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Thormeyer swims to fourth gold medal, while Oleksiak captures win at trials


TORONTO — Four races. Four gold medals.

Markus Thormeyer and coach Tom Johnson drew up a plan for the Canadian swimming trials months ago, and the 21-year-old swimmer executed it to perfection.

Thormeyer won the men's 200-metre freestyle on Saturday, capping a fabulous week that saw him win all four of his races. Quadruple Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak won the women's 200 freestyle, her first victory of the week. 

A Swimming Canada official said it's the first time a swimmer had won all four — 100 and 200-metre backstroke and 100 and 200 freestyle.

"That was a goal since September, it wasn't just like a couple weeks before the meet I was thinking "I want to win everything,'" Thormeyer said. "In September, me and my coach were like: What are some goals, and how will we work from now until trials to achieve these goals? So being able to come up here and do what I've been training to do is amazing."

The Vancouver swimmer set a Canadian record in the 100 backstroke. All four of his wins were personal best times.

"Feels good to cap it off with another win . . . I trained for all (four events), so it feels great to see improvements in all of these races," he said.

Thormeyer touched the wall in one minute 47.60 seconds. Alexander Pratt claimed the silver in 1:48.74. Jeremy Bagshaw and Carson Olafson were third and fourth, respectively, clinching spots on the 4x200-metre relay for the world championships, July 12-28 in Gwangju, South Korea.

Oleksiak swam 1:56.92 to edge Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., (1:56.97) in a thrilling women's freestyle finish.

The victory came a night after Oleksiak, an 18-year-old from Toronto, finished third in the 100 butterfly, the event in which she'd won silver at the Rio Olympics.

"(Friday) night after the fly I was disappointed for maybe a minute," Oleksiak said. "And then I was like: OK, I'm just going to move forward. I have another day of racing. See what happens (Saturday). I just tried to stay as positive as I could and obviously it worked out." 

Ruck, an 18-year-old who captured a record eight medals at last year's Commonwealth Games, was two lanes to Oleksiak's left in the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre pool, and had a narrow edge over the Rio Olympic star with 50 metres to go.

"I always peek to my right, but I peeked to my left for some reason, and I saw Taylor right there, and I'm like 'I can't even believe I'm with Taylor at all because she's insanely fast,'" Oleksiak said. "I just tried to be in the race as much as I could."

Oleksiak is competing in her first major meet since the Commonwealth Games, having taken a brief break from the sport last summer. She graciously signed autographs for one young child seated in the pool's upper bleachers, the child tossing down items to be signed and Oleksiak signing and tossing them back up with a smile.

Kayla Noelle Sanchez and Rebecca Smith were third and fourth in the 200 freestyle, respectively, to secure their spots on the world championship 4x200 relay. 

Oleksiak said she's looking forward to racing the relay at the world championships. 

"Honestly just getting to train with these girls is insane because I'm almost always behind in training because they push themselves every single day and it's always so difficult," Oleksiak said of her three relay teammates. "But getting to train with them and race with them and be on relay teams with them is always amazing because you always know to expect something good from them."

Thormeyer had similarly kind words for his relay teammates.

"I think that a big part of relays is you're not swimming for yourself, you're swimming for your team and your country," he said. "So when you train with these guys and every day just watching them push themselves to the max in the pool, you're like 'I want to swim fast for them, I don't want to let them down, I want to do great, I want this relay to do great, and I want to walk around proud of myself and this team with these boys here.'"

In other races, Faith Knelson won the women's 50-metre breaststroke, while Alexander Milanovich won the men's race.

Mary-Sophie Harvey captured the women's 200 butterfly title, while Mack Darragh was the men's gold medallist.

In para swimming events, Nikita Ens won the multi-class 50-metre breaststroke, while Jacob Brayshaw took the men's gold medal.

Abi Tripp claimed the women's multi-class 100-metre breaststroke, while James Leroux won gold on the men's side.

More than 600 swimmers are this week for spots on six Canadian teams: the FINA world championships, the world para championships, the Pan American Games, the Parapan American Games, the FISU Summer Universiade, and the FINA world junior championships.

The teams will be named Sunday evening.


Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press