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ABU DHABI – A gutsy final few strokes by three-time Olympian Katerine Savard gave Canada the gold in the women’s 4×100-m freestyle relay and Tessa Cieplucha was also a victor on opening day at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25 m).
Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., added a silver in a Canadian record time in the 200-m freestyle at the competition in held in the 25-m short course pool at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
In the women’s 400-m individual medley, Cieplucha grabbed a permanent lead at the 250-m mark and clocked a personal best four minutes and 25.5 seconds for the victory. It was Canada’s first win at these worlds since two women’s freestyle gold at the 2016 worlds in Windsor, Ont., and the first individual gold since Jennifer Carroll won the women’s 50-m backstroke in 2002.
“This is the last meet of the year, so I wanted to go out and give it my all,” said Cieplucha, 23, from Georgetown, Ont. “That last leg was definitely painful, but I kept telling myself to keep going.”
Ellen Walshe of Ireland was second in 4:26.52 and Melanie Margalis of the U.S. third in 4:26.83. Bailey Andison of Smiths Falls, Ont., was fifth in 4:28.97.
“I’m really happy with the race,” added Cieplucha. “Coming into this meet I knew it would be one of the toughest fields. It is such a great feeling to start a busy week this way and hopefully I can carry the momentum.”
In the women’s 4×100-m freestyle relay, the Canadians and Americans tied for gold clocking 3:28.52, which is a national record for Canada. The previous mark was 3:29.49 set at the 2016 worlds.
Smith had put Canada in first place to set the stage for Savard on her anchor leg. The 28-year-old fell behind four-time Olympic medallist Abby Weitzeil of Team USA before finding a final push to touch the wall in a dead heat.
“I was shaking on the blocks. I knew I was the slowest on the team, but I had a job to do at the end and I wanted to keep our first-place position,” said Savard. “I didn’t breathe the last couple of strokes because I just wanted to touch the wall.”
Smith was also on a mission.
“I knew my leg was a chance for us to get ahead,” said Smith, a standout at the University of Calgary this season. “I just did everything I could to get us as big a lead as possible.”
High Performance Centre – Ontario swimmer Kayla Sanchez of Scarborough, Ont., was second after the opening leg and Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., maintained that position for Smith.
“Being next to Sarah Sjostrom (11-time world champion from Sweden), gave me a person to chase and race and that made it really exciting for me to dive in,” said Sanchez.
Mac Neil withdrew from her 100-back semifinal to be finely tuned for the relay final.
“Seeing how close it was scheduled to the relay I wanted to be there for the girls,” said the 100-m butterfly Olympic and long-course world champion. ‘’I knew we had it in us to do something good tonight.’’
Sweden was third in 3:28.80.
Andison, who helped the relay qualify through the morning heats while Mac Neil rested, will also receive a gold medal.
In the women’s 200-m freestyle, Smith took the silver in a Canadian record one minute and 52.24 seconds. That eclipsed the previous mark of 1:52.50 set by Taylor Ruck at the 2016 worlds.
Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong won the gold medal in a world record 1:50.31 while Paige Madden of the U.S. was third in 1:53.01.
“To be in in the middle lane for a final made me nervous, but a good nervous,” said Smith, 21, a member of the women’s 4×100-m freestyle that captured silver at the Tokyo Olympics. “To swim in a world record race and get a best time is so exciting.”
Fifteen-year-old HPC-Ontario swimmer Summer McIntosh of Toronto was fifth in a personal best 1:53.65 which is a national 15-17 age group record.
Smith tied for first in the heats with Haughey at 1:52.86 and knew the Hong Kong swimmer would be tough to beat in the final.
“She’s been so close to the world mark all year so I knew she would be gunning for it,” said Smith. “So I just used that energy to push myself and see how close I could get to her and I think she really pushed me on that last 50.”
In the women’s 100 backstroke semifinals, Tokyo Olympics triple medallist Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., qualified fourth for Friday’s final clocking 56.07. The HPC-Ontario swimmer admits she got a shot of adrenaline watching her teammates deliver podium performances.
“It was just so incredible to see your teammates do amazing things while you are prepping to race,” Masse said.  “It motivates and fuels me to do the best I can.”
HPC-Ontario swimmer Finlay Knox of Okotoks, Alta., missed a berth in the men’s 200 IM final by one spot placing ninth in the heats in 1:54.22.
Nine women and three men, all of whom represented Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, are at the six-day event. Finals are at 9 a.m. ET each day on CBC digital platforms (, CBC Sports App and CBC GEM).
Competition continues through to Tuesday.
Full results:
Crédit photo: Natation Canada/ Simone Castrovillari: