Maggie Mac Neil earned Canada’s first gold medal of the Olympics on Monday morning in Tokyo, winning the women’s 100-metre butterfly in a Canadian record time of 55.59 seconds. Zhang Yufei (55.64) of China won silver, while Emma McKeon (55.72) of Australia earned bronze.
Mac Neil, from London, Ont., is at her debut Olympics and has already won two gold. “I can’t believe this happened,” she remarked after winning the Olympic gold medal. Her timing of 55.59 seconds is the third-fastest ever. Mac Neil glanced up at the scoreboard seconds after reaching the wall inside the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, stunned to see her name at the top.
Mac Neil was eighth at the turn, but she put in a spectacular last 50 metres to be the first to hit the wall. “I’m not typically out that quickly,” the 21-year-old said. “I prefer to take my time getting started so that I can stay smooth and powerful. My sweet spot and most comfortable distance are always the second 50 yards.”
Mac Neil was a member of the Canadian women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team that won silver the day before. Mac Neil also won gold in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2019 global championships, setting a Canadian record in her maiden world championships. She admits to feeling the pressure as the defending world champion in the Olympics.
In other words, Summer McIntosh, a Canadian teenager, finished fourth in the women’s 400-metre freestyle on Monday, as did the Canadian men in the 4×100-metre relay. Kylie Masse went to Tuesday’s final after placing second in the 100-metre backstroke semi-final, while Taylor Ruck did not.
Mac Neil, like many other Canadian swimmers, was dealt a curveball on her way to the Olympics. She mostly trains in the United States, where she swims at the University of Michigan. She won and established an NCAA record in the 100-yard butterfly in the 2021 NCAA championships, becoming the first woman in history to do it.
However, due to COVID-19, she had to alter her training for the Games. Because of all the shifting pandemic-related public health limitations, Mac Neil was obliged to abandon her instructors and training programme in the United States and start anew with the team at the high-performance centre in Toronto – hardly a great scenario only months before the Olympics.
After two weeks of quarantine, Mac Neil was able to begin working with the national team and coaches in early April. She claimed that, while the shift wasn’t ideal, she ended up improving in a variety of areas.
McIntosh, 14, was competing in her maiden Olympic final against some of the sport’s finest swimmers, including American Katie Ledecky and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus. McIntosh held her own for most of the race, swimming hard behind the two powerhouses. McIntosh was overtaken in the last 100 metres by eventual bronze medalist China’s Bingji Li. Titmus won gold, while Ledecky earned silver.
McIntosh finished fourth, surpassing her Canadian record established the day before with a time of 4:02.02. Brent Hayden, 37, of Canada, blasted off the blocks in the men’s 4×100-metre final, putting the team in a strong opening position. Canada was third into the last leg, but anchor Markus Thormeyer was overtaken by Australia’s Kyle Chalmers in the final 50 metres.
The United States won gold in 3:08.97, Italy finished second in 3:10.11, and Australia finished third in 3:10.22. The time of 3:10.82 set by Canada is a Canadian record.