GWANGJU, South Korea – Canada won the bronze medal and set a national record in the women’s 4×100-m medley relay on Sunday to put an exclamation point on the country’s most successful FINA World Championships ever.
The Canadian pool swimmers ended the competition with a team record two gold and six bronze, all in Olympic events. They reached 19 finals – two more than in Budapest in 2017 and the most finals since 1978 – 15 world championships ago. The previous medal record was six at those 1978 worlds. In addition, Eric Hedlin won a bronze medal in the men’s five-kilometre open water event last week.
“The 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, have been Swimming Canada’s most successful ever world championships,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “It’s a testament to our athletes’ ability to stay focused, calm and professional, and stay engaged in the championships for all eight days. It’s something we’ve worked on with our coaching staff and our team for a number of years.”
In the women’s 4×100 medley relay, the U.S. broke its world record clocking three minutes and 50.40 seconds – led off by Regan Smith’s world record 57.57 backstroke leg – and Australia was second in 3:53.42.
Canadians Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Margaret MacNeil and Penny Oleksiak followed in a Canadian record 3:53.58.The previous mark was 3:54.86 from 2017’s fourth-place finish in Budapest which included Masse and Oleksiak. In the prelims, Masse swam with Rebecca Smith, Kierra Smith and Taylor Ruck, who all receive medals.
Pickrem had earlier swam the 400 IM final.
“When they told me I was going to be on the relay it was really exciting,” said Pickrem. “I’ve never had an opportunity to be on a relay at world champs. I knew I wanted to get a good split for the girls and kind of prove myself a little bit.”
In the women’s 400-m individual medley, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary won the gold medal in four minutes and 30.39 seconds. Ye Shiwen of China followed for silver in 4:32.07 and Yui Ohashi of Japan third in 4:32.33.
Pickrem, a bronze medallist in the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke this week, was fourth in 4:36.72 and Emily Overholt of Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre-Vancouver, a bronze medallist in 2015, was fifth in 4:37.42.
“I’m pretty disappointed with that,” said Overholt, who helped the 4×200-m freestyle relay to bronze earlier in the meet. “I guess I’m just happy to be in the final and hopefully I’ll be better next year. Obviously I’m happy to be back at worlds and I had a good swim on the relay, but 4:37 is not really the swim I trained for. I was hoping to be a bit better.”
In the preliminaries, Tristan Cote had to wait until the last day for his first day. The University of Calgary swimmer turned in a personal best time of 4:17.22 to win his heat and move up to 15th from his pre-meet seeding of 23rd.
“It was good,” he said. “You can never really complain with a best time. I felt like I was going a bit faster and definitely think I should be going a bit faster, but a best time is a best time, especially in the morning, that’s all you can really hope for.”
Competing only on the last day of the biggest meet of his career was tough for Cote, but it was the same story for him two years ago in Budapest. The pool portion of the worlds started last Sunday.
“In 2017, I think I got overwhelmed with the whole meet environment and what was going on around me,” he said. “This year I was kind of just focusing on staying in the moment, really thinking about having it be Day 1 rather than Day 8 of the meet and I think it helped a bit.”
Atkinson says Canada’s success was a true team effort.
“The athletes have worked hard through all 16 sessions, supported by fantastic team management, an integrated support team including sport science and medicine, and a great group of coaches who have all embraced the current team culture that is very positive about each athlete being able to improve at the highest level of the sport,” he said.
“As well, we recognize the great support we’ve had from the Canadian public as we’ve been away and we look forward to their support on the way to Tokyo. We’ve been able to prepare this team for world-class performance due to the tremendous support of the Government of Canada through Sport Canada, Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Swimming Canada.”
One of the biggest goals for Atkinson was qualifying relays for the 2020 Olympic Games.
“Qualifying five relays for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games means that we will be taking those teams to Tokyo, although the athletes who will compete in those events will be determined on our Olympic Trials next year from March 30 to April 5 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.”
There is more international excitement for Canada in swimming. In Lima, Peru, it’s the Pan Am Games August 4-10 (for swimming events), and a separate team competing at the FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest from Aug. 20-25.
“We’ll be watching the performances at those two meets very closely, and our team here in South Korea sends their best wishes to both of those teams as we build towards Tokyo,” added Atkinson.
Canadian medallists in swimming this week at the FINA World Championships
GOLD: Kylie Masse, Windsor, Ont./University of Toronto, 100-m backstroke; Margaret MacNeil, London (Ont.) Aquatic Club, 100-m butterfly.
BRONZE: Eric Hedlin, Victoria Pacific Coast Swimming, 5-km open water; Masse, 200-m backstroke; Sydney Pickrem, 200-m breaststroke and 200-m individual medley; women’s 4×100 freestyle relay (Kayla Sanchez, HPC-Ontario; Taylor Ruck, HPC-Ontario; Penny Oleksiak, HPC-Ontario; MacNeil; Rebecca Smith, HPC-Ontario); women’ 4×200 freestyle (Sanchez, Ruck, Emily Overholt, HPC-Vancouver, Oleksiak, Rebecca Smith, Emma O’Croinin, Edmonton Keyano); 4×100 medley relay (Masse, Pickrem, MacNeil, Oleksiak, Kierra Smith, Kelowna, B.C., Ruck, Rebecca Smith)
Story and Photo: Swimming Canada