World championship next step for Oleksiak

Penny Oleksiak believes she’s swimming faster these days. The world championship will tell her if she’s right.

The 17-year-old Olympic champion from Toronto leads a Canadian team deep in female talent into the pool at the world aquatic championships opening Friday in Budapest, Hungary.

Winner of freestyle gold, butterfly silver and the anchor in a pair of relay bronze in Rio last summer, Oleksiak is as curious as anyone to see how high the needle on her speedometer goes in her world championship debut.

“I think I’m really about to find out,” Oleksiak said Thursday on a conference call. “I haven’t got to race a lot this year, but I’m super-excited just to get in the pool again and race in Budapest.

“I don’t think my approach to world championships is any different than it was going into the Olympics.

“Obviously I’m still a little bit nervous and not really sure what to expect going into it, but I definitely have a bit more confidence because of last summer and because of the racing that I’ve done this year.”

The biannual world aquatic championships also include diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming, so Canada is sending a total of 83 athletes to Budapest.

Canadians won four silver medals in diving and four swimming bronze two years ago in Kazan, Russia.

Diving and synchronized swimming kick off this year’s competition Friday followed by the first open water race Saturday.

The pool portion starts July 23, so Oleksiak and her 25 teammates have a few more days of preparation at their staging camp near Rome.

Oleksiak is encouraged by personal best times in the 50-metre butterfly and freestyle this year.

“I think people will always have expectations for me and people will always try and tell me their expectations to, I guess, motivate me,” she said. “But I don’t pay attention to anyone else’s expectations. I honestly don’t really care.

“I’m definitely trying to reach my own expectations and right now. They’re just to swim fast and to hopefully go around my best times and maybe under them.”

Canada’s women backed up a six-medal performance in Rio by claiming another seven at the world short-course championship in Windsor, Ont., in December.

They won a pair of freestyle relay gold with Oleksiak swimming the anchor.

They were voted The Canadian Press team of the year for 2016, which was just the third time in a half-century a women’s team earned that distinction.

Oleksiak has company among women to watch in Budapest. Winner of Olympic bronze in the 100-metre backstroke, Kylie Masse was less than a tenth of a second off the world record at trials in April.

Masse’s time of 58.21 seconds in Victoria was the fastest this year.

“It definitely gave me confidence and more excitement that’s for sure heading into the summer,” said the 21-year-old from LaSalle, Ont.

“I’ve been really focusing on the smaller skills in the race and have worked a lot on my starts even before the Olympics and after the Olympics.”

Canada boasts a one-two punch in women’s backstroke as Hilary Caldwell of White Rock, B.C., won Olympic bronze in the 200 metres.

“Any time a team has the success like we did last summer, it just lends a certain swagger to everybody on the team,” Caldwell said.

Oleksiak, Winnipeg’s Chantal Van Landeghem, Sandrine Mainville of Boucherville, Que., Toronto’s Michelle Toro and Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., all contributed to the freestyle relay bronzes in Rio and are headed to Budapest.

Double relay medallist Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C. didn’t qualify for the team at trials, but will compete in the world junior championship in August.

Canadian swimmers qualified for 16 finals in Kazan and made it into 15 finals last year in Rio.

“The goals for the team are to build on the results of the last quad,” Swimming Canada high-performance director John Atkinson said. “We’re looking to increase our number of final swims.

“We feel the team has everything at its disposal to be best prepared for performance on demand in Budapest.”

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