re an inspiration!! Keep up the great work!

  2. Charlene Tallen

    Hang in there kiddo! You have lots of yards and years left. You are a worthy, you put in the effort. Everyone has a hiccup. You GO!!