Penny Oleksiak summed it up nicely, as she stood shoulder to shoulder smiling with her three Canadian teammates after they placed fourth – just shy of a medal – in the 4x200-metre relay.
“We all swam the best we could. So that’s all you can really ask for and you can’t be disappointed with a Canadian record,” said Oleksiak. “It’d be nice to get a medal but you can’t get all the medals all the time.”
The women had been gunning for Canada’s fifth medal in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics, and their second in a swimming relay, to add to an already nice haul for Canadian female swimmers. It wasn’t to be this time, and they took it in stride.
The Canadian foursome – Oleksiak, Rebecca Smith, Kayla Sanchez and 14-year-old Summer McIntosh – swam the fastest 4x200 relay in Canadian history on Thursday – 7 minutes 43.77 seconds. But the Chinese, American and Australian teams were blazing fast and couldn’t be caught, finishing in that order.
“We’re definitely disappointed we missed the podium, but we knew it was going to be a tough race, and the other three teams kind of just came out of nowhere. … They were really, really fast,” said Oleksiak, who had swam a 100-metre freestyle semi-final less than two hours earlier to qualify for Friday’s final. “I think a lot of them were like pretty rested.”
Indeed, those opponents did look fresh and incredibly fast. China won in a world record time of 7:40.33. The U.S. got an incredible swim from Katie Ledecky to overtake Australia and grab silver in 7:40.73. The Australians were third in 7:41.29.
Oleksiak already has a bronze from the 200-m freestyle in Tokyo, plus silver with Smith and Sanchez in the 4x100-metre free earlier this week.
But McIntosh misses out on a medal at her first Olympics. However, with her leg of the relay (swam in 1:55.74), the youngster lowered the Canadian national age-group record for 13- and 14-year-olds for the second time at these Olympics.
“155.74 for a 14-year-old is not a joke, that’s insanity, really proud of her,” said Sanchez, as all three women grinned in admiration at their promising teen teammate, Canada’s youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics. The four all train together at the High Performance Centre in Toronto’s Scarborough neighbourhood.
McIntosh swam leadoff for the Canadians. She was the very first swimmer to the pool’s edge with goggles in place before the race, ready to go after speed-walking across the deck and throwing off her oversized white coat. The Australians put their fastest racer first, so McIntosh took on superstar Ariarne Titmus.
Had the youngster been nervous? Was being an Olympian at the age of 14 overwhelming?
“No, because of them,” said McIntosh, grabbing onto the arms of her older teammates. “They’ve been through this before, they know what to expect, and they’ve definitely taken care of me.”
The teenager hung with the fastest swimmers for some of her leadoff first leg and had Canada in third place when she passed off to Smith, who then turned the race over to Sanchez. Canada was fourth when Oleksiak dove into the pool to swim the final 200 metres. It was simply too much to make up as the speedy U.S., Australian and Chinese teams duelled with one another well ahead of her.
Between the relay and her bronze medal performance in the 200-metre freestyle race, this was the third time Oleksiak had swum a 200m race at these Olympics.
She also felt the weight of already having raced her 100-metre semi-final earlier that day.
“It’s not as easy as when I was 16. I definitely got a bit more lactic acid, I definitely felt that in that race,” said Oleksiak. “But I kind of wanted to put my best foot forward for [the team].”
This relay was an example of teamwork and sacrifice by the tight-knit Canadian women.
Sanchez swam a personal best to qualify for the 100-metre freestyle semi-finals earlier but dropped out to concentrate on the relay, as the team tried to equal or better the bronze medal that Canada achieved in Rio in the 4x200-metre freestyle.
Smith had swum the heat for this event the previous day with Katerine Savard, Mary-Sophie Harvey and Sydney Pickrem, before the team switched in Oleksiak, McIntosh and Sanchez for the final.
“It definitely would have been nice to get a medal for like all seven of us; that would be like huge,” said Oleksiak. “But it’s just really nice to know that you have a team that strong in Canada.”
With her two medals in Tokyo, added to the four she earned in 2016 in Rio, Oleksiak became Canada’s most decorated athlete at the Summer Games. She needs just one more to become the country’s Olympic medal leader.
She’ll get at shot at that on Friday in Tokyo, when she races the 100-metre freestyle, where she is the defending gold medalist.
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