Is Shona Branton the Answer to the Canadian Medley Relays?

The Canadian women’s 400 medley relay has been effectively the third-best in the world for almost a decade straight. In the last few years, no other country has come particularly close to taking that 3rd-place position, and the Canadian women have not come particularly close to catching the Americans or Australians for 2nd place.

The faces on that relay have shifted a little, but usually have included Kylie Masse as the backstroker, Penny Oleksiak or Maggie MacNeil as the butterflier, and Penny Oleksiak or Taylor Ruck as the freestyler. Last summer it was Summer McIntosh as the freestyler when neither Oleksiak nor Ruck was healthy.

They won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and bronze at the 2023 and 2022 Word Championships with slight variations on the above.

But where their ceiling has been is the lack of a true top-class 100 breaststroker. At the Olympics, Sydney Pickrem split 1:07.17, at 2022 Worlds Rachel Nicol split 1:07.17, and at 2023 Worlds they made some progress when Sophie Angus swam 1:06.21.

But when the World Record on a flat-start is 1:04.13 and when there are about 15 swimmers globally every year who swim that fast in the 100 breaststroke on a flat start, it’s hard to close the gap on the more complete teams from the USA and Australia.

But this weekend, that relay might have found its gap-closer at the Luxembourg Euro Meet of all places. There, Shona Branton, 21, racing as part of Team Ontario, swam a personal best of 30.75 in the 50 breaststroke and 1:06.59 in the 100 breaststroke.

Those times are huge drops for Branton, building off a come-from-nowhere 2023 season for her. Her best time coming into the season was a 1:10.69. She was better than that 12 times last year, landing at a December 1:07.79 to end the year.

Time Date
1:10.69 July 26, 2022
1:10.17 June 2, 2023
1:09.99 June 2, 2023
1:09.44 January 29, 2023
1:09.17 March 30, 2023
1:08.99 February 24, 2023
1:08.88 July 8, 2023
1:08.77 March 30, 2023
1:08.15 August 2, 2023
1:08.11 August 2, 2023
1:07.95 July 8, 2023
1:07.93 December 2, 2023
1:07.79 December 10, 2023
1:07.10 January 27, 2023
1:06.59 January 28, 2023

But she knocked more than a second off that time this weekend in Luxembourg, and is now the 6th-fastest Canadian ever in that event.

Fastest Canadian Women Ever, 100 LCM Breaststroke:

  1. Annamay Pierse – 1:05.74 (2009)
  2. Kelsey Wog – 1:06.44 (2020)
  3. Amanda Reason – 1:06.53 (2009)
  4. Kierra Smith – 1:06.54 (2019)
  5. Alexanne Lepage – 1:06.58 (2023)
  6. Shona Branton – 1:06.59 (2024)
  7. Rachel Nicol – 1:06.68 (2016)
  8. Jillian Tyler – 1:07.18 (2012)
  9. Sydney Pickrem – 1:07.20 (2019)
  10. Faith Knelson – 1:07.30 (2018)

And she’s not alone. Alexanne Lepage was 1:06.58 last year to win gold at the World Junior Championships; she was 1:08.67 this weekend at a meet in Toronto.

Now Canada has two options with huge upward momentum (one for prelims and one for finals). The challenge is that the window on the rest of their relay seems to be closing a little bit. Kylie Masse‘s 2023 best in the 100 back was 58.74, more than a second away from her best time, and Oleksiak has scratched almost every meet she’s entered in the last 20 months or so.

Canada also has a rising China hot on their heels for Paris. China has an okay breaststroker in Tang Qianting, the best butterflier in the world in Zhang Yufei at 55.50, and a freestyler in Cheng Yujie (53.45) who can match with Summer McIntosh. Canada’s biggest advantage is Masse on the backstroke leg, so they need a bounceback year from her as well.

It’s a very small needle for this Canadian relay, but if Canada threads it (a 1:05-mid breaststroker, a 57-second Masse, a full-strength Oleksiak, and MacNeil doing what she does), gold is the ceiling. The US has weaknesses (Huske’s struggle on relays) as does Australia (the health of their breaststrokers), so the opening is there.

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ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

Just for fun, I made a list of all the Canadian women who have OQT/OCTs so far since Jan 2023 to now, and if they picked the Olympic team off of that, it would be:

Maggie (100 Free/100 Fly)
Summer (200-400 Free, 200-400 IM, 200 Fly, 4×100 Free, 4×200 free)
Ella J (400 Free/400 IM, 4×200)
Kylie (100 Back/200 Back)
Ingrid (100 Back/200 Back)
Alexanne (100 Breast)
Shona (100 Breast)
Sydney (200 Breast/200 IM)
Kelsey (200 Breast)
Kat (100 Fly)

Relay only:
Sarah F (4×100 free)
Mary-Sophie (4×100 free, 4×200)
Rebecca (4×100 free, 4×200 free)
Julie (4×200)
Brooklyn (4×200)

That’s assuming Summer wouldn’t swim 800… Read more »

North Sea
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

Here’s my list:

50 free – Maggie (B)
200 free – Summer (A)
400 free – Summer (A) & Ella (A)
100 back – Kylie (A) & Ingrid (A)
200 back – Kylie (A) & Ingrid (A)
100 breast – Alexanne (A)
200 breast – Sydney (B)
100 fly – Maggie (A) & Katherine (A)
200 fly – Summer (A)
200 IM – Summer (A), Sydney (A) & Mary-Sophie (A)
400 IM – Summer (A), Ella (A) & Julie (A)

A: A cut or equivalent; B: B cut or equivalent

North Sea
Reply to  North Sea
4 months ago

Also,

200 IM – Ashley McMillan

North Sea
Reply to  North Sea
4 months ago

and

800 free – Summer

Sub13
Reply to  North Sea
4 months ago

No Canadian women swam even the 100 free B cut in the last year? That’s shocking to me

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 months ago

Maggie was 53.64 at Pan Ams as well.

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  North Sea
4 months ago

Oops, I missed Maggie having the B for 50 free.
But she also has the 100 Free B.
You’re also missing both Sydney and Kelsey having the A for 200 breast (from Pan Ams) and Shona just got the A for 100 Breast.

Not surprised that we have more than 2 with the A standard for the IMs – our deepest events lately.

North Sea
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

Oops on my part too. It is very exciting to see that so many A cuts have been swum by the Canadian women. Can’t wait for Trials.

Swim Dad 2004
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

This article is proof that there are Canadian swimmers (male and female) VERY close to making this year’s team and will surprise many. There are names not being mentioned that are very much part of this conversation! Very excited to see what May will show the swimming community.

Last edited 4 months ago by Swim Dad 2004
ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  Swim Dad 2004
4 months ago

Would love to hear some of those names!

I’ve had my eye on Angove, Lloyd, Kryger. Finlin definitely has a shot for the distance events.

Swim Dad 2004
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

I agree with all of the above and like Shona there could very well be another that will surprise us in a great way!

Todd
4 months ago

I think this article proves Canadian trials and those that making the team will surprise many! Names not being mentioned that will certainly be in the conversation come May.

Last edited 4 months ago by Todd
ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  Todd
4 months ago

Like who?

Dale Nesbitt
4 months ago

Never count out Kelsey Wog. She set the SCM Canadian 100 breast record in December.

justanopinion
4 months ago

The mad irony of all this is now talking about multiple possible podium worthy options at BR, and after years of famine at that spot, now the Bk’er seems to have lost a step and the FR’er (Oleksiak option) clearly doesn’t want to be swimming anymore and has no results to show differently (56.0/2:02 since ’22).
Have to put hard bet that McIntosh is the Freestyler in Paris and hope she can drop a monster split, then Masse has to catch 2020 lightning in a bottle for one race. Ruck is swimming, but she just doesn’t look in good form either (although the switch to Bowman may mean massive fatigue for now….so optimism??).
Weird that Masse is actually… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by justanopinion
Swim fan
Reply to  justanopinion
4 months ago

I’m really hoping Oleksiak proves us all wrong and does amazing things, but if not, I have no doubt Summer will step up to the plate and post an amazing swim.

"we've got a boil-over!"
Reply to  justanopinion
4 months ago

The thing about Masse is that she has been uber consistent her whole career, one of the best backstroke careers in history, but was a bit overlooked and stalled going into 2021. What did she do? Simply dropped 57.7 at Trials to be right back into the Backstroke thick of things all thru Tokyo.
Now for the first time in her career she has taken a small dip this past year. No doubt her coach leaving Toronto, her moving to Spain, age maybe all factors. If this is the best she can do this year, she still finishes her career as one of the best all time. However one thing we should never do…. Is count Kylie out!!

Sherry Smit
4 months ago

Certainly in contention for a medal, but i don’t think anyone gets past USA or AUS. Regan Smith rips a 57.6 let’s say, King a 1:04.9, Huske drops a 55.8, and Douglass at a 51.7, and that will be most likely the winners. If Canada is on 1000%, they could have Masse best case probably 58.1, New Breaststroker a 1:05.9, MacNeil 55.2, and Ruck a 52.8.

Sub13
Reply to  Sherry Smit
4 months ago

That is basically the best case scenario imaginable. Matches Smith, King and Douglass best performance ever and improves Huske’s best ever split by 0.4.

Outside Smoke
Reply to  Sub13
4 months ago

Don’t you understand? Only Americans can get faster. No other country can improve.

Outside Smoke
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 months ago

Oh trust me, as a Canadian I’m hyped for any breaststroker to finally step up and claim their spot on the relay. Dreaming of the Masse renaissance to bring it all together.

But the amount of times I’ve seen people say “this swimmer will win because they’ll pb” without considering the possibility that any other swimmer can also pb is hilarious.

