Road To The Olympic Games

Swimming·Blog

A magic Penny: Oleksiak's Olympic accomplishment truly inspiring

In these cynical times, to know that someone like Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak and what she has been able to do is still a possibility is sort of like an elixir or tonic that restores the soul.

Canadian swimmer provides boost for the Rio Games soul

Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak's gold-medal performance in the pool Thursday at the Rio Olympics was the stuff of which legends are made. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

By Scott Russell, CBC Sports

Isn't it fantastic when the story pans out?

In these cynical times, to know that someone like Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak and what she has been able to do is still a possibility is sort of like an elixir or tonic that restores the soul. 

There is nothing contrived about her, nothing phony, no pretences — just a wonderful young woman with the power to bring us together and share in the moment.

And the best thing of all is that we have been astonished by this 16-year-old at these Rio Summer Olympics. Most of us could never have imagined that this could happen in the here and now – not yet.

I have to tell you, I've never seen anything quite that exciting.

The last few strokes of her 100-metre freestyle race Thursday, when she seemed to rise from the water and soar towards the end of the swimming pool, was breathtaking. I stood and chanted at the TV screen in our studio just on the other side of the Olympic Park from where we Canadians were all rocked on our heels.

She instantly became a household name. 

Penny Oleksiak.

There was Mark Tewksbury, an Olympic champion and now CBC analyst, mind you, crying with joy – mimicking every stroke as Penny came home – with the first swimming gold medal since he had won 24 years ago in Barcelona.

He wept — we all wept — let's admit it.

We stood for the national anthem and watched her take her place atop the podium as someone who was suddenly much more than a figment of our imagination.

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When she arrived for the interview, she watched the race and chuckled in the way that a typical teenager does. She witnessed the reactions of her family members in the grandstand as we played back the race that led to her latest medal. There was her totally stunned father, her wildly dancing mother, her gyrating sister and her giant of a brother who lost it completely and became totally overwhelmed.

"I don't think I've ever seen him cry," Penny smiled.

She is trending on Twitter and the whole world knows she desperately wants to get tickets to the Drake concert. She'll undoubtedly be the front-page story on every Canadian newspaper as well as some in America, maybe even overseas.

She has won four medals at these Olympics, more than any Canadian in history at a single Summer Games.  Less than a week ago, only a small minority of people in our country had ever heard of her.

But that's why she is so special, this person that we had hoped for but never allowed ourselves to expect.

She represents the thread that we cling to when thinking about what might be possible when everything else is already pre-determined.

Penny is the needle in the haystack, the diamond in the rough, the-one in-a-million we can still, incredibly, stumble upon. 

It's so good to know that a magic Penny who comes from Canada can still be the currency of the Olympic Games.