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Women relay swimmers get Canada's first medal, divers add another silver

·6 min read

TOKYO — Just as in 2016, the women's 4x100 freestyle relay team gave Canada its first medal of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

This time, however, the medal was a more precious colour.

With star swimmer Penny Oleksiak once again powering the anchor leg, the Canadians swam to a silver medal in Sunday's race, finishing in a time of three minutes 32.78 seconds.

A few hours later, divers Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu added another silver on a successful day in the pool. Abel and Citrini-Beaulieu recovered from a slow start and put together three strong dives to reach the podium of the women's three-metre synchronized platform.

In the relay, Kayla Sanchez of Toronto, Margaret Mac Neil of London, Ont., and Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., also swam strong legs to give Toronto's Oleksiak the chance to close out the race.

With the Australians far ahead of the pack en route to laying down a world-record time of 3:29.69, the battle for silver came down to Oleksiak and American anchor swimmer Simone Manuel.

Oleksiak surged ahead and touched the wall just before the American. The 21-year-old picked up her fifth Olympic medal, joining rower Lesley Thompson-Willie and runner Phil Edwards as Canada's most decorated Summer Olympians.

"I think it’s kind of crazy," Oleksiak said. "I think we were all hopeful that we would get a medal.

"We didn’t know what medal it would really be. I think we all just wanted one. For it to be a silver, it’s pretty crazy I think.”

The Canadian women are looking to pick up where they left off at the 2016 Rio Games, where they won six medals, including bronze in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Oleksiak swam the anchor leg in that race, too.

Earlier on Sunday, Mac Neil also advanced to Monday morning's 100-metre butterfly final. The 21-year-old world champion in the event posted the sixth-fastest time in the semifinal.

In diving, Abel from Laval, Que., and Citrini-Beaulieu, from Saint-Constant, Que., overcame a slow start on their first two dives to finish with a total score of 300.78.

The Chinese pair of Shi Tingmao and Wang Han finished first with 326.4 points. Germany's Lena Hentschel and Tina Punzel were third with 284.97 points.

Abel picked up her second Olympic medal. She won bronze in the same event with Emilie Heymans at the 2012 London Games.

Citrini-Beaulieu is making her Olympic debut.

With the two medals, Canada sat tied for 17th in the overall medal standings -- which priotitizes calibre of medal over amount -- with the Netherlands. In the total medal standings, Canada was tied for ninth with 13 other countries.

China led in both gold medals (six) and total medals (11). Host Japan was second in gold medals with five, while the United States was second in total medals with 10.

In the swimming night session, Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., and Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., qualified for the semifinals in the women's 100-metre backstroke.

Masse won her heat in an Olympic-record time of 58.17 seconds. That record was short-lived, however, as it was broken by the winners of the next two heats.

It was a disappointing day on the tennis court for Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime. The world No. 15 was upset in the first round of men's competition 6-4, 7-6 (2) by unheralded Australian Max Purcell.

Purcell wasn't even scheduled to compete in men's singles competition in Tokyo. He was a late replacement for two-time champion Andy Murray, who pulled out with a right quadriceps injury.

"It's difficult to explain," said the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime a few minutes after the loss. "You have to give credit to Max for playing such a good match. Even if he's more of a doubles player, he's dangerous, he serves well."

The Canadian women's softball team missed a chance to play for a gold medal after a tough 1-0 extra-innings loss to host Japan. Still, the Canadians will chase their first softball medal Tuesday in the bronze game.

"It's a tough pill, but at the same time, we're too good a team not to go home with a medal," Canadian head coach Mark Smith said.

Taekwondo medal hopeful Skylar Park advanced the the quarterfinal of the women's 57-kilogram event before losing to Taiwan's Chia-Ling Lo.

Park had beaten her Taiwanese opponent in previous matchups but struggled against the taller Lo in the Olympic quarterfinal.

"The goal for me was always the gold medal, but I think realizing what it means to be an Olympian and even to be here at the Olympics surrounded by the world's best athletes is incredible," said the 22-year-old from Winnipeg.

In boxing, Mandy Bujold's eventful road to the Tokyo Olympics ended with a first-round loss to Nina Radovanovic of Serbia in her opening bout.

The 11-time national flyweight champion arrived in Tokyo after what she called the toughest fight of her career. She won a human-rights appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, last month for an Olympic berth after she'd initially been left out of the mix.

"Yeah, absolutely this was the win for me on this journey," Bujold said after the loss. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen in the ring, but it happened outside of the ring."

After Bujold's Olympic qualifier in Buenos Aires was cancelled because of rising COVID-19 cases in Argentina, the International Olympic Committee's Boxing Task Force opted to use world rankings to determine Tokyo berths.

The Task Force selected three international events for world rankings that Bujold, a 34-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., hadn't competed in because of her pregnancy and post-partum recovery.

The CAS ruled June 30 that the Task Force must include an accommodation for women who were pregnant or postpartum during the qualifying period. Bujold had lost her original appeal to the IOC in May, leaving the CAS as her last chance to box in Tokyo.

Rowers Jessica Sevick of Strathmore, Alta., and Toronto's Gabrielle Smith will row for a medal after finishing second in their women's double sculls semifinal. The pair advanced comfortably, finishing 4.59 seconds ahead of fourth-place France.

"I think we can build on what we just did and carry that relaxation and looseness. And I think we can also take some confidence from that and have a little bit more of a build towards the line and a little more speed in the middle, to sort of get out in front and row relaxed," Smith said.

There was also disappointment for Canada's rowers on Tokyo Bay as the men's four boat finished fifth in its repechage and failed to advance to the 'A' final. The boat includes three rookies and veteran Will Crothers, who was part of Canada's silver-medallist men's eight team at the 2012 Olympics in London. The 'B' final could be the 34-year-old's last Olympic race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25 , 2021.

The Canadian Press

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