Swimz
4 months ago

“The US has weaknesses (Huske’s struggle on relays)….”
huske never went below 56 s as splits, but she was there with 56s in relays..one bad swim from fukuoka can not lable her as a struggled swimmer, she is one of the greatest swimmer who won multiple medals for USA. At Fukuoka, her experience secure the bronze for them than a DQ..fink took a long wall touch and huske almost got DQ. She had to cover lot of ground..thats what happen..huske is the lock for paris butterfly leg..and she is one of the fastest 100 free sprinters ever that the USa produced..so, she will be a key on relays..you can do reviews but with facts..again, one bad swim does not… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Swimz
jeff
Reply to  Swimz
4 months ago

I would say consistently going slower than your flat start times would very much be described as struggling on relays. In 2022, she was 56.17 and 56.67 on the women’s and mixed medley relays but 55.64 individually. In 2021, she was 56.16 and 56.27 on the same relays but 55.73 individually.

Imonar
4 months ago

“It’s a very small needle for this Canadian relay, but if Canada threads it (a 1:05-mid breaststroker, a 57-second Masse, a full-strength Oleksiak, and MacNeil doing what she does), gold is the ceiling. The US has weaknesses (Huske’s struggle on relays) as does Australia (the health of their breaststrokers), so the opening is there.”

Basically, Canada will win gold if all their four legs improve and both USA&AUS fumble.

phelpsfan
Reply to  Imonar
4 months ago

Butterfly doesn’t need improvement.

Imonar
Reply to  phelpsfan
4 months ago

Okay, then they need Masse to return to her absolute peak circa 2018, Oleksiak to return her pre-party days absolute peak, the breastroker to split 1:05, and both USA&AUS to fumble.

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  Imonar
4 months ago

Minor point, but Masse’s peak was 2021, not 2018.

Sub13
Reply to  Imonar
4 months ago

I think that’s a bit of a simplistic reading. Masse has been 57.7, Mac Neil has been 55.2, Ruck has been 51.7. This are 3 deadly legs. It’s more like “if breast can improve and the other 3 legs can be near their best, they could win gold, even if AUS/USA don’t mess up”

Imonar
Reply to  Sub13
4 months ago

Those are all the fastest splits by the 3 swimmers. None have swum that fast in the last 2 years

Last year:

Masse split 58.74
Maggie MacNeil 55.69

Oleksiak split 52.65 in 2022 Budapest.

Again, you are basically expecting all 3 legs to split their fastest time from older than 2 years ago.

Last edited 4 months ago by Imonar
Imonar
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 months ago

Yes, it basically require all three legs to swim their PB from older than 2 years ago.

Is it possible?

Sure. But how likely is it?

And it also assume that both USA&AUS swam slower.

Troyy
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 months ago

That backstroke is very optimistic and Oleksiak hasn’t shown anything that suggests she’ll be anchoring the medley relay in Paris.

Imonar
Reply to  Troyy
4 months ago

Exactly.

All these hypothetical about Canada w4x100 medley is like saying Australia could split:

57.33 (McKeown), 1:05.57 (Hodges), McKeon (55.72), and C. Campbell (51.00)

Those are their PBs from flat start (McKeown and McKeon) or flying start (Hodges and C. Campbell)

How likely is that?

Last edited 4 months ago by Imonar
Joel
Reply to  Imonar
4 months ago

Pretty sure C1 has done a 50.8 split – maybe twice ? which was incredible.

Imonar
Reply to  Joel
4 months ago

I’ve just checked. Cate swam 50.93 and 51.19 in 2018 Pan Pacs and 51.00 in 2018 Commonwealth.

Troyy
Reply to  Imonar
4 months ago

It’s a shame footage of 2018 PPs and CWGs is hard to come by.

swimfanpm
4 months ago

Faith Knelson seems back in form at Vanderbilt

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  swimfanpm
4 months ago

But is she going to compete at Trials? I don’t think she’s swam in Canada for quite a while.

Her and Jade Hannah totally falling off the scene, when in 2019-2020 they looked so good, has been a big bummer.

OldManSwims
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
4 months ago

The amount of exciting talent Ryan Mallette fumbled into never making an Olympic team in that Victoria centre (Faith Knelson, Jade Hannah, Josh Zakala, Mackenzie Padington, Danielle Hanus) makes me wonder how he ever landed his current job in HPC-Ontario. A place where now, surprise surprise, he’s also running it into the ground.

Marchand Goat
Reply to  OldManSwims
4 months ago

sounds like u have autism

Hahahjdhsjah
Reply to  Marchand Goat
4 months ago

Shouldn’t you be flying?

Marchand Goat
Reply to  Hahahjdhsjah
4 months ago

i be flying on the spectrum

Hahahjdhsjah
Reply to  Marchand Goat
4 months ago

Flying through a 4im maybe

Marchand Goat
Reply to  Hahahjdhsjah
4 months ago

i’m the goat

bum
Reply to  OldManSwims
4 months ago

can you swim 25 meters

Swimfan83973
Reply to  OldManSwims
4 months ago

Ryan didn’t fumble any of those people. Jade Hannah started training with Ben for 2020 trials then got shoulder surgery. Knelson went to ASU and fell off the map, Josh Zakala was having a great run till covid, Padington retired for mental health reasons before Olympic trials and Hanus swam well but Kylie and Taylor swam 58s.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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