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Sports Canada's first medal of the Olympics is silver: Women's 4x100m freestyle relay team edges U.S. for second place

07:21  25 july  2021
07:21  25 july  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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Showstoppers at the Rio Games five years ago, Canadian women swimmers are back in a big way.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Penny Oleksiak of Team Canada (R) and team mates look on after heat two of the Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay. © Provided by National Post Penny Oleksiak of Team Canada (R) and team mates look on after heat two of the Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay.

Anchored by yet another brilliant swim by 2016 superstar Penny Oleksiak, the 4 x 100-metre relay team claimed their country’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday night, finishing second in the final.

It was a buoyant performance on the first medal night of the meet, immediately backing up the breakout six-medal heist the Canadian women extracted out of the pool in Brazil.

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And based on the form, it set the tone for more success to come.

First-time Olympian Kayla Sanchez swam the first leg followed by Kayla Sanchez and Rebecca Smith which kept the Canadians in touch.

But it was Oleksiak – the four-time medallist from 2016 who brought it home, sending an early indication that she’s returned too top form. The 21-year-old once again showed her pure racing prowess.

“If you are going to want someone racing the 100 free or anchoring your relay, you probably want it to be Penny,” Sanchez said in an interview prior to the Games. “She knows how to finish those last 50 metres. She knows how to do anything in her power to touch that wall first.”

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Favoured Australia took gold, as expected and set a world record in the process while U.S. with Simone Manuel anchoring were third.

Gunning for Canada’s first medal of the Games, the Swimming Canada braintrust juggled the lineup from the heats to the final, a strategy it has employed in the past for big event relays. Taylor Ruck, who like Oleksiak was part of the 4 x 100 bronze medal relay squad in Rio, was replaced by Mac Neil for Saturday’s final and inserted in the second spot, following leadoff swimmer Sanchez.

After finishing with the fastest qualifying time, the Canadians were convinced they had more in the tank.

“We’ve been training insanely hard,” Oleksiak said. “If you know us, you none of us is going to quit in practice. I think we’re all just here to swim as fast as we can.”

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And in every event they have been called upon to leave the blocks.

The focus on strong relay teams is a huge part of the Canadian program under head coach John Atkinson. With an emphasis on depth, Canadian women showed their strength in that area at the 2016 Rio Olympics where they captured a pair of medals.

The emphasis for most swimmers such as freestyle ace Oleksiak, backstroker Kylie Masse and butterfly speedster Mac Neil is their individual events. But Atkinson is determined to parlay that talent into relay success.

“It’s a nine-day competition in the pool,” Atkinson said. “We have selected a team that can compete in six relays and be competitive through all nine days, in individual events as well as relays.”

Chasing Gold: Katie Ledecky leaves Tokyo with four medals, Team USA headed for podium in baseball .
Ledecky may be done for this Olympics — she finished with four medals — but the 24-year-old plans on being back for Paris 2024.The 24-year-old completed a three-peat of the 800-meter freestyle when she won gold with a time of 8:12.57. It was her last race in Tokyo.

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