Maggie MacNeil of London, Ont., knocked off three-time world champion and defending Olympic gold medallist Sarah Sjostrom to win the women’s 100-metre butterfly, posting a Canadian-record time of 55.83 seconds at the world aquatics championships on Monday.
Early on, Sjostrom was nearly one second ahead of MacNeil, who was fifth, but the Canadian took charge and caught the reigning Olympic champion with the fastest closing lap — 29.06 — of the eight-woman final and touched first. MacNeil not only handed the Swede her first loss in the event since 2013 but captured Canada’s first gold medal at these worlds.
The 19-year-old MacNeil, making her worlds debut on the senior national team, turned in the eighth-fastest performance of all-time and is the second-fastest woman in history. She is also just the second female Canadian swimmer to ever win a world title, joining Kylie Masse, who won the 100 backstroke two years ago at worlds.
“I was really hoping just to get on the podium,” MacNeil said, “but getting a gold is just unbelievable.”
MacNeil’s improvement arc this past year has been nothing short of sensational, according to CBC Sports swim analyst Byron MacDonald.
“A three-second drop in a best time is unheard of. She was already identified as a future talent but the future has come very quickly, indeed,” says the University of Toronto swim coach. “She has a devastating kick and her turn is a difference-maker.”
MacDonald adds the “very intelligent” MacNeil never appears to be affected by the pressure of being on the big stage.
Sjostrom was denied a record fifth title, crossing the line in 56.22, while Emma McKeon of Australia was third on Monday in 56.61. McKeon was second to Sjostrom in the 100 butterfly in the 2017 world final.
MacNeil, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Michigan, was part of the Canadian women’s 4×100 freestyle relay team that won a bronze medal on Sunday at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.
In February, she won individual titles in the 50 freestyle (21.65) and 100 fly (49.59) at the Big Ten championships in Bloomington, Ind., before placing second in the 100 fly (49.66) at the NCAA championships in March at Austin, Texas.
MacNeil’s victory on Monday upped Canada’s medal total to five in Gwangju, with two silver and two bronze at the two-week event that features swimming, artistic swimming, diving and water polo.
Pickrem collects bronze in 200m medley
Canada’s Syndey Pickrem challenged for the lead over the last 50 metres of the women’s 200 individual medley final on Monday but came up short, placing third in two minutes 8.70 seconds.
Katinka Hosszu, the unbeatable Hungarian, prevailed in a 2019 world-leading time of 2:07.53 for her fourth consecutive gold medal in the 200 IM at worlds. The 2016 Olympic gold medallist is also the three-time defending world champion in the 400 IM. Ye Shiwen of China rounded out the podium on Monday in 2:08.60.
“It might seem just another gold medal but for me it’s really special to be here and be able to win,” said Hosszu, who last year filed for divorce from her husband and training partner. “It’s been a tough journey.”
The 22-year-old Pickrem, a dual Canadian/American citizen, shone at the recent FINA Champions Swim Series in Indianapolis, finishing second in the 200 medley. Her 2:08.61 put her just behind Hosszu (2:08.50) and ahead of Melanie Margalis (2:10.41) of the United States.
Japan’s Yui Ohashi, who was considered a medal contender on Monday, was disqualified from the race.
Masse top qualifier for 100 backstroke final
But Masse’s time had a much shorter shelf life as American Kathleen Baker swam 58-flat at the U.S. swimming championships last July.
Peaty captures men’s breaststroke title
Adam Peaty on Monday became the first man to win a third 100-metre breaststroke title at worlds.
The British swimmer claimed the title in 57.14 seconds, a night after he became the first man to break 57 seconds in the semifinals. Peaty was under his own world-record pace at the turn before coming home a full body-length in front and 1.32 seconds ahead of teammate James Wilby.
In the semifinals, the 2016 Olympic champion was timed in 56.88. Wilby touched in 58.46 and Yan Zibei of China was third in 58.63.
“That’ll fuel me for next year because I know how bad I want to clear 56 even faster now,” Peaty said. “I know exactly how to do it but I’ve obviously run out of opportunities here.”
Horton given warning for podium protest
China’s Sun Yang was back in the pool for the 200 freestyle semifinals a night after winning the 400 free. He qualified second-fastest behind Clyde Lewis of Australia. The final is Tuesday night.
Earlier Monday, FINA’s executive board met in Gwangju to discuss Mack Horton’s podium protest against Sun and decided to send a warning letter to Swimming Australia and to Horton.
“While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context,” the board said in a statement.
Horton refused to take his spot on the medals stand or shake Sun’s hand after finishing second to the Chinese star in the 400 free. The Aussie swimmer is angry that Sun, who served a three-month doping suspension in 2014, is being allowed to compete in Gwangju before he faces a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that could potentially end his career.