Toronto swimmer Penny Oleksiak, 15, punches ticket to Rio Olympics in record fashion

At just 15, Toronto's Penny Oleksiak has earned a spot on Canada's Olympic swimming team — a remarkable feat for someone who only started training five years ago.

Oleksiak broke Canadian record in the 100-metre butterfly at the Canadian Olympic trials on Tuesday

Toronto swimmer Penny Oleksiak on getting an Olympic nomination. 2:02

At just 15, Toronto's Penny Oleksiak has earned a spot on Canada's Olympic swimming team — a remarkable feat for someone who only started training five years ago.

Tuesday, Oleksiak beat the Canadian record for the 100-metre butterfly at the Canadian Olympic trials. Her swim, at 56.99 seconds, is the fifth fastest time in the event in the world so far this year.

"I feel like I'm dreaming right now. The Olympics? That's just crazy," Oleksiak said after her race.

But according to her coach, it's not a dream, it's just a start.

Oleksiak can qualify for more events at the Rio Games this week at the Canadian Olympic swimming trials, which are being held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough this week.

Team Canada head coach Ben Titley believes Toronto swimmer Penny Oleksiak can finish in the top 5 at the Rio Olympics, where she'll be swimming in the 100-metre butterfly. (CBC)
Team Canada's head coach Ben Titley remembers seeing a "tall, gangly" Oleksiak, then 11, for the first time at the Toronto Swim Club. He immediately asked her coach if he could speak with the young athlete.

"We shook hands, and for anybody that's shook hands with a pro basketball player ... this was kind of what it was like," he said.

Titley has worked with her for the last year, ramping up a training regime Oleksiak only started at age 10.

"She's actually gone from not swimming to being the fastest Canada's ever had in a five-year span," Titley said.

Oleksiak now stands six-foot-one, and Titley says with her physical attributes and rate of development there's no telling what she's capable of. The teen now trains every day, sometimes twice a day, both in the pool and in the weight room. She does her high school classes online so she can focus on her swimming.

"I mean I've been training really, really hard this year," Oleksiak said. "I've had so many people behind me that have helped me get through it.

Family of Athletes

Oleksiak hails from an athletic family.

Her height comes from her dad, who is six-foot-nine. Her brother, Jamie, is a defenceman with the NHL's Dallas Stars. Her sister, Hayley is a rower at Northeastern University.

Oleksiak said her parents are always behind her, but they also push her when the training gets hard. 

"My parents just tell me to suck it up," she said, laughing. 

"If I want to get better I'm going to have to do this."

Titley said having a family that's aware of the challenges and sacrifices needed on an athlete's journey to success is definitely a bonus.

Road to Rio

Titley said even after Oleksiak clocked a Canadian record, he knows she's capable of more. With words that will surely scare her competition, Titley said while he's pleased with Oleksiak's swim: "she didn't execute the swim as well as we would have liked yesterday." 

Oleksiak trains every day, sometimes twice a day, both in the pool and in the weight room. (CBC)
In the butterfly event, Titley is hoping his young swimmer can crack the top five in Rio. But that's months away.

For now, Oleksiak is focused on cleaning up her butterfly technique and performing well in her next Olympic qualifiers — she's set to swim the 200 freestyle Thursday

"I think I have room to improve, I'm only 15," she said. "I still can't really believe that it's happening to me."

"For right now, I'm just focused on my race tomorrow."


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