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Penny Oleksiak on track to defend Olympic gold in 100-metre freestyle

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Canada's Penny Oleksiak came on strong late in her Olympic 100-metre freestyle heat, posting a time of 52.95 seconds to qualify sixth for Wednesday's semifinals at 9:53 p.m. ET in Tokyo. The 21-year-old from Toronto is looking to defend her title. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Canada's Penny Oleksiak came on strong late in her Olympic 100-metre freestyle heat, posting a time of 52.95 seconds to qualify sixth for Wednesday's semifinals at 9:53 p.m. ET in Tokyo. The 21-year-old from Toronto is looking to defend her title. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

It isn't time for Penny Oleksiak, the story for Canada so far at the Tokyo Olympics, to let up in the pool just yet.

Less than 12 hours after securing the sixth medal of her Olympic swimming career and most by a Canadian at a Summer Games — bronze in the women's 200-metre freestyle — she was focused on becoming the country's most decorated Olympian, period.

The 21-year-old was solid in the final metres of the women's 100 free on Wednesday, finishing second in her heat in 52.95 seconds behind Australia's Cate Campbell (52.80) and sixth amongst 16 qualifiers for the semifinals on Thursday in Tokyo (Wednesday in Canada, at 9:53 p.m. ET).

Emma McKeown, Campbell's compatriot, was the fastest qualifier in an Olympic record 52.13.

"I just wanted to get into the semis," Oleksiak told Swimming Canada.

Toronto's Kayla Sanchez, who joined Oleksiak in helping the Canadian women to 100 free relay silver earlier at these Games, picked up the pace late in Wednesday's heats to qualify 10th in a personal-best 53.12.

WATCH | Canada's Oleksiak, Sanchez advance to 100m freestyle semis:

"Going 53 low has been a big goal of mine," said Sanchez, who had shoulder surgery in September 2020. "I was getting closer and closer and I'm just happy I'm showing progress."

Earlier in the day, Oleksiak posted a time of one minute 54.70 seconds in the 200 free final for a PB, eclipsing the five career Olympic medals earned by Canadian rower Lesley Thompson-Willie and sprinter Phil Edwards. Speed skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen also have six.

"I love stepping up to the occasion," Oleksiak told CBC Sports. "Being able to step up on the world stage when everyone is watching is very exciting. It's just awesome to be part of Team Canada."

WATCH | Oleksiak reflects on her 4-medal Olympic debut in 2016:

The Toronto native is looking to defend gold from her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio, where she delivered a 52.70 PB and picked up three other medals — a silver and two bronze.

Canada's reigning Olympic relay bronze medallists in final

The 100 free final at Tokyo Aquatics Centre is scheduled for Thursday at 9:59 p.m. ET.

Later Wednesday, Oleksiak skipped the 200 free relay heats as Katerine Savard, Rebecca Smith, Mary-Sophie Harvey and Sydney Pickrem qualified fourth of eight teams in 7:51.52 for Wednesday's final at 11:30 p.m. ET. But Oleksiak is expected to return for that race in hopes of guiding the reigning Olympic bronze medallists to another podium finish.

The 2019 world champions from Australia posted the fastest time overall in 7:44.61 on Wednesday.

Pickrem, fresh off a sixth-place performance in the women's 200 individual medley final, sat out Wednesday's 200 breaststroke heats. The Halifax native also pulled out of the 400 IM on the weekend due to illness unrelated to COVID-19.

Winnipeg resident Kelsey Wog was the 16th and final qualifier for the women's 200 breaststroke semifinals, set for 10:54 p.m. ET on Wednesday, after touching the wall in 2:24.27 in her heat.

"The race felt good and I was happy to make it to semis although I was a little nervous about where I would rank," Wog, who was sixth at 2019 worlds, said. "I know I got a little bit more in the tank so I'm looking forward to that."

Meanwhile, Italy's disqualification in the women's 4x200 free relay heats might have spelled the end of 32-year-old Federica Pellegrini's Summer Games career. The five-time Olympian remains the world record holder in the 200 free with a 1:52.98 clocking.

In men's 200 backstroke, Markus Thormeyer of Delta, B.C., lost ground over the final 50 metres and stopped the clock in 1:57.85 for 16th spot to advance to the semifinals after failing to qualify in the 100 event.

"There's no easy races at the Olympics," said Thormeyer, who placed eighth at worlds two years ago. "I kind of blew up at the end but I liked the first half."

First-time Olympian Finlay Knox of Okotoks, Alta., missed qualifying for the men's 200 IM semifinals by 15-100ths of a second, finishing 17th in 1:58.29. Japan's Seto Daiya went 1:58.15 to grab the final spot.

Knox, 20, became the first Canadian inside 1:59 when he took down Keith Beavers' 1:59.19 heats performance from the 2008 Games last month at Olympic trials, setting a national record of 1:58.88 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

WATCH | Canadian swimmers faced tough training conditions in pandemic:

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