Oleksiak earns historic medal No. 7 as Canadian women win bronze in 4x100m medley relay

The foursome of Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Maggie Mac Neil and Penny Oleksiak powered their way to a bronze medal in the women's 4x100-metre medley relay on Sunday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. 

Team finishes competition with 6 total medals

Canada's Maggie Mac Neil places the bronze medal around Penny Oleksiak's neck as Sydney Pickrem, second from left, and Kylie Masse celebrate after the foursome won bronze in the women's 4x100m medley relay. It is the seventh medal of Oleksiak's Olympic career. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Penny Oleksiak is now Canada's most decorated Olympian, winning her seventh medal — a bronze — in the women's 4x100-metre medley relay Sunday morning in Tokyo. 

But in the celebration and excitement of the historic moment, standing beside teammates Kylie Masse, Maggie Mac Neil and Sydney Pickrem, the 21-year-old went to great lengths to let everyone know it's not lonely at the top.

"I'm glad I didn't win it in an individual [event] because this just makes it 10 times sweeter knowing that I've accomplished this history with girls that are also making history," she said. "This is only the beginning for Team Canada and swimming. We were young in 2016 [at the Rio Olympics] and we're still young and going to hit our peak soon."

Considering the performance that Oleksiak and her teammates put on in the past nine days, that's saying something.

WATCH | Mixed medley team supports Oleksiak:

The foursome of Masse, Pickrem, Mac Neil and anchor Oleksiak powered their way to a bronze medal, finishing in a Canadian-record time of three minutes 52.60 seconds behind gold-medallist Australia (3:51.60) and the U.S. (3:51.73), who took silver.

Pickrem swam the breaststroke leg despite it not being her specialty, and did enough to keep the team in podium contention and won her first Olympic medal because of it.

Maggie Mac Neil, left to right, Sydney Pickrem and Kylie Masse, with Penny Oleksiak, in the water, react to their time to win a bronze medal in the women's 4x100m medley relay. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"I was absolutely shitting myself," she said as her teammates burst out laughing. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it."

Mac Neil pointed to struggles the team had in training because of Canada's COVID restrictions in the past 18 months.

"It's crazy. Coming into these Games I just wanted to do the best I could. We had one of the most strict lockdowns in the world," said Mac Neil, who added bronze to her gold in the 100m butterfly and silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay. "I'm really grateful to do this with these girls."

Oleksiak, Mac Neil and Masse, who also won silver in each of the 100m and 200m backstroke, are the first Canadian trio to win multiple medals at a non-boycotted Olympics in the same sport.

WATCH | Medal presentation:

Despite her own success, Masse, from LaSalle, Ont., only wanted to celebrate Oleksiak.

"When we take a step back and look at what she's accomplished it's insane. We get to swim with her and contribute to that," Masse said. "She's a legend. We're really happy for her."

Days earlier, Oleksiak tied speed skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen for the most medals won by Canadian Olympians with six. 

Oleksiak now has one gold, two silver and four bronze medals at two Olympics. 

In her Olympic debut as a 16-year-old in Rio 2016, Oleksiak became the first Canadian athlete to win four medals at a single Summer Games. She became the country's first Olympic champion in swimming since Mark Tewksbury at the 1992 Olympics and the first female Canadian swimmer to win gold since Anne Ottenbrite did it in Los Angeles in 1984.

The last race on Sunday in Tokyo was her third attempt at the Canadian record medal. She had to settle for fourth-place finishes in her two previous races — the 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle relay.

"I was a little nervous about it in my last two races," she said of breaking the record.

"I wasn't thinking about it coming into the Games. In my other two races I was thinking about it. I came in fourth and that hurt a little bit."

Oleksiak revealed she had been dealing with a back injury for a number of years, which kept her from training for long periods.

WATCH | Oleksiak anchors medley relay to bronze:

"I have been going through hell and back for the last two, three years," she said. "I think these girls have seen me struggle hard through it. To be here and come out the other end of everything, and know that I'm doing good now and I get to train with these girls for the next three years, knowing that we're going to frickin' Paris, it's amazing."

Oleksiak said her friends told her not to talk about her challenges until she had the Olympic medals around her neck, and she praised the support of her teammates.

"To come back and always have these girls always motivated, I'm so thankful for the support and love," she said.

In addition to the six medals in Tokyo, Canadian swimmers broke seven Canadian records and finished fourth four times. Also Sunday, the Canadian men finished seventh in the 4x100 medley relay, the final race of the competition.

"We haven't been able to race. The nine days of competition here is almost three times more days of racing than we've had in the last 18 months. That's unbelievable," Ben Titley, the team's coach, said. "What the athletes did here, particularly the group of women and particularly Penny, is truly remarkable."

"Our team had a goal to be competitive from Day 1 to Day 9 of the Olympic Games swimming program," said John Atkinson, Swimming Canada's high-performance director. "We also focused on improvement and progression through prelims, semifinals and finals, and to achieve these goals we would require resilience.

"I believe we attained all three of these goals, and the athletes, coaches and staff have delivered."

Two of the fourth-place finishes came from 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who undoubtedly will be a force three years from now in Paris. And the Canadian men's fourth-place finish in the men's 4x100m relay was its best finish ever in that event. 

Marnie McBean, Canada's chef de mission in Tokyo, applauded Oleksiak's performance under pressure.

"Seven medals says a lot about the depth of Penny as much as it does about her talent. Winning one medal is hard, and multiple at one Games is all about the ability to reset and focus," said McBean, who won four medals — three of them gold — as a rower. "Winning multiple medals at multiple Games — that is a battle against so much more.

"The notion of repeating and the burden of expectations, internally and externally, can be so disruptive. Penny figured out how to thrive all while being an amazing role model to young Canadians," she said.

"Five years ago, Penny Oleksiak captured the hearts of the nation with her record-setting Olympic debut at Rio 2016 and it has been thrilling to watch her shine once again at Tokyo 2020," said David Shoemaker, the Canadian Olympic Committee's CEO, in a statement issued by the organization. "To now see her become Canada's most decorated Olympian at age 21 is nothing short of extraordinary."


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.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?