Canadian teen Josh Liendo aims to break both records and barriers in swimming

Canadian swimmer Josh Liendo is a man on a mission and he's not afraid to talk about it. The 19-year-old has been taking down Canadian records in his pursuit of being one of the best swimmers in the world.

19-year-old the 1st Black Canadian swimmer to win international medal

Joshua Liendo competed in his first Olympic Games last summer in Tokyo. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Canadian swimmer Josh Liendo is a man on a mission and he's not afraid to talk about it. 

The 19-year-old has been taking down Canadian records in his pursuit of being one of the best swimmers in the world.

On Wednesday night at the Canadian swim trials in Victoria, Liendo broke his own national record in the 100-metre butterfly with a blistering time of 50.88 seconds.

"It was definitely the plan," he said. "I want to move forward in the future but I wanted to be at this point right now."

Liendo is not shy about his confidence in the pool — he's the type of athlete who commands attention when he shows up at the venue. 

"I want to get some medals on the international level," he said. "That's my goal and I'm not shying away from that. It's something I want to do and I'm going to say it proudly.

"I just say it. Even if I don't get there I'm going to say my goals and make it clear to everybody what my goals are. I feel that's what goal-setting should be. You should say what you want to do."

WATCH l Liendo sets Canadian record in men's 100m fly on Day 2 of trials:

Josh Liendo sets Canadian record in 100 metre butterfly at trials

3 months ago
Duration 1:55
Josh Liendo of Markham, Ont., set the Canadian record time of 50.88 in the 100 m butterfly Wednesday in Victoria, B.C.

There's a presence about Liendo. And that's intentional.

"I like to have a little swag. I like to do things my way. And I like to have fun at the end of the day. Some of that swagger and that confidence comes from international experience now and me knowing I have the ability to be great," he said. 

His greatness is building and he's making history along the way. 

This past December at the short course world championships in Abu Dhabi, Liendo earned his first medals at a senior international event. He won individual bronze in the 50m and 100m freestyle events and was also part of the 4x50m mixed relay that won gold.

With those medals, Liendo became the first Black Canadian swimmer to win a gold medal, and the first to win an individual medal at a major international championships or Games.

That representation is part of what's motivating Liendo these days. 

"It's so important and it's exciting to see," Liendo said. "You love to see it in this sport that there's more people like me."

Liendo, right, as part of Canada's gold-medal-winning 4x50m freestyle relay team at the short-course world championships in December. (Getty Images)

Breakthrough moment

During these trials another young up-and-coming Black swimmer, Antoine Destang, has caught the attention of Liendo — it's something he's seeing more of in the sport in Canada.

"I saw Antoine in one of the junior finals. Another Black boy. And we love to see it. I remember my first trials were here and I was 14, a kid like him. Once you see someone like you, it's more likely you'll see some more representation in the sport in the future." 

The Markham, Ont.-native spent part of his childhood growing up in Trinidad before moving back to Canada to take his swimming career to a different level. 

He competed in his first Olympic trials last June. In a lot of ways it was his breakthrough moment. 

On the opening night Liendo won the 100m fly event. But he was saving his best for last in the final event of competition. 

Liendo blasted to a personal best time of 48.13 in the 100m freestyle final to book his ticket to the Tokyo Olympics at just 18 years old. 

That swagger he talked about was evident that June night. 

"I knew I had to be the boss on that first 50," he said that night after the race, beaming. 

He tries to carry that mentality into every race he competes in. 

Liendo, pictured competing in Tokyo, is proud of being a role model for other Black swimmers. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

At the Olympics, Liendo was a part of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay that broke the Canadian record and finished fourth, just off the podium. He also swam the butterfly leg of the men's 4x100m medley relay that placed seventh.

In his individual events, Liendo finished 11th in the 100m fly event, 14th in the 100m freestyle and 18th in the 50m free. 

He's swimming in all those events at the trials.

In the 50m fly heats Thursday morning Liendo posted a time of 23.72, just off the Canadian record. He'll compete in the final of the event in the evening. 

More than anything Liendo wants to change the way Canadian male swimmers are looked at on the international stage and he's unapologetic about sharing his personal goals in the most public way.

"We're coming. We're coming and working on it. And there's momentum," he said.

"It's taken patience. We're in the background and working hard. Now we're coming forward."

McIntosh posts PB in 200m freestyle on Day 3

The marquee event on Thursday night at Saanich Commonwealth Place featured seven Canadian Olympians in the women's 200m freestyle.

In a riveting race 15-year-old Summer McIntosh continued her strong swimming at the meet by posting a personal best time of 1:55.39, pulling away from Penny Oleksiak in the last half of the race for the win.

WATCH | McIntosh leads Canadian quartet of qualifiers into 200m freestyle at worlds:

Summer McIntosh leads Canadian quartet of qualifiers into 200m freestyle at worlds

3 months ago
Duration 2:34
Summer McIntosh, Penny Oleksiak, Taylor Ruck and Kayla Sanchez all qualify for the FINA world swimming championships in the women's 200m freestyle event.

Oleksiak posted a time of 1:57.01 for second, while Taylor Ruck finished in a time of 1:57.60. Kayla Sanchez was just off the podium in a time of 1:57.61.

All four swimmers were under the qualifying standard for worlds.

Kylie Masse continued her winning ways at the trials.

A night after Masse broke her Canadian record in the 50m backstroke, she followed it up with a win in the women's 50m fly in a time of 26.96. Masse has won every race she's competed in at the trials.

Sophie Angus placed first in the 100m breaststroke in 1:07.60. James Dergousoff won the men's 100m breaststroke in 1:01.30.

More than 550 swimmers from across Canada are competing in Para events, junior events and senior events all looking to earn their spots on the Canadian teams heading to world championships this summer.

WATCH | Shelby Newkirk sets Canadian record 100m freestyle S6:

Shelby Newkirk establishes new Canadian record in 100m freestyle S6

3 months ago
Duration 1:34
Shelby Newkirk sets a new national record of 1:15.54 in the women's 100-m freestyle S6 event at the Canadian swimming trials.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

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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