Canadian Women’s 400 Free Relay Record A Statement On Day 1 In Gwangju


After the Canadian women had a breakout performance at the 2016 Olympic Games, highlighted by Penny Oleksiak’s four medals, a lot was made about the potential of the team. Specifically their freestyle relays.

Taylor Ruck was a star on the rise, and though she had a hiccup at the Olympic Trials (failing to qualify, but was added to the team by the coaching staff), managed to seamlessly step in and have a significant contribution on the two free relays that medaled in Rio.

Rebecca Smith and Kayla Sanchez were waiting in the wings, set to take over from the previous generation that included the likes of Chantal van LandeghemSandrine Mainville and Michelle Toro (née Williams).

They weren’t quite ready in 2017. Ruck had another poor showing at a Trials meet, missing the Worlds team, and Mainville, van Landeghem, Sanchez and Oleksiak placed fourth (1.24 off a medal) in the 400 free relay in Budapest.

At last year’s Commonwealth Games, they hadn’t quite reached their potential yet either. Ruck, Oleksiak, Sanchez and Alexia Zevnik were close to four seconds back of the Aussies in 3:33.92 (who set the world record), and then without Oleksiak, were third at Pan Pacs in 3:34.07.

But their showing on the opening day of the 2019 World Championships showed that the team is now ready for the big time.

Sanchez led off in a best time (53.61) on the prelim relay, and a 52.75 split from Oleksiak was a big confidence booster to prove she was back on top form (after a relatively poor 2018).

Then in tonight’s final, rather than being well back of the Aussies (and Americans), they went toe-to-toe with them.

Sanchez kept them in the race on the first leg, leading off in 53.72, and then back-to-back splits from Ruck (52.19) and Oleksiak (52.69) vaulted them into first place heading into the anchor.

Swimming that fourth leg was none other than Maggie MacNeil, who followed up her breakout freshman NCAA campaign with Michigan with a huge showing at Canadian World Trials to qualify for the team. She earned her spot on the finals relay by splitting 54.00 in the morning and was thrown right into the fire facing off against Cate Campbell and Simone Manuel on the anchor leg.

(L-R): Ruck, MacNeil, Oleksiak, Sanchez. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

Despite ultimately placing third, MacNeil split 53.18, well over a second faster than her best flat start time of 54.51.

“That was incredible,” said MacNeil. “I was hoping they’d give me a strong enough lead that I could hold on as best I could. It’s really an honour to do this with these girls and I’m so proud of what we did tonight.”

All four members of the relay are still under 20 years of age.

“It’s great to get on the podium with a group of young women, three being age 19 and Kayla Sanchez being 18. We’re progressing year by year,” said Swimming Canada High-Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson.

This was also Canada’s first World Championship medal in this event since winning bronze in 1978.

Canada’s final time was 3:31.78, blowing by their old National Record of 3:32.89 set by that team in Rio. Perhaps the most noteworthy item from comparing the splits of the two records is that Oleksiak split slightly faster here than she did in Rio, where she went on to tie for the gold medal in the individual event a few days later.


Canada, 2016 Olympics Canada, 2019 Worlds
Mainville – 53.86 Sanchez – 53.72
van Landeghem – 53.12 Ruck – 52.19
Ruck – 53.19 Oleksiak – 52.69
Oleksiak – 52.72 MacNeil – 53.18
3:32.89 3:31.78

Additionally, Canada moves past Germany (3:31.83 in 2009) into fourth in the all-time rankings in this event. Coming into the competition, the U.S. and Netherlands were tied for #2 at 3:31.72, but the Americans went 3:31.02 to grab silver and take over sole possession of second. That 3:31.72 is the time the U.S. went to win the World title two years ago.

The Dutch ended up well back of the medals in fourth, swimming a time of 3:35.32.

Moving forward, this relay performance looks like it will kickstart a great meet for the Canadians. MacNeil looks poised to medal in the 100 fly, qualifying second behind Sarah Sjostrom in the semis in a PB of 56.52 (just off Oleksiak’s 56.46 NR), and the performances of Oleksiak and Ruck are encouraging heading into their individual events.

Quotes courtesy of Swimming Canada.

North American Medal Table

The U.S. and Canada were two of the six countries to get themselves on the board on day one. The Americans are tied with Australia atop the standings with four medals, but trail due to the fact the Aussies have two golds.

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  United States 1 2 1 4
2 Canada 0 0 1 1
Total 1 2 2 5

Day 1 North American Records:

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3 years ago

Didn’t MacNeil have the 100FL semi’s same session. Impressive swim regardless by her! Go Canada go!

Reply to  John
3 years ago

Yes same as Dahlia and Sjostrom

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Heyitsme
3 years ago

And McKeon and Brianna Throssel.

Throssel and Sjostrom also swam the relay prelims

Reply to  Texas Tap Water
3 years ago

And MacNeil

3 years ago

Yes to all of the above…. And they are by far the youngest of the top 3….!

3 years ago

They swam great – all of them. They were leading going into the final leg and it took the best of Manuel and Cate to get by them.

3 years ago

Super happy to see Oleksiak back in form, excited to see what she does this week

3 years ago

Will the 200 come down to Ruck v Titmus?

Lane 8
Reply to  felixdangerpants
3 years ago

1. Titmus
2. Ruck
3. Sjostrom
4. McKeon
5. Ledecky
Close race you got there.

Reply to  Lane 8
3 years ago

i wouldn’t count out ledecky in this one simply because she went out in 1:57-high in the 400 (she won’t win the 200 but will perhaps medal). her 800/1500 combo seems in major trouble to me, but not as much the 200, just sayin

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  felixdangerpants
3 years ago


She went out 1:57 in 400 and closed in 29. That’s tough to match. Only Ledecky in Rio form can match that.

3 years ago

props to them. a great relay, and an even better future.

3 years ago

The best part? They could have been even faster. Ruck has been 51.7 before… a great sign of what’s to come.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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