Taylor Ruck, 16, Playing A Huge Role in Team Canada’s Olympic Ruckus

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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By Annie Grevers, Swimming World Staff Writer

How many Olympic medals did you have at age 16? Perhaps you’ve heard commentators oooh and ahhh over 16-year-old Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak who now has three Olympic medals– a bronze in the 4×200 free relay, a silver in the 100 fly and a bronze in the 4×100 free relay. She is the first Canadian Olympian since 1984 to win three medals at a Summer Games, and only the sixth all-time.

But in the shadow of Oleksiak is another Canadian teen that’s quietly making a huge difference for her country.

Winding Road to Rio

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Photo Courtesy: Donna Nelson

Team Canada’s Taylor Ruck turned 16 on May 28. Ruck, or T-Ruck as she’s nicknamed, has been living in Scottsdale, Arizona since she was 10 months old. Her dad, Colin Ruck, towers at 6’9 and handed down his stretched figure to his daughter. Taylor is a lean 6’1, with plenty of room for muscle gains. Her bicep girth may not be as impressive as Katinka Hosszu‘s, but her willowy arms are deceiving– T-Ruck is strong.

Ruck has lived in the United States for the bulk of her life, but she visits family often in Kelowna, Winnipeg and Vancouver, keeping her deeply connected to her Canadian roots. Coached by Kevin Zacher at Scottsdale Aquatic Club, Ruck has been on an aggressive upward trajectory since 2012. The then 12-year-old watched two of her SAC teammates qualify for the ever-competitive U.S. Olympic Trials and her dreams of getting to the world stage suddenly seemed feasible.

At the 2015 World Junior Championships in Singapore, Ruck took gold in the 100 and 200 freestyle, setting championship records in both events. She was later named the 2015 Canadian Youth Female Swimmer of the Year.

In April 2016, Ruck fought a nasty case of bronchitis as she competed in six events at the Canadian Olympic Trials. Any swimmer could tell you the swelling of your bronchial tubes (the airway between your nose and your lungs) is not what you want when vying for a spot on your country’s Olympic swim team.

Despite the imperfect circumstances, Ruck finished second in the 400 freestyle and fifth in the 200 freestyle at Canadian Trials. Her placement in the 400 was high enough but not fast enough to qualify for Rio. Her time in the 200 was fast enough, but her placement wasn’t high enough to qualify for Rio. The rising star seemed snakebit.

But then Swimming Canada stepped in to make a winning decision for their country’s squad. Canada’s governing body considered “unforeseen circumstances” (such as illness) during the trials for discretionary nomination to the Olympic Games team once the trials had concluded. Ruck was subsequently named in the Canadian team.

After being named to the team Ruck said, “I feel really grateful and happy they decided to take me. I’m very excited to go there at such a young age and have the experience for 2020 and 2024.”

That quote almost makes it sound like Ruck expected her first go ’round at the Olympic Games to be more of a spectator sport. Rio was to be a place to soak up experience in order to be ready to shine in the next two Games. But judging by Ruck’s Rio performances, she was ready for the world stage sooner than she had thought.

A Fiery Showing in Rio

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Photo Courtesy: Vaughn Ridley/Swimming Canada

Ruck was set to swim just preliminaries of the 4×100 free relay and 4×200 free relay. She would have to put down convincing splits to earn a coveted place on the finals squads.

On Sunday, August 7 Ruck swam in the heats of the 4×100 free relay. She threw down a blistering split of 53.04, guaranteeing her a slot on the finals relay lineup.

“I was just looking to have fun and this morning I was pretty intent on my goal to get into the final and it paid off,” Ruck said. “Tonight was just about having fun and leaving it all in the pool.”

At night, Ruck swam the third leg of the relay, following teammates Sandrine Mainville (53.86) and Chantel Van Landeghem (53.12). Ruck’s 53.19 held the third position for anchor leg Oleksiak who split a 52.72, securing a historic bronze medal for Team Canada. Team Canada finished exactly one second behind Team USA with a 3:32.89, a new Canadian record.

Standing on the podium at her first Olympic Games– Ruck was in awe. “It was just amazing. I’ve never felt this much emotion. I was totally overwhelmed and it’s just the best night of my life so far,” Ruck said.

In 2012, Team Canada took fourth in the 4×200 free relay, just missing a podium finish. On Wednesday, August 10, Katherine Savard led off the 2016 squad with a 1:57.91, positioning her team sixth in the field. Ruck had another crack at relay magic. This time the teen dove in with the newly-acquired confidence of an Olympic medalist.

Ruck swam to a 1:56.18, slingshotting her team from sixth to third. Brittany MacLean (who had been too ill to swim in the heats) toughed out a 1:56.36 and Oleksiak anchored again in mind-blowing fashion (1:54.94). The last 16-year-old on the relay may have been dubbed “anchor” but Ruck was a linchpin member of the foursome. With a final time of 7:45.39, Team Canada added another bronze to their haul and another national record.

Canada is up to four swimming medals in Rio, all from women’s events. It’s the most Canada has earned in a Games since winning 10 in the heavily boycotted 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Canada has won more than four swim medals in one other Olympics — the 1976 Games in Montreal — where Canada won a cumulative eight medals in swimming.

“I’ve grown up here my whole life so I feel American, but I definitely owe my heritage to Canada,” Ruck said about her Canadian citizenship. But there’s no doubt etching your name in Canadian record books aside Canadian relay mates and standing on the Olympic podium twice proudly sporting the maple leaf has got Ruck saying, “This is pretty dang cool, eh?”

 

3 Comments

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Dave

    Way to go, Coach Kevin Zacher!!!! Setting that kid up for success and the experience of a lifetime.

  2. avatar
    Faith EIdse

    Way to represent your country and heritage, T-Ruck! You are not alone. We, your other U.S.-Canadian cousins, are proud, proud, proud of you!

  3. avatar

    Congratulations! I love that you said it was the best night of your life “so far”! Way to go!!!!

Author: Annie Grevers

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Annie (Chandler) Grevers is a staff writer for Swimming World. She swam for the University of Arizona, winning the 100 yard breaststroke at the NCAA DI Championships as a senior in 2010. She was also a member of six NCAA Championship relays during her college career as well as a member of Arizona’s NCAA Championship title in 2008. She represented the United States at the Pan Pacific Games in 2010 and at the Pan American Games in 2011, where she won the 100 breaststroke. She is married to Matt Grevers and resides in Tucson, Arizona.

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