Swimming Canada Olympic Trials: Women’s 200 Free: 5 Stories

Olympic Trials-finals-7apr2016. Photo Scott Grant
Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Commentary by Rick Madge

I think it’s now official. The Canadian women are on fire.

5 Canadian women went under the 1:58.96 Olympic qualifying time for the 200 Free, and while only 2 of them can swim the 200 event, the four fastest qualified their relay for the Olympics. In fact, the 4 women qualified the relay by almost 6 seconds.

This was a fast and aggressive race. But what’s amazing are the individual stories for each of those five women.

Brittany Maclean of the Etobicoke Swim Club in Toronto continued her incredible return to elite competition after a subpar 2015. She set her second Canadian Record of the meet with a 1:56.94, breaking the now-banned shiny suit record by Genevieve Saumur from 2009. On Day 1 she broke the 400 Free Canadian record.

Brittany swam this race like a veteran. Out in 4th place at the 50, well behind the leaders. And then she grabbed control on the second 50 and never looked back. It was a controlled and very impressive performance by a returning champion, out to let everyone know she’s in charge.

But what’s interesting is that all she would talk about in the post-race scrum was the relay. How incredibly fast it is, and how amazed she is that the 4th fastest time was a low 1:58. She was more excited for the relay than it seemed she was for her own race.

Penny Oleksiak of the Toronto Swim Club came into the meet with the 7th fastest 200 Free seed. But I guess when you’re 15 you pretty much plan on big improvements every time you fall into the water. In this 200, Penny was out like a rocket, but had slipped to 4th at the 150. And then threw in the fastest last 50 of the group to capture second with 1:57.59. That’s a drop of over 2.3 seconds! When you add her surprise win in the 100 Fly on Day 1, it’s clear that Penny is the Young Gun story of the meet.

Katerine Savard of Club Aquatique Montreal was one of the hard luck stories of the meet. Until this race. Despite being the reigning British Commonwealth 100 Fly champion, and 5th in world in 2015, Katerine was relegated to 3rd place in the insanely fast 100 Fly on Day 1 (won by Penny above). And that was her best race.

But the 200 Free provided Katerine with another chance, and she came through with a huge 1:58.17 and a PB of over a half second. This was good for 3rd and a spot on the relay. I’m positive the crowd was cheering louder for her than any of the other women during the post-race interviews.

Kennedy Goss of Granite Gators, Toronto came in to the meet with a PB just over the Olympic Qualifying time, and dropped almost a second to capture the 4th spot with a 1:58.26. Kennedy made her first national team in 2015, but the interesting part is that her father, Sandy Goss, was also a Canadian national team member. And he also represented Canada at the Olympics, winning 2 silvers in the 4×100 medley relays in 1984 and 1988, in addition to swimming backstroke AND the 4×200 Free Relays. Like father, like daughter.

And then we have the hard luck story. Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, BC is the reigning Junior World Champion in the 200 Free, and qualified first for finals after the heats. But in this incredible final, all she could manage was 5th. Just out of a relay position. But Taylor is also reigning Junior World Champion in the 100 Free, and you just know that the crowd will be with her for that race.

Sports can give us a lot of stories, and sometime you get all of them in the same race.


  1. avatar
    Martin Buisson

    Wow! great article, love the personal story about the top 5 girls in the 200m free!
    I think the way Taylor Ruck swim, with a more control swim in the thr first 100m and if she make the team in an another event (probably will win the 100 free) she will probably swim the 4x200m free at the games.

    (PS just a minor error, Sandy Goss was a silver medalist in medley relays in 84 and 88, not in free),

  2. avatar

    If you check the splits, Taylor’s story is even more heartbreaking. She was the lead qualifier from the morning, and in the finals was first at the 100, first at the 150 and 5th at the end, but still under the Olympic cut: her place was simply not good enough, even though she was about a second slower than her PB time.

    Then add in the fact that she had opened the meet with a drop from 4:13.51 to 2nd place in 4:09.93, 0.85 off the Olympic cut. Thus, she had the right place but not the right time in the 400, even though she had a PB time by 3.58.

