Penny Oleksiak wins bronze in 200m freestyle, becoming most decorated Summer Olympian in Canadian history

Swimming·CBC SPORTS IN TOKYO

Penny Oleksiak is now the most decorated Summer Olympian in Canadian history, capturing bronze in the women's 200-metre freestyle Wednesday morning in Tokyo. It is the sixth Olympic medal of her illustrious career.

Penny Oleksiak poses with the bronze medal she earned Wednesday morning in the women's 200-metre freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.(Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

With history on the line and a country watching with anticipation, Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak was feeling the pressure Wednesday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Minutes before her 200-metre freestyle race, Oleksiak was doing everything she could to calm herself down.

"I had a moment where I literally thought I was going to pass out from nerves," she said. "But I was in the ready room and I told myself, 'Penny, if you come in last it doesn't matter, you still have three races to get medals.'"

Then the 21-year-old from Toronto swam a personal best time of one minute, 54.70 seconds, enough to win bronze and become the most decorated Summer Olympian in Canadian history.

It's her sixth Olympic medal and third bronze of her illustrious career. She anchored Canada to a silver medal in the 4×100-metre freestyle on Sunday to go with the four she won in her first Olympics in 2016 in Rio — one gold, one silver and two bronze.

"I just love the Olympics. I think they're so fun and I think knowing the whole world is watching is super crazy," she said. "I'm not done yet so I hope there's more coming."

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Oleksiak, who has three races remaining in the Olympic meet, ties speed skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen for the most medals won by Canadian Olympians, while rowing's Lesley Thompson-Willie and track and field's Phil Edwards have five each in the Summer Olympics.

"I'm just competitive. I love pressure I guess. I know when it counts I'm able to show up for it. Bronze medal. I couldn't ask for anything more," Oleksiak said.

Australian swimming star Ariarne Titmus won gold in 1:53.50 while Hong Kong's Haughey Siobhan Bernadette (1:53.92) took silver. American Katie Ledecky, one of the favourites coming into the race, failed to make the podium for the first time in her Olympic career. She finished fifth in 1:55.21.

Oleksiak blasted off the blocks and found herself in first early, clocking a time of 26.40 seconds in the first 50 metres. She dropped to fourth spot with the closing 50 metres ahead of her, but that's when Oleksiak started her push to the podium, fighting through the pain.

"I could only get two kicks out of myself off the wall and then had to breathe on the first stroke," Oleksiak said. "The last 25 metres I was breathing every two strokes and every time I took a breath I was angry at myself for breathing in the last 25 of the race."

"I touched the wall and I saw the lights beside my name and I honestly didn't really care. My legs are killing me right now," Oleksiak said not long after her race.

Oleksiak didn't race the 200-metre freestyle event in Rio. She says she was intimidated by the race five years ago but worked hard on it over the past year with coach Ben Titley.

"I didn't really have the confidence behind it. It's hard to swim this race, but over the last year I've built a lot of confidence in this race," she said.

I don't think I'm here by chance. In Rio, every time I got a medal I was like, 'I'm so lucky, I'm so lucky.' I think now I have a lot of confidence in my training and put in a lot of work.

– Penny Oleksiak

A day earlier, Oleksiak finished fourth in her semifinal with a time of 1:56.39, only sixth fastest of the eight finalists. But when it mattered most, like so many times before, Oleksiak found a way to make it onto the podium.

"I don't think I'm here by chance. In Rio, every time I got a medal I was like, 'I'm so lucky, I'm so lucky,'" she said. "I think now I have a lot of confidence in my training and put in a lot of work."

She'll now look to defend her Olympic gold in the women's 100-metres freestyle event in Tokyo on Friday morning in Tokyo and add to her historic medal haul. She is also scheduled to compete in the women's 4×100-metre medley relay heats Friday night and will also be part of the 4×200-metre freestyle team.

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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