Canadian women set to make a splash in Tokyo Olympic pool

Veteran Oleksiak and rookie McIntosh among the medal hopefuls

Sydney Pickrem, seen here at the 2019 FINA World Championships, will compete in the 200m Breakstroke, 200m Individual Medley, and 400m Individual Medley. COURTESY SWIMMING CANADA 

After helping Swimming Canada to a successful showing in the pool at the 2016 Olympics, Kylie Masse and Sydney Pickrem look to lead the way in Tokyo 2020. 

When the delayed games finally begin this week, the Canadian’s will be looking to build on their past success, anchored by the women’s side. 

In 2016, the women won six medals in the pool, good for 27 per cent of Canada’s total 22 medals at the games. In total, 11 of the 19 female swimmers that Canada sent to Rio came home with a medal, breaking what was a 20-year drought for them at the time. 

“We are an incredibly hard working and persevering group of athletes who are ready to take on whatever Tokyo throws at us, and we are so excited to be able to compete again and to be racing the best in the world,” said Masse, back in June.

Ultimately, 16 women and 10 men were chosen by Swimming Canada to compete at the Tokyo Games. 

In Rio, Canada had lots of success with younger swimmers, highlighted by then 16-year old Penny Oleksiak winning four medals, while Taylor Ruck and Oleksiak became the first two Olympic medallists to be born in the 21st century. Oleksiak also became the youngest Canadian to win a gold medal.

Katrina Bellio, 16, and 14-year old Summer McIntosh are positioned to follow in Oleksiak and Ruck’s footsteps and become Canada’s next household names after both qualified for Tokyo. 

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I’m so shocked. It’s incredible to be 16 years old and be nominated for the Olympic team,” said Bellio, after the Olympic Trials.  “Seeing Summer McIntosh win this week really motivated me, we swam together for a couple years, and she puts in the hard work and now that has motivated me more to want to be the best that I can be and it’s just incredible to see all the hard work pay off.”

Bellio will be Canada’s first ever female swimmer in the 1500-metre freestyle, as it is being added to the Olympic program for the first time. McIntosh will swim the 200m and 800m freestyles. 

Throughout the course of the swimming trials, many Canadian women echoed Bellio’s sentiment about supporting each other, and emphasized the progress the program has made in recent years. 

Pickrem points to the continued success of the women since the last Olympics as proof they are ready to make a mark in Japan.

“So much has changed for us (since Rio) and we’ve been really excited about where it’s come,” she said, on a media availability right after the 400m individual medley, one of three events she will swim this month.

“We want to be a threat just as much as the other countries, we don’t want to be looked at as the underdog anymore, and I don’t think anyone does, but we still swim with that attitude because we want to prove ourselves and make our mark on history.”   

Canadian women’s success in the pool in 2016 kept Canada on par with other countries that are typically regarded as swimming powerhouses. Their six medals were tied with China and Great Britain, and only four behind perennial powerhouse Australia. 

Masse, who won a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke in Rio, qualified for both the 100m and 200m in Tokyo, is another returning female member looking to improve on her performance after exceeding her own expectations in Rio.

“Seeing my own success on an international stage gave me confidence and … seeing Penny’s success and seeing the relay’s success it inspires you and motivates you to believe that if they can do it I can do it,” said Masse, who pointed to the success of others as a driving force.

“I think having that kind of mindset on a team is extremely empowering and it’s super, super powerful and encouraging going into Tokyo knowing that we as a Canadian team are strong and we want to be amongst the best in the world.”.

The Canadians get their chance to show how they have continued to grow as a program over the coming two weeks as the games get underway.

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Posted: Jul 25 2021 2:30 pm
Filed under: Sports Swimming Tokyo Olympics