Canada’s Maggie Mac Neil wins gold in women’s 100m butterfly

Swimming·CBC SPORTS IN TOKYO

Maggie Mac Neil won Canada's first gold medal of these Olympics, capturing the women's 100-metre butterfly in a Canadian record 55.59 seconds on Monday morning in Tokyo.

London, Ont.'s Maggie Mac Neil with her gold medal after finishing first in the women's 100-metre butterfly Monday morning in Tokyo.(Getty Images)

Maggie Mac Neil won Canada's first gold medal of these Olympics, capturing the women's 100-metre butterfly in a Canadian record of 55.59 seconds on Monday morning in Tokyo.

China's Zhang Yufei (55.64) took the silver and Australia's Emma McKeon (55.72) claimed bronze.

Mac Neil, from London, Ont., is competing in her first Olympics and already has two medals.

"I can't believe this moment happened," she said after becoming an Olympic champion.

Her time of 55.59 is the third-fastest time ever. Seconds after touching the wall inside the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Mac Neil squinted up at the scoreboard in disbelief at seeing her name in the No. 1 position.

"It was more than I was hoping for at this point. I really just wanted to have fun, which I think I did today," Mac Neil said. "I'm really proud of that and am just trying to swim my best."

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At the turn, Mac Neil found herself in seventh position but then put forward a memorable closing 50 metres to touch the wall first.

"I'm not usually out fast," the 21-year-old said. "I like to have time to get going, stay smooth and strong. The second 50 metres is always my sweet spot and where I feel most comfortable."

Just a day earlier, Mac Neil was part of the Canadian women's 4×100-metre freestyle relay team that won silver.

"We haven't shown the world what we're here for yet. We're the underdogs and it's working to our advantage," she said.

At the 2019 world championships, Mac Neil also won gold in the 100-metre butterfly and set a Canadian record at her first world championships. She admitted she was feeling the pressure being the reigning world champion coming into the Olympics.

"Coming in with a target on your back is hard in so many ways. Going into worlds I was relatively unknown so I had that to my advantage," she said. "That added pressure makes it a little more challenging, so I was just focusing on having fun."

In other events Monday, Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh finished fourth in the women's 400-metre freestyle, as did the Canadian men in the 4×100-metre relay. Kylie Masse advanced to Tuesday's final by finishing second in her 100-metre backstroke semfinal, but Taylor Ruck failed to advance.

Mac Neil, like many of the Canadian swimmers, had a curveball thrown into her journey to the Olympics.

Normally she trains in the United States, swimming at the University of Michigan. At the 2021 NCAA championships, she won and set an NCAA record in the 100-yard butterfly, becoming the first woman in history to go under 49 seconds in that event.

But she had to change up her preparation leading into the Games because of COVID-19.

Mac Neil was forced to leave her coaches and training program in the U.S. because of all the changing pandemic-related public health restrictions and start fresh with the team at the high-performance centre in Toronto — not an ideal situation just months before the Olympics.

After two weeks of quarantine Mac Neil got to work with the national team and coaches at the beginning of April. She said that while the change wasn't optimal, she actually ended up improving on a number of different disciplines.

"I was quite nervous about how it was all going to turn out. Switching so close. It worked out for the best,"

McIntosh, 14, in her first Olympic final, was going up against some of the best swimmers in the sport's history in American Katie Ledecky and Australia's Ariarne Titmus.

For most of the race McIntosh held her own, swimming strong behind the two powerhouses. But in the closing 100 metres McIntosh was passed by eventual bronze medallist China's Bingji Li. Titmus won the gold and Ledecky took silver.

McIntosh finished fourth in the race, breaking her Canadian record she set a day earlier with a time of 4:02.02.

In the men's 4×100-metre final, Canada's Brent Hayden, 37, blasted off the blocks and put the team in a strong opening position in the opening leg. Canada was in third going into the final leg, but anchor Markus Thormeyer was passed by Australia's Kyle Chalmers in the last 50 metres.

The United States grabbed gold, 3:08.97, Italy finished in second place, 3:10.11, while Australia finished with bronze in a time of 3:10.22.

Canada's time of 3:10.82 is a Canadian record.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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