Canada added three medals to its total Monday at the FINA World Junior Championships in Indianapolis, the most successful ever in the country’s history.
The women’s 4×100-m medley relay put an exclamation point on Day 6 of the meet for Canada, which finished with a national record 15 medals, behind only the host Team USA.
The team of Jade Hannah, Faith Knelson, Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck won Canada’s fifth relay gold of the competition in a world junior record 3:58.38. The women won all three relays, and contributed to wins in the two mixed relays, all in world junior record times.
Hannah and Knelson set the table for Rio 2016 Olympians Oleksiak and Ruck, with backstroker Hannah leading off in fourth. Knelson’s breaststroke leg moved Canada up to second place with a 2.26-second gap behind Team USA when Oleksiak entered the water. The Rio silver medallist in the 100-m butterfly shaved that down to .51 seconds. Ruck’s freestyle put Canada into the lead by .19 seconds at the turn and she held on for the win ahead of Team USA’s 3:59.19. Japan took bronze in 3:59.97 as all three medal nations went under the previous record.
“This relay means so much to me. I train with Jade every single day and to have my club teammate on the podium with me and these two girls on the podium with me means so much. I’m really happy we pulled through. It was a hard meet and we knew today was going to be a hard day and everyone was going to be tired, but it was good stuff,” said Knelson, who trains at Swimming Canada’s NextGen Victoria program with Hannah.
“It was a great experience all in all, definitely a lot of exposure to things that I haven’t experienced before, so having everything like that has been a great experience,” Hannah added.
Ruck, who trains at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario, put the team in position to set a new all-time best by defending her title in the 200-m freestyle 45 minutes earlier.
Ruck’s time of 1:57:08 was .02 faster than Hungarian Ajna Kesely. Ruck lowered her championship record from her 2015 gold medal, and brought down the national 15-17 age group record held by Heather MacLean since 2009.
“I thought it was going to be way harder than my other double days but it was actually not that bad. These girls got me really pumped for the relay and I couldn’t have done it without them. I’m just happy to share this experience with them,” Ruck said after her double. “It wasn’t necessarily easy, but all the support from the massage staff to basically everyone, I owe it all to Team Canada.”
Ruck won six gold and one silver medal at the competition, to bring her all-time best career total at world juniors to 13.
“She did miss the senior team unfortunately this year, but she came here and showed the world what her real potential is, winning seven medals, breaking a world junior record in the 100 backstroke and being a key ingredient in all the relay wins that we had,” said Swimming Canada National Development Coach Ken McKinnon.
Oleksiak, who competed only in relays, added five golds to bring her career world junior total to 11.
“Penny Oleksiak, who is an Olympic gold medallist in the 100 freestyle, swam the meet and had a blast with her teammates of her age, and was a big part of us winning five relay events at the meet. We’re appreciative to Penny and her coach Ben Titley from the High Performance Centre – Ontario for their participation and their leadership in the team’s performance,” McKinnon said.
He also highlighted the contributions of fellow HPC-Ontario swimmers Rebecca Smith and Kayla Sanchez, who were on the senior team with Oleksiak at the senior FINA World Championships last month. Sanchez won three gold, a silver and a bronze at world juniors, while Smith takes home two gold, a silver and a bronze.
“The plan was to give them the experience of getting on the podium and racing for gold medals with the world’s best athletes of the same age, and they really showed well here this week.”
Earlier in the night Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., earned a silver in the women’s 100-m butterfly. Smith touched in a personal best 58.07, behind only Japanese Olympian Rikako Ikee, who won her fifth medal and second gold in a championship record 57.25. Mabel Zavaros of Oakville, Ont., touched in eighth in 59.81.
“It felt great, I’ve been waiting for the 100 fly all week. To come out with a best time on the last day, I’m really happy about that,” said Smith, who captured captured a bronze medal in the 50-m butterfly on Saturday and contributed to both women’s free relay golds.
“Medalling in the 50 gave me a lot of confidence. Not only because my 100 is more of a better focus for me, but also that I have that front end speed at the beginning to pull ahead.”
Knelson’s first race of the night was the 200-m breaststroke. The Ladysmith, B.C., native touched in with a 2:28.53, good for sixth place in the final. The 15-year-old picked up individual silver medals in both the 50-m and 100-m breaststroke earlier in the meet.
In the women’s 50-m freestyle, Sanchez touched in seventh in a time of 25.33. Sanchez picked up a bronze medal on Friday in the 100-m freestyle and was part of both women’s free relay golds. She will also receive a gold medal for her morning freestyle leg in the women’s medley relay Monday, which helped Canada qualify for finals
Meanwhile, Gabe Mastromatteo of Kenora, Ont., competed in a final for Canada on the men’s side, finishing eighth in the 50-m breaststroke in 28.51. Earlier in the meet he lowered his national 15-17 record in a ninth-place finish in the 100 breast, and swam the breaststroke leg of the mixed medley relay gold.
“It was a good experience, to be in a final in my first international meet,” he said. “It was a really good learning experience, learning what it was like in the lead up, seeing what other people do, and how to get prepared for an international meet like this.”
“I want to congratulate the swimmers coaches and the support team for Canada’s best ever performance in world junior history with seven gold medals, five silvers and three bronze. The team was extremely cooperative and professional, and very well led by Head Coach Brad Dingey, the head coach of our Victoria NextGen program,” McKinnon said. “We’re extremely proud of the Canadian team this week.”
“Ken McKinnon, our national development coach has done a great job with the development program of Canadian swimming over a number of years. I’d like to pay special acknowledgment to his role in building this team over his time with Swimming Canada,” added Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson. “Congratulations to all the swimmers, coaches, staff, and personal coaches across Canada that have put effort into these performances.”
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