MAK­ING WAVES

OLEK­SIAK FEEL­ING FASTER,

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DONNA SPENCER

Penny Olek­siak be­lieves she’s swim­ming faster these days. The world cham­pi­onship will tell her if she’s right.

The 17-year-old Olympic cham­pion from Toronto leads a Cana­dian team deep in fe­male tal­ent into the pool at the world aquatic cham­pi­onships open­ing Fri­day in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary.

Win­ner of freestyle gold, but­ter­fly sil­ver and the an­chor in a pair of re­lay bronze in Rio last sum­mer, Olek­siak is as cu­ri­ous as any­one to see how high the nee­dle on her speedome­ter goes in her world cham­pi­onship de­but.

“I think I’m re­ally about to find out,” Olek­siak said Thurs­day on a con­fer­ence call. “I haven’t got to race a lot this year, but I’m su­per ex­cited just to get in the pool again and race in Bu­dapest.

“I don’t think my ap­proach to world cham­pi­onships is any dif­fer­ent than it was go­ing into the Olympics.

“Ob­vi­ously, I’m still a lit­tle bit ner­vous and not re­ally sure what to ex­pect go­ing into it, but I def­i­nitely have a bit more con­fi­dence be­cause of last sum­mer and be­cause of the rac­ing that I’ve done this year.”

The bian­nual world aquatic cham­pi­onships also in­clude div­ing, syn­chro­nized swim­ming, wa­ter polo and open wa­ter swim­ming, so Canada is send­ing a to­tal of 83 ath­letes to Bu­dapest.

Cana­di­ans won four sil­ver medals in div­ing and four swim­ming bronze two years ago in Kazan, Rus­sia.

Div­ing and syn­chro­nized swim­ming kick off this year’s com­pe­ti­tion Fri­day fol­lowed by the first open wa­ter race Satur­day.

The pool por­tion starts July 23, so Olek­siak and her 25 team­mates have a few more days of prepa­ra­tion at their stag­ing camp near Rome.

Olek­siak is en­cour­aged by per­sonal best times in the 50-me­tre but­ter­fly and freestyle this year.

“I think peo­ple will al­ways have ex­pec­ta­tions for me and peo­ple will al­ways try and tell me their ex­pec­ta­tions to, I guess, mo­ti­vate me,” she said. “But I don’t pay at­ten­tion to any­one else’s ex­pec­ta­tions. I hon­estly don’t re­ally care.

“I’m def­i­nitely try­ing to reach my own ex­pec­ta­tions and right now. They’re just to swim fast and to hope­fully go around my best times and maybe un­der them.”

Canada’s women backed up a six medal per­for­mance in Rio by claim­ing an­other seven at the world short-course cham­pi­onship Wind­sor, Ont., in De­cem­ber.

They won a pair of freestyle re­lay gold with Olek­siak swim­ming the an­chor.

They were voted The Cana­dian Press team of the year for 2016, which was just the third time in a half-cen­tury a women’s team earned that dis­tinc­tion.

Olek­siak has com­pany among women to watch in Bu­dapest. Win­ner of Olympic bronze in the 100me­tre back­stroke, Kylie Masse was in less than a tenth of a sec­ond off the world record at tri­als in April.

Masse’s time of 58.21 sec­onds in Vic­to­ria was the fastest this year.

“It def­i­nitely gave me con­fi­dence and more ex­cite­ment that’s for sure head­ing into the sum­mer,” said the 21-year-old from LaSalle, Ont.

“I’ve been re­ally fo­cus­ing on the smaller skills in the race and have worked a lot on my starts even be­fore the Olympics and after the Olympics.”

Canada boasts a one-two punch in women’s back­stroke as Hi­lary Cald­well of White Rock, B.C., won Olympic bronze in the 200 me­tres.

“Any time a team has the suc­cess like we did last sum­mer, it just lends a cer­tain swag­ger to every­body on the team,” Cald­well said.

Olek­siak, Win­nipeg’s Chan­tal Van Lan­deghem, San­drine Mainville of Boucherville, Que., Toronto’s Michelle Toro and Ka­ter­ine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., all con­trib­uted to the freestyle re­lay bronzes in Rio and are headed to Bu­dapest. Dou­ble re­lay medal­list Tay­lor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C. didn’t qual­ify for the team at tri­als, but will com­pete in the world ju­nior cham­pi­onship in Au­gust.

Cana­dian swim­mers qual­i­fied for 16 fi­nals in Kazan and made it into 15 fi­nals last year in Rio.

“The goals for the team are to build on the re­sults of the last quad,” Swim­ming Canada high­per­for­mance di­rec­tor John Atkin­son said. “We’re look­ing to in­crease our num­ber of fi­nal swims.

“We feel the team has ev­ery­thing at its dis­posal to be best pre­pared for per­for­mance on de­mand in Bu­dapest.”

TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Penny Olek­siak leads a Cana­dian team deep in fe­male tal­ent into the pool at the world aquatic cham­pi­onships open­ing Fri­day in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary.

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