Maggie Mac Neil golden as FINA World Cup returns to Canada after COVID-19

TORONTO — Dozens of children leaned over the gallery railing at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, shouting to their swimming heroes, begging for an autograph.

"Maggie!" "Kylie!" "Penny!" "Summer!" "Sydney!"

The chorus of piping young voices was at its loudest as Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., finished the women's 100-metre butterfly in 54.78 seconds on Sunday to set a Canadian record and finish atop the podium. She also finished the weekend as the overall points winner, with 58.5 points.

"It makes me so proud," said the 22-year-old Mac Neil on the pool's deck as children called to her. "I'm still kind of getting used to my role, but I'm hoping I'm doing everyone proud.

"It means so much to have their support, and it's been great to have them cheering in the crowd this weekend."

Sweden's Louise Hansson (55.02) and Brazil's Giovanna Tomanik Diamante (57.41) rounded out the podium in the women's 100-metre butterfly.

Katerine Savard (57.68) of Pont-Rouge, Que., was fourth.

Canada finished with five golds, nine silvers and seven bronze at the World Cup, second only to the United States.

Although the 2,300-seat venue hosted the Canadian Olympic trials last summer ahead of the Tokyo Games, the viewing galleries were empty then due to COVID-19 protocols. This weekend, however, the stands were packed.

American Beata Nelson (2:00.50) took gold in the women's 200-metre backstroke, with Canadians taking the next three spots.

Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., earned silver in 2:02.21, Toronto's Summer McIntosh (2:02.85) took bronze, and Calgary's Ingrid Wilm finished just off the podium in 2:02.94.

Masse is now fourth in the season's overall women's rankings. She hopes the event would inspire young kids to pursue their dreams and see what they can achieve in swimming.

"I think that's the ultimate goal," said Masse after signing swim caps, flutter boards, flags, and even winter coats. "It would be amazing to see swimming in Canada be like hockey or like soccer or like baseball, basketball.

"I think that's something that we all hope for and hope that we can leave an impact and a legacy in this sport so that swimming becomes more popular in Canada."

Nelson also won gold in the women's 200 medley in 2:05.08 to finish second in the weekend's overall women's rankings with 58.3 points. Halifax's Sydney Pickrem was second in 2:05.23, and McIntosh took her second medal of the day in 2:06.57.

Bailey Andison of Smiths Falls, Ont., was fourth, Winnipeg's Kelsey Wog was fifth, Ashley McMillan of Penticton, B.C., was sixth, Ella Jansen of Burlington, Ont., was seventh and Mary-Sophie Harvey of Laval, Que., was eighth.

Pickrem trained at the facility in Toronto's east end for nearly 18 months during the heaviest days of the pandemic. She said it was thrilling to finally compete in front of Canadian fans and show how much Swimming Canada's program has come in the past four years.

"I think it's amazing for Canada to see this high level of competition," she said after signing autographs. "To know that Canada is in it and we have been for the past couple of years and it's just really cool to bring it home for them."

Other notable Canadian results included Toronto's Javier Acevedo taking fourth in the men's 100-metre backstroke, Josh Liendo of Markham, Ont., finishing sixth in the men's 50-metre butterfly, Sophie Angus placing seventh in the women's 50-metre breaststroke, and Mac Neil swimming to fifth in the women's 100-metre freestyle.

Indianapolis will host the next World Cup stop from Nov. 3-5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press