Canadian swimmer Maggie MacNeil won gold medal in Korea. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian swimmer Maggie MacNeil swims to world gold

GWANGJU, Korea, Republic Of — Canadian swimmer Maggie MacNeil has won the country’s first gold medal at the world aquatics championships.

The 19-year-old from London, Ont., competing on her first senior national team, stunned many observers by winning the women’s 100 metre butterfly on Monday.

MacNeil set a Canadian record with a time of 55.83 seconds, 0.39 seconds ahead of reigning Olympic champ and world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.

Emma McKeon of Australia was third. Sjostrom had won the title four times.

Sjostrom took it out strong, dipping under her world-record pace on the first lap, while MacNeil was in fifth.

But MacNeil roared back with the fastest closing lap — 29.06 — of the eight-woman final and touched first.

After receiving their medals, the three women gathered on the top podium spot and raised their palms to the crowd, displaying a message to ailing 19-year-old Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee.

“Rikako never give up” it read, with hearts decorating their palms. Sjostrom came up with the idea.

Ikee announced in February that she has leukemia. She was the world junior champion in the 100 fly and had the fastest time in the world last year. She is aiming to return in time to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

“We’re hoping this will show that we’re supporting her and we’re here if she needs anything,” said MacNeil.

Canada captured a second medal later Monday when U.S-Canadian dual citizen Sydney Pickrem took bronze in the women’s 200 metre individual medley.

Meanwhile, Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., and Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., advanced to the final of the women’s 100 metre backstroke. Masse, the reigning world champ, won her semifinal.

It was MacNeil’s second medal in as many days. The University of Michigan student teamed with fellow teenagers Ruck, Penny Oleksiak and Kayla Sanchez to win bronze in the 4×100 metre freestyle relay on Sunday.

Canada now has one gold, two silver and three bronze medals at the two-week long event, featuring swimming, artistic swimming, diving and water polo.

— With files from The Associated Press

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