Oleksiak qualifies for freestyle swimming semis after pushing Ledecky for top spot
Reigning Olympic champ beats Canadian star by 10-100ths of a second in 200m event
Penny Oleksiak remains strong in her pursuit of Canadian swimming history.
The Toronto native finished second behind reigning Olympic champion Katie Ledecky of the United States on Monday in qualifying for the women's 200-metre freestyle semifinals at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Oleksiak, 21, touched the wall in one minute 55.38 seconds, 10-100ths of a second behind Ledecky, who won the second of four heats and topped the field of 16 for the Olympic semifinals. That race is set for Wednesday morning in Tokyo (9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday in Canada).
"It's faster than I've been all year so no complaints," Oleksiak told Swimming Canada of her personal-best performance and narrowly missing Taylor Ruck's 1:54.44 national record. "These Olympics seem different for me this year because I'm here to get a job done."
WATCH | Penny Oleksiak swims into 200m semis:
Less than 36 hours earlier, Oleksiak dove into the pool with Canada sitting fourth with 100 metres left in the women's relay and beat American Simone Manuel, anchoring the team to a silver finish for Canada's first medal of these Games.
It was Oleksiak's fifth career Olympic medal and placed her in a tie with rower Lesley Thompson-Willie and sprinter Phil Edwards as Canada's most decorated Summer Olympian.
WATCH | Oleksiak leads Canada's women to freestyle relay silver medal:
A four-time medallist in her 2016 Olympic debut, Oleksiak started strong with good pace early in Monday's heat race and held off Ledecky until the final 50 metres.
Earlier in the day, the American was unable to defend her Olympic crown in the 400, losing to Australia's Ariarne Titmus, who also beat Ledecky in the 2019 world championship final.
Ledecky did manage an Olympic record in the 1,500 later Monday in the event's debut on the Olympic program. She won the fifth and final heat in 15:35.35 and will race in the final on Wednesday at 10:55 p.m. ET. The five-time Olympic champion arrived in Tokyo seeking to break the record of eight gold medals by a U.S. woman.
Summer McIntosh of Etobicoke, Ont., qualified fifth for the 200 free semifinals, stopping the clock in 1:56.11 to finish second in her heat behind Titmus (1:55.88).
WATCH | Summer McIntosh also into 200m semis:
McIntosh lowers her Canadian record time
They also faced each other a few hours earlier in McIntosh's first Olympic final in the 400 free. The 14-year-old held her own and lowered her Canadian record from the previous day to 4:02.42, but China's Bingjie Li passed her to reach the podium in third behind Titmus and Ledecky.
"I completely moved forward as if the 400 never happened," said McIntosh. "I felt really good and refreshed so I'm really happy with it. Now I want to move up some more in the semis."
"It's definitely just the beginning for me," McIntosh told The Canadian Press after the 400. "It's amazing that I can have this experience under my belt for the coming years."
WATCH | McIntosh 4th in 400m freestyle final:
McIntosh went 4:02.72 in qualifying to break Brittany MacLean's national mark from the 2016 Rio Olympics and is scheduled to race the 800 heats on Thursday.
In June, McIntosh raised eyebrows at Canada's Olympic trials when she defeated Oleksiak in the 200 free. McIntosh moved to the Pan Am pool in Toronto in March 2020 after the death of her coach Kevin Thorburn.
"I love Summer. I hate training with Summer," Oleksiak told CBC Sports in June. "She does not die. She's 14 so she doesn't get a lot of lactic acid so every time I train with her, I know she has the gas on and it's all gas, no brakes with her."
Titmus was fourth in Monday's qualifying in 1:55.88 after falling 11-100ths of a second shy of Federica Pellegrini's 1:52.98 world record from 2009 at the recent Australian trials. Pellegrini, making her fifth Olympic appearance for Italy at age 32, qualified 15th in 1:57.33.
In the women's 200 individual medley, Canada's Sydney Pickrem returned to the pool after withdrawing from the 400 over the weekend for medical reasons.
The 24-year-old from finished in 2:10.13 to qualify sixth for Tuesday's semifinals at 11 p.m. ET. The 2019 triple world medallist was born and raised in Florida but holds dual citizenship as her parents are from Halifax.
WATCH | Pickrem takes 'first step' in advancing to 200 IM semis:
"I didn't really turn my brain on until the last 50 [metres and] then I realized I better get my hand on the wall," said Pickrem, sixth in the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics. "Getting through the prelims and semis in the 200 IM is hard work and you gotta know how to race it and figure it out. It's a first step and we'll go from there."
Bellio briefly holds Olympic mark in 1,500
Bailey Andison of Smith Falls, Ont., was 18th overall in 2:12.52 and did not advance.
Katrina Bellio was the lone Canadian in the women's 1,500 — which is making its debut on the Olympic program — and briefly held the Games record as the winner of Monday's first heat in 16:24.37 to shatter her PB by over five seconds.
However, the 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., didn't advance to the final as Australia's Kiah Melverton, the eighth and final qualifier, clocked 15:58.96.
"It's a great feeling to be part of history," said Bellio, who ranked 21st overall in Monday's competition. "To be swimming at the Olympics at such a young age is incredible. The 1,500 for me is the perfect race at the perfect distance."
For decades, the longest distance women could swim in the Olympics was the 800 freestyle, while the 1,500 was contested by men.
Ledecky was outspoken about the need for the women's 1,500 entering the 2016 Olympics and by the following summer a decision by the International Olympic Committee brought gender equality to the pool.
WATCH | How Canadian swimmers trained during Olympic delay: