Spotlight: Swimming over the 2021 Season

November 18, 2021

You may have heard about something called the Olympics happening this past year.  If you didn’t, maybe check that out. 

Swimming, you know that one sport where those tall, lanky people jump in a pool to see who can touch the wall fastest, brings some of the biggest medal hauls in the Olympics. America, well known for its dominance over the sport (like any other sport to be honest), did what they usually do. Win.

However, there were a few big blows to the country like a surprising loss in the women’s 200 and 100-metre breaststroke from Lilly King. The reigning queen fell hard in the 2020 Games. Thankfully, she was saved by her own teammate Lydia Jacoby. Jacoby was the first swimmer from Alaska to qualify for the American team and hauled in a pretty hefty gold medal in the 100-metre breaststroke. 

Yet, the fall down in the 200 breaststrokes didn’t go the American way. Tatjana Schoenmaker is a South African swimmer who shook the world at the Games. Schoenmaker made her debut at the 2021 Olympics after South Africa had gotten more women to compete for their team. Her silver win followed by her gold changed not only South Africa’s perspective on women in swimming, but shocked others with the surprise loss for the Americans.

America’s very own ‘Golden Girl’, Katie Ledecky had quite the letdown and fight at these Olympics.

Like many of us, Ledecky, well known for her amazing shows at swimming competitions, had a rough year. However, it had been the build-up for Ledecky. She started her story in 2012 London. Fifteen-year-old Ledecky stood behind the blocks for her 800m freestyle, she was only a recent sophomore. She won gold. Then in 2016, it happened again. 4 times. She won gold in the 200m, 400m, 800m, and 4x200m freestyle events. Her name became huge in the swimming world. She didn’t stop. She continued to win. Never lost a single individual swimming event she was in. World Championships, Gold. Pan Pacific Championships, Golds. Fina World Championships, Gold. Then in 2020 she got sick with an unidentified illness and did not compete.

She came back in 2021 to show the world the queen of distance was not gone. She blew it out of the water.

She first competed in the 400m freestyle. Ledecky, Ariarne Titmus of Australia, Summer McIntosh of Canada, it was a talent-packed race. Ledecky and McIntosh went out fast, McIntosh losing her touch at the halfway mark. Ledecky held on, but Titmus came back hard. Titmus stole first, Ledecky followed in second and Li Bingjie of China in third. 

Then in her 200-metre freestyle, there was a slight upset, making her come in fifth. Yet, that same night she came back to make history.

Historically, the 1500 metre freestyle wasn’t the top event for women. This event is one of the many Ledcky specializes in. She raced Tuesday night, an hour after racing the 200 freestyle. She won by four long seconds. 

It was unbelievable and jaw-dropping. In 15 minutes and 37 seconds, Katie Ledckey made an impact on the swimming world. The first female champion in the 1500 freestyle. 

She ended her time in Tokyo with her signature 800 metre freestyle, the one she shook the world with at 15. She took it out and kept it out, even when Titmus tried to come back, securing her title of 800 metre freestyle champion. 

Now Australia, one of the most shocking countries in the pool this year. Aussies always make a little splash in the pool at the Olympics. With names like Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell, it’s no surprise that they would come with a win. But no one expected as big of a win as they got this year. 

The Aussie Dolphins came home with a record-breaking number of medals. Out of the 46 medals they won, 20 were from swimming. 9 of those 20 were gold. Emma McKeon won 4 golds and 3 bronze, making her the most decorated female athlete in Tokyo. Kaylee McKeown secured 3 gold and a bronze and Ariarne Titmus followed not too far behind with 2 gold, 1 silver and a bronze.

They were insane and only look to get better for 2024 Paris.

Finally, we look to Canada. This Olympics let Canada shine, more specifically, the women in the pool. 

Starting with Canada’s darling Penny Oleksiak. Oleksiak is a star, a name everyone knows. She went into these games with a lot of pressure but didn’t fail to disappoint. Winning the 4×100 meter freestyle relay silver, she was off to a great start. She followed with a bronze in the 200-metre freestyle, smiling all around. She was tied with two other historic athletes for the most decorated Canadian Olympic athlete. Then she finished with a bronze in the 4×100 IM relay, anchoring the title of most decorated Canadian of all time. 

Kylie Masse, the all-around queen of backstroke, doesn’t cease to amaze us. She came into the games with a smile, though her competition was tough. Kaylee McKeown of Australia had just broken the world record for the 100-metre backstroke, and Regan Smith of the U.S. was back to battle. All three girls qualified for the semi-finals. Masse was in the first heat and broke the Olympic record. Minutes later, Regan was in the pool, and she broke Masse’s record. It was a little humorous to watch, but then came McKeown. You guessed it, she broke Regan’s record minutes later. It was crazy. 

The finals were upon the three women, and Kylie took it out on the first 50 with Regan trailing behind her and Kaylee next to her. Then at the final leg, Kaylee stole it swimming into gold, with Kylie coming in for second and Regan for third. 

It was by far one of the most entertaining races to watch here in Canada. Even if it was at 12:00 am due to the time difference. 

Canadian swimmer Kylie Masse, from left, American swimmer Regan Smith and Australian swimmer Kaylee Mckeown pose for photographs during the medal ceremony for the women’s 100-meter backstroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Daily coronavirus infections in Tokyo surged to a record 2,848 cases, about double the number found a week earlier, just as the Japanese capital hosts tens of thousands for the Olympics. Photographer: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Mass and McKeown battled it out in the 200-metre backstroke, with McKeown taking gold again and Masse winning a silver. 

A new darling of swimming emerged in the summer of 2021, Maggie MacNeil. MacNeil raced the 100 butterfly, which Oleksiak had silver in from 2016. MacNeil went out in the race, touching seventh at the wall. Canadians froze in terror. But it reminded us of Oleksiak’s gold medal win in 2016 when she touched 7th and came back for first. That’s exactly what MacNeil did. 

She ended up with gold, silver and bronze. More recently she also won the best female athlete of the 2020 Games, a deserving honour.

Finally ending with Summer McIntosh. No words can explain the extraordinary performances McIntosh gave during the games. As someone who is her age, it was amazing to watch. She had placed fourth amongst some of the greatest swimmers of all time.  She is definitely someone to watch out for in 2024. 

The swimmers came home, Oleksiak went on vacation, Masse, McIntosh, and Kayla Sanchez signed with the Toronto Titans in the ISL. All three girls starred beautifully in the races this season, while McIntosh left a week early to join many of us in sophomore year. 

With the playoffs that started last week, these girls are once again off to win it for the Toronto Titans. Taking the reigning champs, Cali Condors down.

While this year had its bumps and turns, it has led to some positive outcomes for the swimming world. A year off didn’t necessarily mean it was all messed up, but rather it became a new turning point for athletes, especially swimmers.


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