    • avatar

      My error from looking at too many result pages! At the 150 Brittany had taken over the lead, with Taylor still 2nd.

  3. avatar

    Brittany’s interest in the 4×200 relay may be the source of significant further drama, especially if Ruck can find her way onto the team. Not only is Ruck the Jr. World Champion in the 200 at 1:57.87, which seeded her 2nd at Canadian Trials — (Trials performances for 3rd and 4th: Savard 1:58.17; Goss 1:58.26) but the #1 seed was an athlete who sat out the event.

    The drama would come in when the Canadian coaches consider both the preliminary and finals relay lineups. The best Canadian female swimmer — who must be either ill or have totally swum through these trials — is Kazan World Championship 400 IM bronze medalist Emily Overholt, who made the Canadian team in her main event at 4:38.50 (after 4:44+ prelims), 5.98 seconds off her PB from Kazan. She was also seeded #1 into the 200 Free this week at 1:57.55 but scratched. MacLean had the only swim faster than Overholt’s seed, and as MacLean was the 200 SCY NCAA champion for Georgia just a few weeks earlier, despite her seed in this meet of well over two minutes, her win was in no way a surprise.

    Nothing against Savard and Goss, maybe they’d be useful prelim performers, but if the Canadians could have their 4 best (by PB) — Overholt, MacLean, Oleksiak and Ruck — PSYCHED AND AT THEIR BEST they could make the final heat ,and even the podium, quite interesting. This is particularly interesting in that neither of Canada’s representatives in the Kazan 200 free made it to the semi-finals (Overholt 1:59.61; Savard 2:00.30).

    Canada was 11th in Kazan, 7:57.31, barely making the “automatic” qualifying of 12th place. They can legitimately dream about substantially different results in Rio.

    Add their 4 best 4 flat start together, subtract 1.8 for relay starts and you have 7:48.12. Italy won the Kazan silver in 7:48.41, trailing only the Americans at 7:45.37.

    While it may seem a bit zealous to calculate each athlete matching their PB, in this instance I think it may in fact be undercutting the Canadian time capabilities a bit.

    MacLean has come into an entirely different level for the 200 than her previous specialties; it would not be shocking to see her a mid-1:55 LCM when precious medal-metal-championships are on the line; just ask Baurle who he’d like to rely on in a tight spot — i’d bet Brittany would be right in there with Smoliga and Flickinger from his current crop and Schmitt, Vreeland and Romano from past harvests. Keep Brittany healthy, and she’s solid.

    Overholt — like I said, she is the best female Canadian swimmer; with her 4:32 in Kazan she undeniably proved her toughness. In my observation, a toughness with her stroke mix that is substantially better than a 1:57.55 pb. In Kazan she was :31.97 and :30.61 for the fastest Free leg, hand touch to hand touch at 1:02.58, and with the :30.61the fastest last 50 as well.

    Oleksiak and Ruck — each is still only 15 years old and on a substantial forward roll, where advancement is more likely than not. After becoming the Canadian record holder and trials winner in the 100 Fly, as well as picking up an additional individual Rio slot in the 200 free, Oleksiak’s confidence must be on a bust out trajectory. And if anyone wishes to criticize Ruck’s toughness, remember she won three (100 Free, 200 Free, 200 Back Jr. Worlds medals, two gold, not to mention some great relay legs) and had taken on the 400 Free at the front end of this meet likely suffering a bit of lingering fatigue by the final 25 of the 200 free. She had swum the 100 back on the day between and was over 2 seconds off her best in prelims (1:00. 61 v 1:02.85). Without facing the 400 Free beforehand, or whatever other factors may have been in play, Ruck will have a good chance for progress in Rio.

    Frankly, my read on this particular group of Canadian girls is not just that they might each match their pre-meet PBs in the relay; I suspect ALL FOUR will have measurable improvement.

    Go ahead and be excited Britanny.