Penny Oleksiak swam faster than she ever had in her signature race, but it wasn’t fast enough for the Olympic podium in Tokyo.
The 21-year-old from Toronto was fourth in the women’s 100-metre freestyle Friday five years after winning gold in Rio de Janeiro.
The Canadian’s time of 52.59 seconds was quicker than the Olympic record of 52.70 she and American Simone Manuel set together in 2016 when they tied for the top of the podium.
But Australia’s Emma McKeon lowered the record to 51.96 en route to Friday’s victory.
Silver medallist Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong touched in 52.27. Australian Cate Campbell edged Oleksiak out of bronze by seven hundredths of a second.
Oleksiak was already thinking about racing the 100 free at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
“I’m 21. This isn’t my last Olympics,” she said. “It’s a matter of learning from this and getting better for next time.”
Oleksiak anchored the 4 x 100 freestyle relay to silver on the first day of finals in Tokyo and also earned bronze in the women’s 200-metre freestyle.
With six career medals, Oleksiak is Canada’s most decorated Summer Olympian.
Tied with speedskater Cindy Klassen and speedskater-cyclist Clara Hughes, she’s one medal away from the most all time by a Canadian.
“It’s definitely something in the back of my mind, but I don’t know. I have six Olympic medals. There’s only three people in Canada that can say that. I’m not too concerned. If I have six Olympic medals, whatever,” she said and then laughed.
Oleksiak gets another chance at that historic medal in Sunday’s medley relay in which she’s expected to swim the final freestyle leg.
Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., and Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., advanced to the women’s 200-metre backstroke final by qualifying fourth and seventh out of Friday’s semifinals.
Masse earned 100-metre backstroke silver earlier in the swimming competition. Toronto’s Josh Liendo, 18, finished 11th in the men’s 100-metre butterfly Friday.
Swimming her ninth race in seven days, Oleksiak was seventh at the 50-metre turn Friday as she was in Rio. The Canadian began hunting down the frontrunners again only to miss out on a medal by a fingertip.
“My turn wasn’t my best turn and I was a little bit frustrated with that,” Oleksiak said. “I really tried to bring it home and I did the best I could bringing it home. If I got fourth, I got fourth. That’s still fourth in the world so I’m not really complaining.”
Oleksiak felt she had enough in the tank to contend Friday. Nerves woke her up in the night, however, and were still there before the race, she said.
“I think I’ve definitely had optimal recovery and I think it’s just a matter of figuring out the race and where I could have done better,” she said.
Oleksiak swam the anchor leg of the 4 x 200 freestyle relay the previous day for Canada, which also finished fourth in national-record time.
Swimming is one of the few Olympic sports that offer multi-medal opportunities to an individual athlete, but few swimmers can replicate success from one Summer Games to the next.
In the two years after her feats in Rio, a teenaged Oleksiak struggled with the mantle of Olympic champion and was frustrated she didn’t swim that fast all the time.
Oleksiak has struck a balance since then on when to be hard on herself, and kind to herself.
“I think you have to, to a certain extent, hold yourself to a level of perfection as a professional athlete because that’s why the best in the world are the best in the world, but at the same time, realizing you need to separate that from your actual life,” she said Friday.
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