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Canadian Olympic Trials: Six Stories to Watch


Canadian Olympic Trials: Six Stories to Watch

Canadian Olympic Trials begins on Monday in Toronto, a seven-day meet to help one of the few nations with all seven qualified Olympic relays fill out its roster for Paris.

Canada won one gold and six total medals in the pool in Tokyo three years ago, good for sixth on the medal table. Many of the big names from that team are back, with one headliner who has exploded in stature in the intervening and abbreviated Olympic quad.






A look at what might be in store next week:

How high is the Summer temperature?

Summer McIntosh has not historically been one to hold back at trials meets. In 2023, she set a pair of world records and a slew of national marks in this very pool at the World Championships Trials. Especially when she moves into a new discipline – and her program is varied enough to allow that – she seems reticent to hold anything back. Still just 17, it can be difficult to remember that McIntosh is still improving and, one suspects, nowhere near her ceiling.

McIntosh is entered in seven events – the 400 free, 200 free, 100 back, 400 IM, 100 free, 200 fly and 200 IM. She’s a double world champion in the 200 fly and 400 IM and a medal contender in the shorter IM and the 200 free and 400 free. The 100 free might be an event in which she opts for one swim to put down a relay marker. The 100 back is included to have something on Day 3 of the meet. She doesn’t face a double in any session.

The 400 free will be first in her program. She’s the top seed by 11 seconds and should be swimming by her lonesome most of the way. It’ll be a solid barometer.

What kind of form are Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck in?

Canada’s ascendant women’s program, for the two cycles, has a certain diversity. There are those – like Kylie Masse, Mary-Sophie Harvey and Maggie MacNeil – who seem to swim fast on a heavy schedule, ready to go just about any time. And there are those who fade from view and resurface for Olympics.

Oleksiak and Ruck, for a variety of physical and mental health issues, have been in the latter category.

Since Tokyo, Oleksiak has swim at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest and not much else globally. The Rio Olympic champion in the 100 free didn’t swim at many high-profile meets between those Games and Tokyo but still performed well. Ruck swam relays at the 2023 World Championships and has undergone a sizeable change in events, away from the 200 back and toward sprint free.

Their form for Paris makes a big difference, especially given Oleksiak’s history as a clutch relay performer. In the 200 free, Oleksiak is seeded ninth and Ruck 17th. Both have been 1:54, and getting back into even the 1:56 range, with McIntosh, could make the Canadians medal contenders.

Ruck is contesting the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free and 100 back, with the 200 back a thing of the past. Oleksiak is in the 50, 100 and 200 free. All of which looks a lot like the next question …

Who will replace Kayla Sanchez?

After waiting out a nationality switch, Sanchez will be in Paris representing the Philippines. A member of medal-winning 400 free and 400 medley relays in Tokyo, her dependability will be missed. Her 53-low/1:57-low isn’t easily made up for.

The onus in the latter will largely fall on Ruck and Oleksiak. McIntosh is written in the most indelible of ink into the 800 free relay. Harvey, the only other swimmer with a seed time under 1:57, seems the second choice. If Ruck and Oleksiak can get into that 1:57 range or below, then it’s done and dusted. It not, then Canada pins its hopes on a big step from Ella Jansen or the steadiness of veterans like Rebecca Smith and Katerine Savard.

The 100 brings more options, and McIntosh may be Sanchez’s direct replacement in a discipline that was on the periphery for her in Tokyo. MacNeil seems a shoe-in.

The eternal question of breaststroke

Masse is a World Champion and the reigning Olympic silver medalist in backstroke. MacNeil is the reigning Olympic champion in butterfly. McIntosh and company offer voluminous anchor options.

And so a nation turns its lonely eyes to breaststroke, where the options haven’t prevented Canada from medaling at recent events:

  • 2024 Worlds – Sophie Angus, 1:06.24 in finals for bronze
  • 2023 Worlds – Sophie Angus, 1:06.21 in finals for bronze
  • 2022 Worlds – Rachel Nicol, 1:07.71 in finals for bronze
  • 2021 Olympics – Sydney Pickrem, 1:07.17 in finals for bronze
  • 2019 Worlds – Sydney Pickrem, 1:06.42 in finals for bronze

Sensing a theme?

Change is in the offing. Nicol has retired. Pickrem is seeded seventh in the 100, and it’s not her principal focus, with the 200 breast, 200 IM and 400 IM taking precedence.

Canada has three swimmers under the Olympic A cut. Alexanne Lepage is the top seed at 1:06.58. Shona Branton is second at 1:06.59. Angus is third at 1:06.66, and veteran Kelsey Wog is in frame at 1:07.35. If one could get to 1:06-low flat start and in the 1:05s on a relay pickup, the Canadians might move from a floor of bronze expectations toward a silver ceiling.

Is there a fourth leg for the men’s 400 free relay?

Arguably the most surprising Canadian performance of the Tokyo Olympics was supplied by the men’s 400 free relay, setting a national record in finishing fourth.

It was, however, not with the most forward-looking composition. Brent Hayden has re-retired. Markus Thormeyer, after a doping suspension, appears all but retired. Yuri Kisil has raced sparingly the last two years. Ruslan Gaziev, after missing the end of the college season, is not entered in Trials.

On paper, that leaves Josh Liendo and a bunch of questions marks. But … Javier Acevedo has been in good form. Ed Fullum-Huot had a strong NCAA season at Florida, a training environment that has helped Liendo unlock new levels.

The X factor is Ilya Kharun, seeded 43rd with a seed time of 51.61. But that is from January 2023, and he’s undergone a massive development at Arizona State since. He split 41.43 SCY at Pac-12s but didn’t make the Sun Devils’ NCAA title-winning foursome.

Is there someone ready to spring a surprise?

McIntosh was known before Canadian Olympics Trials in 2021 but burst onto the scene with a breakout performance. While it’s unfair to expect another McIntosh to be waiting in the wings, a few young swimmers under the radar to watch.

Ella Jansen. The Tennessee commit has A cuts in the 400 free and 400 IM. Thanks to McIntosh, the rest of the field is fighting for one spot in both, and the latter will be a pitched contest with Harvey. Jansen, who doesn’t turn 19 until September, is a contender for the 800 free relay. She’s entered in seven events, and something may have to go. She has international experience from Doha.

Male backstroke. Without Thormeyer, it’s a new day for Canadian backstroke. Blake Tierney’s 53.65 is the top seed and an A cut in the 100. Hugh McNeill’s best time of 1:57.73 leaves him a quarter second to meet the A standard.

Alexanne Lepage. The University of Calgary Dino is the top seed in the 100 breast, under the A cut. She’s third in the 200 breast, eight tenths away from an A cut. She could solidify relay duty and much more.



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