Swimming Canada Olympic Trials: Pressure? What Pressure? 15 Year Old Penny Oleksiak Flys

Jul 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Canada athletes cheer during the men's swimming 1500m freestyle final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Commentary by Rick Madge.

The women’s 100 Fly final was everything we hoped it would be.  It was crazy fast and crazy close.

The morning heats saw three women beat the Olympic qualifying time by more than a second, with 15-year old Penny Oleksiak of Toronto leading the way with 57.38, Noemie Thomas of Richmond, BC second with 57.60 and Katerine Savard of Montreal third with 57.72. Those times were good enough for 5th, 10th and 12th fastest in the world this year.

So we were expecting fireworks in the finals.  And wow, did we get them.

The finals saw Noemie lead the way with a 50 split of 26.67, followed by Katerine 26.79 and young Oleksiak trailing the others at 27.12.  Noemie then started pulling ahead and with just 15m to go had about a half body length lead.  And then Penny happened. Somehow, in those last metres Penny caught up to Noemie, and they touched at almost the same time.  Almost.  The 15-year old won the race with a 56.99 and a new Canadian record. Noemie Thomas was 2nd only 0.03 behind at 57.02.  Those were the 3rd and 4th fastest times in the world this year. Katerine Savard finished 3rd at 57.75, still well under the Olympic qualifying time but just not good enough.

I talked to Penny after the race, and asked her if the plan was for her to take it out slower than the morning (27.12 vs 26.85). “No”, she said. Her coach asked her to take it out faster than the morning swim, but she felt comfortable “letting the girls go ahead” knowing that she could catch them on the second length. Remember, this is a 15-year old talking about 2 girls who happen to be among the fastest butterflyers in the world. Pressure? What pressure?


There were some other pretty amazing swims as well.  Let’s start out with Brittany Maclean.  She’s back, and back with a vengeance. Brittany took charge of the race from the first stroke, and won easily, splitting the 200 at 2:00.26, and finishing with a new Canadian record of 4:03.84, good for 2nd in the world this year.  I loved her comments after the race.  She said she pushed hard enough all year so that she would have no regrets no matter how this race turned out. That’s such an amazing attitude!

Aurelie Rivard of Haut-Richelieu, Quebec won the women’s Para S10 50 free (28.04) and 400 free (4:39.56), both of them good enough to be fastest times in the world this year.

Nathan Stein of Surrey, BC won the men’s Para S10 50 free with a 24.07, improving his standing as fastest in the world this year.

And Benoit Huot of St. Jerome, Quebec won the men’s Para S10 400 free with a 4:09.89, also the fastest time in the world this year.

Along with all this joy, we inevitably had some sorrow.  It IS the Olympic Trials after all.

100 BR – Jason Block (Univ. of Calgary) missed the Olympic qualifying time by 0.02 seconds with a 1:00.59. I was amazed at how upbeat he was afterwards.  Like Brittany Maclean, he said he did everything he could possibly do to get ready for this race, and he did a personal best.  It just wasn’t fast enough.

200 FR – Markus Thormeyer (U of BC) missed the time by 0.20 seconds with a 1:48.17, with Jeremy Bagshaw (Victoria, BC) 0.03 behind that at 1:48.20.

400 IM – Luke Reilly (Univ. of BC) missed the time by 0.43 seconds with a 4:17.14. He showed a big improvement in his back split, but had nobody to push him in the last 200.

So close, but the clock has no sympathy.

What an incredible first day it’s been.