Canadian women lead field into final of 4x100m medley relay

Canada will lead the field into the women’s 4x100-metre medley relay final after pulling out the best swim in the heats Friday, surging ahead of the Americans on the back of a strong third leg by gold medallist Maggie Mac Neil.

Canada posted best time of 3:55:17, topping the U.S. team in the heats

Sydney Pickrem of Team Canada competes in heat two of the women's 4x100-metre medley relay at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Japan on Friday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Canada will lead the field into the women's 4x100-metre medley relay final after pulling out the best swim in the heats on Friday in Tokyo, surging ahead of the Americans on the back of a strong third leg by gold medallist Maggie Mac Neil.

Canada — represented by Mac Neil, Taylor Ruck, Kayla Sanchez and Sydney Pickrem — posted the best time of three minutes 55.17 seconds, topping the U.S. team, which finished just 1-100th of a second behind, and Sweden in the second of the two heats.

Canada started strong on the backstroke with Ruck, who put the team in third place after the first leg, when Pickrem took over for the breaststroke.

The U.S. pulled ahead and appeared set to dominate the race with Canada out of the top three before Mac Neil took over for the butterfly with the team in fourth and posted a blistering 55.82 — best in the field — to set up Sanchez to take it home in the last leg.

"I really enjoy that and trying to reel everyone in and just focus on my strategy," Mac Neil, the gold medallist in the 100-metre butterfly, said of having to kick it into high gear to get Canada back in the heat.

While Penny Oleksiak did not swim in the heats, she is expected to join the team for the final on Sunday as she chases a record-setting seventh Olympic medal of her career.

Meanwhile, Sanchez did not qualify for the women's 50m freestyle semis, having finished 22nd overall in the heats with a time of 24.93. The top 16 swimmers qualified for the semis, and Australia's Emma McKeon bested the field with an Olympic record of 24.02 and seems well on her way to winning a fifth medal at these Tokyo Games.

McKeon dropped the 200-metre freestyle from her schedule to concentrate on the 100 and 50 free, and so far that's paid off, as earlier on Friday she won gold in the 100-metre free. Sweden's Sarah Sjöström, the current world-record-holder in this event, won her heat to qualify for the semifinals in a time of 24.26, good for fourth-fastest of the field.

The defending 50-metre champion, Denmark's Pernille Blume, was second-fastest at 24.12, followed by Australia's Cate Campbell in 24.15.

The women's semis are scheduled for Saturday.

Canadian men also through to final

Also in the pool, Canada's Brent Hayden, who mounted a comeback to compete in his fourth Olympics, qualified for the men's 50m freestyle semis in a time of 21.85, good enough to finish eighth overall in the heats. He was 5-10ths of a second behind favourite Caeleb Dressel of the United States, who led the heats to advance with a time of 21.32, followed by France's Florent Manaudou, the silver medallist at the 2016 Rio Games. That semi also runs on Saturday.

After the heats, Hayden said he had "so many emotions and thoughts" running through his head prior to the heats.

"It just feels so good to be here and seeing my name up there on the first slate of swimmers that qualified," he said. "I'm just having the time of my life right now."

Canada's men also made it through to their final in the 4x100-metre medley relay, qualifying in the eighth and final spot in a time of 3:32.37. Italy led the field with a time of 3:30.02, followed by Great Britain in 3:31.47 and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in 3:31.66.

In the men's 1,500m heats, the fourth and final heat featured the gold, silver and bronze medallists in the men's 800 from the day before and they're among the leading swimmers heading into Sunday's final.

Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine, who won bronze in the 800, topped the field with a time of 14:45:99, just ahead of Robert Finke of the United States, who won gold in the 800, at 14:47:20.

Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, who won silver in the 800, qualified for the final in fourth with a time of 14:49:17.

Florian Wellbrock of Germany was third with a time of 14:48.53.

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