Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse among 6 swimmers named to Canadian Olympic team

Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse and four others were among the six swimmers named early to Canada's Olympic team Friday.

Ruck, Mac Neil, Pickrem, Thormeyer also named early to team

Penny Oleksiak, pictured competing at the 2019 world championships, won four Olympics medals in Rio, including gold in the 100m freestyle event. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Penny Oleksiak and Kylie Masse were among six swimmers named early to Canada's Olympic team Friday.

Swimming Canada nominated Olympic champion Oleksiak of Toronto, world backstroke champion Masse of LaSalle, Ont., world butterfly champion Margaret Mac Neil of London, Ont., Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., Sydney Pickrem of Halifax and Markus Thormeyer of Newmarket, Ont., to the Canadian team for the Tokyo Summer Games.

The Canadian women's swim team won six of Canada's 22 medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Oleksiak led the way with four medals — including gold in the 100-metre freestyle — a record for a Canadian athlete at a Sumer Games. Masse captured bronze in the 100m backstroke. Since the Rio Olympics, she's won back-to-back world titles in that same distance.

"It's definitely a different way to be named to the Olympic team, but it's still exciting," Masse said. "It's been a challenging year so it's nice to have a little bit of certainty in a time of so much uncertainty. I'm grateful that Swimming Canada and the COC have provisionally nominated me. I can't wait to continue to work towards Tokyo to represent Canada."

All six were either medallist or top finishers at the 2019 world championships, where Canada swam to a best-ever performance that included eight podiums — two gold and six bronze. 

The decision comes as reports continue to swirl around the viability of the already delayed Tokyo Summer Games. 

Despite the International Olympic Committees' insistence that the Games will begin six months from now, on July 23, the global COVID pandemic has continued to raise doubts.

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Doubts that Masse admits have been challenging for her fellow athletes. "Personally, I kind of put my blinders on and focus ... on not getting too caught up on the little rumours and speculations. The more you hear those things, the more they get in your head and I don't really think that's beneficial."

Swimming Canada's high-performance director John Atkinson echoed Masse's sentiment.

"At the end of the day, we listen to the Canadian Olympic Committee, who are the links with the IOC and we take on board where they're at. And we do our absolute best to keep that positive mindset.

"The word is that the Games are happening and Swimming Canada is preparing to be [there] with the best athletes that we can get to represent Canada," Atkinson added.

Atkinson hopes that by nominating these six athletes, his organization is offering, at least, some piece of mind to Canada's top competitors. 

"These athletes have proved themselves and we congratulate them on this significant step toward the Tokyo Games," said Atkinson in media release on Friday. 

Nominating these six, however, has not closed the doors to others, says Atkinson.

"What is being presented today allows us to have more options in an uncertain situation. 

"It gives us greater ability to nominate the best teams to represent Canada, and it gives the athletes greater ability to train and compete to make Team Canada."

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Additional qualifying events

Those still looking to make the team will have two further opportunities, beginning with the Canadian swimming trials. Originally scheduled for April 7-11, they have now been re-scheduled for May 24-28. 

While the Canadian trials will be the primary selection competition, and additional invitational qualifying meet is being planned for June 21 to 23 in Toronto. 

In Friday's release, Atkinson explained the decision to delay the Canadian trails as a chance to allow "potential Olympic and Paralympic athletes to have an extra seven weeks of training preparation. 

"We also hope for the organization of competitions to be planned in order to allow the invited athletes the opportunity to race before the Trials if possible."

As 2019 world para swimming championships medallists, Aurelie Rivard, Tess Routliffe, Katarina Roxon, Shelby Newkirk, Aly Van Wyck-Smart, Nicolas-Guy Turbide, James Leroux and Alec Elliot have already met the standard required for nomination to Team Canada. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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