The Canadian women’s 400 free relay had their first real breakthrough at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Competing in front of a raucous home crowd, Chantal van Landeghem roared home on the anchor leg to overtake American legend Natalie Coughlin and out-touch her for the gold. That Canadian squad was full of veterans, and though later that summer at the World Championships they would finish in the same position they did two years prior in Barcelona (5th), a new level of confidence began to grow.
The next summer in Rio, two of those veterans, van Landeghem and Sandrine Mainville, combined with rising stars Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck to win an Olympic bronze medal in the event. Last summer without Ruck, another teenager in Kayla Sanchez stepped in and the team finished a respectable 4th. This year, despite the retirement of van Landeghem, the relay looks like it may be in its best shape yet, and there’s no better showcase of what they have in store than how the Canadian teens performed this weekend.
Ruck, Sanchez and Rebecca Smith (aged 18, 17 and 18) all competed at the Canet-en-Roussillon Mare Nostrum meet this weekend, putting up times of 53.13, 54.03 and 55.22 respectively in the 100 freestyle. Oleksiak, competing at the TYR PSS in Santa Clara, swam a time of 54.23.
Combined, those four times added up comes to 3:36.61 – not factoring in relay exchanges – which would’ve placed 6th at the 2017 World Championships (excluding the 4th place Canadian team). These are incredible times to be posting in general for four teenagers from the same country, but for it to be done in early June is what is astonishing.
Beyond the times having been posted so early in the LC season, the potential to get better is what’s most exciting about the Canadian quartet. Ruck has been as fast as 52.96 this season, and is coming off an incredible Commonwealth Games performance. Sanchez’s swim in Canet was an improvement on her fully tapered lifetime best from the Commonwealth Games, and Smith is right there as well coming within six tenths of her all-time best.
And for Oleksiak, her recent move to train in Florida with Gregg Troy really seems to have rejuvenated her after a so-so Comm Games and has looked really sharp at her last three meets in Atlanta, Vancouver and now Santa Clara.
The Australians currently have a stranglehold on this event after their world record in April, and the Americans will always be a big threat with their talent stacked crop of sprinters, but the Canadians are right there and it’s going to be very interesting how things shake out, not only come Pan Pacs, but 2019 Worlds and then 2020. The sky is the limit for these four.