Maggie Mac Neil wins 100-m butterfly to collect Canada’s first gold medal of Tokyo Games
TOKYO – Another race, another medal for Maggie Mac Neil, and this time it was gold.
Mac Neil (London Aquatic Club/London. Ont.) powered her way through the final 50 metres to win the 100-metre butterfly at the Tokyo Olympic Games. It was Canada’s first gold of the Games and came a day after Mac Neil helped the women’s 4×100-m freestyle relay team win silver.
Mac Neil, 21, the defending world champion, was seventh at the turn but then overtook the field to finish in 55.59 seconds. She touched the wall just 5/100ths of a second ahead of China’s Yufei Zhang. Australia’s Emma McKeon took the bronze.
Mac Neil’s time was the third fastest ever swam in the event. It broke her Canadian record of 55.83 seconds and set an Americas record.
It took Mac Neil a few seconds to realize she was the Olympic champion.
“I heard my name called so I thought I did something well,” said Mac Neil. “I turned around and scanned the scoreboard. I don’t think it will process for a little while.”
Mac Neil gave a shoutout to friends and family who watched the race at a drive-in movie theater in Woodstock, Ont.
“Thank you, guys, so much,” she said. “It means the world to have your support.”
Competing in her first Olympics Mac Neil dealt with different pressures than when she won the world championship in 2019.
“I felt like I was coming in here with a target on my back,” she said. “Going into worlds I was relatively unknown. I had that to my advantage.
“Going into (the Games) with expectations that I wanted to do well, that added pressure and makes it a little bit more challenging.”
The win came while Mac Neil was still trying to process the silver medal in the relay.
“It was more than what I was hoping for,” she said. “I was really just trying to enjoy the experience and have fun, which I think I did tonight.”
Canadian swimmers came close to medals in two other events.
Summer McIntosh (HPC-Ontario/Toronto), the 14-year-old competing in her first Olympics, was fourth in the 400-m freestyle relay while the men’s 4×100-m freestyle relay team swam a Canadian record time of three minutes, 10.82 seconds to finish fourth.
Kylie Masse (HPC-Ontario/LaSalle, Ont.) won her semifinal heat in the women’s 100-m backstroke in 58.09 seconds and will advance to the final Tuesday morning in Tokyo (Monday night in Canada).
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director and national coach, said the support from Own the Podium, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee has contributed to Canada’s success in the pool.
He also praised the work of Mac Neil’s first coach, Andrew Craven, and Kevin Thorburn, McIntosh’s previous coach who died in April 2020.
“It shows how important the club system is in Canada and how we are working with every athlete to find a way so that they can do what they need to do,” said Atkinson. “We’re working with our athletes to help them in any way we can.”
McIntosh, the youngest member of the Canadian Olympic team, was in contention for a bronze most of the race but finished fourth in a Canadian record time of four minutes, 02.42 seconds.
McIntosh swam 4:02.72 in the semifinals. That broke the old time of 4:03.43 set by Brittany MacLean at the 2016 Rio Games.
“It’s just so surreal and insane that this is my life right now,” McIntosh said after her race. “I’m just so happy.
“This is just the beginning for me but it’s amazing I can have this experience under my belt for the coming years.”
The men’s relay got a huge boost when Brent Hayden (HPC-Vancouver/Mission, B.C.), who at 37 is the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer ever, swam 47.99 seconds in the opening leg. He handed off to 18-year-old Josh Liendo (HPC-Ontario/Toronto) and then Yuri Kisil (HPC-Ontario/Calgary) who kept the team in the hunt.
Markus Thormeyer (HPC-Vancouver/Delta, B.C.), who was added to the relay after failing to advance in the 100-m backstroke, swam a strong anchor leg but was out touched at the wall by Australia’s Kyle Chalmers.
“It feels good to be back, I missed the thrill of the competition,” said Hayden, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist who returned to swimming in 2019 after seven years of retirement. “It was a huge honour leading these guys.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be in the hunt for a medal. We showed them Canada means business.”
Hayden was part of the team that set the old Canadian record of 3:12.26 back at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Ruslan Gaziev (Etobicoke Swimming/Toronto) was part of the group that qualified for the final with a time of 3:13.00 in the preliminaries.
Masse, the two-time defending world champion, won her semifinal in 58.09 seconds. She heads into the final with the second fastest time behind the 57.06 posted by American Regan Smith.
It was a wild day with Masse breaking the Olympic record for the event in her first heat, only to see it broken again by Smith and Kaylee McKeown of Australia.
Smith lowered the record again winning her semifinal.
Masse, the 2016 bronze medallist, knows it’s going to be a fast final.
“It’s all about staying in your own lane,” said the former world record holder. “I can’t control how fast everyone else is going to swim. I can only control how fast I can swim.”
Taylor Ruck (HPC-Ontario/Kelowna, B.C.) just missed qualifying for the final. She swam 59.45 seconds to finish ninth.
In other events, Thormeyer finished 19th in the 100-m backstroke in 53.80 seconds. Cole Prat (Cascade/Calgary) was 26th in 54.27 seconds.
Kelsey Wog (University of Manitoba Bisons/Winnipeg) swam 1:07.73 to finish 23rd in the women’s 100-m breaststroke while Kierra Smith (Kelowna AquaJets/Kelowna, B.C.) was 24th in 1:07.87.
Full schedule and results: https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/olympic-games/en/results/swimming/olympic-schedule-and-results-date=2021-07-24.htm
Crédit photo: Natation Canada/Ian MacNicol: https://swimmingcanada-my.sharepoint.com/:f:/g/personal/mrodrigue_swimming_ca/EmPFdpFUH95Fq6-3P0PyabUBfJinWuurxttByxyQUJz_FA?e=paW6rZ
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