Short Course World Championships: Canada Wins Three Gold Medals with Pickrem, MacNeil, 800 Free Relay (Day Five Women’s Recap)

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Sydney Pickrem (CAN) in the women's 200m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Sydney Pickrem secured the short course world title in the women's 200 IM -- Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Short Course World Championships: Canada Wins Three Gold Medals with Pickrem, MacNeil, 800 Free Relay (Day Five Women’s Recap)

Over the past six years, Canada has become one of the powerhouse nations of women’s swimming, and that was on full display on day five of the Short Course World Championships as the Canadians surged to three gold medals. First, Sydney Pickrem defeated the field for gold in the women’s 200 IM, and then Maggie MacNeil blasted a world record while leading a 1-2 finish for Canada (with Kylie Masse) in the 50 backstroke.

Finally, Canada dominated the women’s 800 freestyle relay, with the team of Summer McIntoshKayla SanchezKaterine Savard and Rebecca Smith barely missing another world record.

Women’s 200 IM FINAL

If Sydney Pickrem is ever close to the field at the halfway point of an IM race, watch out. Indeed, Pickrem was third after 100 meters in this 200 IM final, less than a half-second off the lead of American Kate Douglass, and she out-split the field on the breaststroke leg to pull ahead. From there, no one could catch her. The 24-year-old Canadian and former Texas A&M Aggie touched in 2:04.29 to secure her first-ever gold medal at any international competition. Previously, she had won silver medals at the Pan American Games and Pan Pacific Championships as well as a handful of bronze medals, but she had never won any international gold.

Meanwhile, China’s Yu Yiting took silver in 2:04.48, knocking 0.16 off the world junior record of 2:04.64 set by Canada’s Kayla Sanchez in 2018. Douglass, meanwhile, ended up third in 2:04.68. She swam almost a half-second slower than her prelims time of 2:04.24, which would have been quick enough to win gold here. The big difference for Douglass was a rough breaststroke leg. She split 36.36 in the final after a blistering 35.69 mark in the prelims.

The USA’s Melanie Margalis placed third in 2:06.02, followed by Pickrem’s Canadian teammate Bailey Andison (2:06.13).


Women’s 100 Butterfly Semifinals

Canada’s Maggie MacNeil only tied for 14th in the 100 fly prelims, but she was back to her top form in the semifinals. As is her style, she was behind the field after 50 meters, but then she accelerated. Her back-half split was 29.32, more than a half-second faster than anyone else in the field. MacNeil touched in 55.45, while the USA’s Claire Curzan touched second in 55.64. Curzan, the bronze medalist in the 50 fly Sunday, tied the world junior record set by Belarus’ Anastasiya Shkurdai last year.

Sweden’s Louise Hansson, already the 100 back world champion already in Abu Dhabi and the top seed in the 50 backstroke final later in the session, won her semifinal heat to place third overall in 55.81, and the USA’s Torri Huske took fourth in 56.13. Huske finished fourth in this event at the Tokyo Olympics, and she will be looking for her first individual medal at a senior-level international meet in Tuesday’s final. Curzan, Hansson and Huske figure to be out ahead of the field, while MacNeil will be running them down on the back half.

Italy’s Elena di Liddo took fifth, while Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Lana Pudar was sixth as she aims for a second medal following her bronze-medal performance in the 200 fly. Shkurdai and Egypt’s Farida Osman also made the final.

Notably, China’s Zhang Yufei was a late scratch. Zhang won gold in the 200 fly at the Tokyo Olympics and earlier this week in Abu Dhabi, and she was the silver medalist in the 100 fly in Tokyo. The reasons for her scratch are unclear.


Women’s 50 Freestyle Semifinals

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom has already won four medals at the Short Course World Championships, including individual silvers in the 100 free and 50 fly, relay bronze in the 400 free and relay gold in the 200 medley. Now, she will be the favorite to cap off her meet with an individual triumph. She topped the 50 free semifinals in 23.30. She finished 0.11 ahead of Poland’s Kasia Wasick (23.41), while the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo qualified third in 23.54. Kromowidjojo previously edged out Sjostrom for gold in the 50 fly.

The USA’s Abbey Weitzeil took fourth in 23.63, and the Russian Swimming Federation’s Mariia Kameneva, the USA’s Claire Curzan, Australia’s Holly Barratt and Italy’s Silvia di Pietro also made the final. Curzan pulled off an impressive back-to-back performance after previously finishing second in the 100 fly semifinals.


Women’s 50 Backstroke FINAL

Canada’s Maggie MacNeil is best known for her skills in butterfly, and she is the long course world champion and Olympic gold medalist in the 100 fly. She has even made some noise in sprint freestyle, both in college and in relays on the international stage. But she has incredible underwater dolphin kicks, and that skill translates into short course backstroke. Indeed, MacNeil showed those abilities as she stormed to gold in the women’s 50 back, and she destroyed the world record in the process.

MacNeil, who had qualified third for the final, blasted out to a half-bodylength lead off the start and then extended it on her turn. She finished in 25.27, well under the world record of 25.60 that the Netherlands’ Kira Toussaint recorded twice in 2020. MacNeil won her third gold medal of the week after previously winning gold with Team Canada as part of the women’s 400 free relay and mixed 200 medley relay, and she also qualified first in the 100 fly semifinals to set herself up for another run at gold Tuesday.

And to top it off, MacNeil led a 1-2 finish for Canada, with Kylie Masse taking silver in 25.62. Masse became the third-fastest performer ever in the event behind MacNeil and Toussaint, and she captured her third silver medal in as many individual backstroke races this week.

Sweden’s Louise Hansson, the gold medalist in the 100 back earlier in the week, took bronze in 25.86. Hansson has also won a pair of relay medals (one gold and one bronze) this week. Hansson just beat out France’s Analia Pigree (25.96) to get on the podium. The Netherlands’ Maaike de Waard was also under 26 (25.99).


Women’s 100 Breaststroke FINAL

Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson entered this final as the three-time defending world champion and co-world-record holder in the event, and she was competing in her final race at age 31 after five Olympic Games appearances. China’s Tang Qianting, meanwhile, was born the year that Atkinson made her Olympic debut (2004). But here, it was Tang celebrating a world title. The 17-year-old went out ahead of the field and then held off a surge from Sweden’s Sophie Hansson down the stretch.

Tang touched in 1:03.47, three hundredths ahead of Hansson (1:03.50). Atkinson, who missed out on her chance at a world title in the 50 breast after she was disqualified in semifinals for a dolphin kick at the finish, was in contention through 75 meters, but she fell off on the final length as Ireland’s Mona McSharry went by her to snare the last spot on the podium. McSharry touched in 1:03.92, while Atkinson’s time was 1:04.03.


Women’s 800 Freestyle Relay FINAL

Canada qualified just sixth for the women’s 800 free relay final, but the team of Summer McIntoshKayla SanchezKaterine Savard and Rebecca Smith was certainly a medal contender going into the final. As it turned out, Canada dominated the field, opening up a lead of more than two seconds over the first three legs before Smith obliterated the field with a 1:51.68 final leg, the fastest in the entire race.

McIntosh led off in 1:54.30 to put Canada into second place, Sanchez built the lead with a 1:52.97 split and Savard held it with her 1:54.01 before Smith finished it off. Canada was actually under world-record pace for most of the race, but they ended up finishing in 7:32.96, just 0.11 off the world record of 7:32.85 set by the Netherlands in 2014.

China was in second place for much of the race, but the United States ended up taking over silver-medal position and pulling away. The U.S. team of Torri Huske , Abbey WeitzeilMelanie Margalis and Paige Madden earned silver in 7:36.53, with 200 free bronze medalist Madden providing a key 1:52.67 split on the anchor leg. China’s Li Bingjie led off for her team in 1:53.42, and Cheng YujieZhu Menghui and Liu Yaxin hung on to earn bronze in 7:39.92.