Standing atop the Olympic podium, Maggie Mac Neil flashed a double “thumbs up” to the small but vocal crowd of staff and teammates that watched her pick up Canada’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics.
The swimmer’s casually cool gesture at an event that carries a sense of occasion illustrated the unflappable nature Mac Neil had demonstrated moments ago in the Tokyo Aquatic Centre, when she mowed through the competition in the second length of the women’s 100-metre butterfly to touch the wall first.
Entering the turn seventh out of eight swimmers, Mac Neil responded with a second 50 metres 0.84 seconds faster than her closest competitor to win in 55.59 seconds, an America’s record and the third-fastest time in the history of the event.
“I’m not usually out as fast,” Mac Neil said Monday after her win. “I need a little bit more time to get going. The second 50 is always my sweet spot and where I feel the most comfortable.”
She needed all that “sweet spot” had to offer in this race. Mac Neil finished just 0.05 seconds ahead of China’s Zhang Yufei. Australia’s Emma McKeon was third in 55.72 seconds.
Mac Neil now adds Olympic champion to her swimming resume, a complement to the world title she won two years ago in Gwangju, South Korea.
Later Monday, Jessica Klimkait won Canada’s first ever women’s judo medal, taking bronze in the under-57-kilogram division. That gave Canada multiple medals for the second straight day in Tokyo.
Mac Neil knew the world title meant she wasn’t going to surprise anyone in Tokyo.
“Coming in with a target on your back is hard in so many ways that I wasn’t really expecting” Mac Neil said. “Going into worlds, I was relatively unknown, so I had that to my advantage.
`”Going in with an expectation that I wanted to do well for myself and my family and friends and teammates that are home, I think that added pressure just makes it a little bit more challenging.”
With Monday’s medals, Canada now has gold, two silver and a bronze at the Games. Canada sits 11th on the official medal table, which prioritizes at the calibre of medals rather than the total, and 10th in overall medals.
With three gold medals Monday, host Japan surged to the top of the medal table with eight gold, two silver and three bronze. The United States (seven gold, three sliver, four bronze) and China (six gold, five silver, seven bronze) were second and third. China led all countries with 18 total medals.
Mac Neil is Canada’s first multi-medallist in Tokyo after combining with Penny Oleksiak, Kayla Sanchez, and Rebecca Smith to win freestyle relay silver on the opening day of finals.
Canada is looking to rack up the medals in the pool in Tokyo after the nation’s women swimmers picked up an impressive six at the 2016 Rio Games. Canadian swimmers came close to picking up two more on Monday.
Toronto’s Summer McIntosh, who at 14 is the youngest athlete on Canada’s Olympic team, was fourth in the women’s 400-metre freestyle. The men’s 4×100 freestyle relay team was also fourth.
More medals from the pool could be on the way soon. World champion backstroker Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., advanced to the 100-metre final with the second-fastest time in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, Oleksiak and McIntosh moved on to the semifinals of the women’s 200 freestyle and Sydney Pickrem advanced to the semifinals of the women’s 200 individual medley.
Meanwhile, at the storied Nippon Budokan, Klimkait won Canada’s second medal of the day when she defeated Kaja Kajzer of Slovenia by waza-ari in a bronze-medal match.
While the medal was historic for Canada, the reigning world champion said she had conflicting emotions Monday.
Klimkait was forced into the bronze-medal match after a tough loss to Sarah Leonie Cysique of France in the semifinals. Cysique won by ippon when Klimkait was assessed her third penalty for a mistimed a grip attempt.
“Obviously the highest step of the podium would have been preferred, but I know that this is the first medal for women’s judo in Canada and I’m happy that it’s me,” she said.
Klimkait opened with a victory over Bulgaria’s Ivelina Ilieva and impressed again in a dominant quarterfinal win over Poland’s Julia Kowalczyk.
Montreal’s Arthur Margelidon had a chance for bronze in the men’s under-73-kilogram category but settled for fifth place when he was submitted by Mongolia’s Tsogtbaatar Tsend-Ochir.
In beach volleyball, Toronto’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Kitchener, Ont., improved to 2-0 in preliminary-round competition with a 2-0 win over Germany’s Julia Sude and Karla Borger. The Canadian duo has yet to drop a set in Tokyo.
In tennis, Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., lost her second-round match 6-2, 6-4 to Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. That leaves the mixed doubles team of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Gabriela Dabrowski as the only Canadian entry left.
In boxing, Montreal’s Caroline Veyre posted a convincing 5-0 win over Croatia’s Nikolina Cacic in the women’s featherweight round of 16. Veyre will take on Italy’s Irma Testa in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Canada’s women’s basketball team opened with a 72-68 loss to Serbia. Nirra Fields led all scorers with 19 points, but the Canadians couldn’t overcome a poor shooting night.
Canada’s men’s rugby sevens team, making its Olympic debut, was defeated 24-0 by Britain and 28-14 by Fiji.
In diving, Vincent Riendeau and Nathan Zsombor-Murray, both from Pointe-Claire, Que., were fifth in the men’s synchronized 10-metre platform.
Tyler Mislawchuk of Oak Bluff, Man., was the top Canadian finisher in the men’s triathlon, finishing 15th.
Host Japan beat Canada 3-1 in men’s volleyball. And in softball, Canada downed Italy 8-1. Next up for Canada is in the bronze-medal game Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2021.