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Canada's Brittany MacLean, Katerine Savard, Taylor Ruck, and Penny Oleksiak take bronze in the women's 4 x 200-metre freestyle relay during the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's female swimmers soared to unexpected heights in 2016.

Six Olympic medals followed by another seven in home water at the world short-course championship launched Canada as a world power in women's swimming.

Capping off a remarkable year, the Canadian women's swim team was crowned the Canadian Press team of the year Wednesday.

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"Without the female swimmers leading the way, Canada's effort at the Rio Olympics is middling," Medicine Hat News sports editor Sean Rooney said. "With them, it's arguably the best we've ever done in a summer Olympiad.

"The fact they weren't expected to do nearly as well is a boon to both national pride and female athletics as a whole."

It's only the third time in a half-century that a women's team has earned the award. The women's soccer team (2012) and the Sandra Schmirler curling rink (1998) were the others.

In a survey of editors and broadcasters across the country, the women's swim team received 15 votes (23 per cent) ahead of the runner-up Toronto Raptors with 11 votes (17 per cent) and the third-place Toronto Blue Jays with nine votes (14 per cent).

"They may make more money than us, but man, we get to win this one," joked Olympic backstroke bronze medallist Hilary Caldwell.

"We had a very long drought in women's swimming in Canada where we hadn't won an Olympic medal," she continued. "I think 1996 was the last time, so 20 years, and then we came home with six.

"The fact that Canada is talking about us and getting excited about what we're doing as a women's team is really, really . . . it's a proud moment for me."

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There was a wide range of opinions on the team award this year as the women's Olympic soccer team, Ottawa Redblacks, men's World Cup hockey team and Toronto FC ranged between five and seven votes each.

The award has been dominated by men's teams. The Blue Jays were runaway winners last year. The Olympic men's hockey team took it in 2014 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were the team of the year in 2013.

But when Canadians tuned in to watch the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, they saw the women's freestyle relay team win their country's first medal. Canada's first gold of the Games came a few days later in the pool.

Six swimming medals in the first eight days in Rio generated a wave of momentum for the entire Canadian Olympic team that brought home 22 in total.

At the centre was Penny Oleksiak, a 16-year-old sensation from Toronto who won freestyle gold, butterfly silver and swam the anchor legs for a pair of freestyle relay bronze.

Oleksiak was named the Canadian Press female athlete of the year Tuesday. She wants Canada's love affair with swimming to continue.

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"I'm just hoping that swimming kind of stays in the talk," Oleksiak said. "I haven't really seen as much recognition as I've seen this year in swimming. It's really awesome to know that there's a lot of people watching it and becoming more interested in it."

Caldwell, a 25-year-old from White Rock, B.C., and 20-year-old Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., earned backstroke bronze medals in the 200 metres and 100 metres respectively.

Canada's depth in female freestylers surfaced with bronze medals in both the 100-metre and 200-metre relays. Another young talent, 16-year-old Taylor Ruck, swam in both.

Winnipeg's Chantal Van Landeghem, Sandrine Mainville of Boucherville, Que., Toronto's Brittany MacLean, Michelle Williams and Kennedy Goss, Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., and Emily Overholt of West Vancouver, B.C., all contributed to those medals, swimming in either finals or heats or both.

The Canadian women finished 2016 with a flourish. The world short-course championships — held in a 25-metre pool instead of a 50-metre pool — were hosted by Windsor, Ont., in early December.

Seven medals — including a pair of relay gold — was their statement that Rio wasn't a fluke. The women also had a hand in an eighth medal in Windsor, a bronze in the mixed-gender relay.

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"That's showing that we're now one of the best women's teams in the world in swimming, which you would not have been able to say a couple of years ago," Caldwell said.

Sprinter Andre De Grasse was voted the male athlete of they year on Monday.

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