Maggie Mac Neil poses with seven medals around her neckAndrew Lahodynskyj/COC
Andrew Lahodynskyj/COC

Magnificent Maggie Mac Neil makes Canadian history at the Pan Am Games

Swimmer Maggie Mac Neil has done what no other Canadian athlete has ever done at one Pan American Games.

She has won five gold medals at Santiago 2023. That sets the record for the most gold medals by a Canadian at one edition of the quadrennial continental games.

Mac Neil won seven total medals in Santiago, as did her fellow swimmer Mary-Sophie Harvey. That ranks them only behind gymnast Willie Weiler who earned eight medals at the 1963 Pan Am Games. That means they are the most decorated Canadian female athletes at one Pan Am Games.

Here’s a quick look back at Maggie’s magnificence over the few years we’ve had the pleasure of watching her compete for Team Canada:

Canada’s queen of the Pan Am pool

Mac Neil certainly left an impression at her first Pan Am Games. Even before the competition began, she could be seen everywhere after having been selected by Panam Sports as one of their athlete ambassadors for Santiago 2023.

From there, she was all over the podium. It started on Day 1 with gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay. On Day 2 came gold in her specialty, the 100m butterfly, and a Pan Am Games record of 56.94 seconds to go with it. She added a bronze in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, swimming a fast third leg that moved Canada into the podium position.

On Day 3, she stood atop the podium once again, winning gold in the 100m freestyle while setting another Pan Am Games record of 53.64. Before the day was done, she had added a silver medal with the mixed 4x100m medley relay.

  • Maggie Mac Neil swims butterfly stroke
  • Maggie Mac Neil hangs onto the edge of the pool desk
  • Maggie Mac Neil poses with two other medallists

Day 4 brought gold number four, as she tied for the victory in the 50m freestyle — a stroke and distance she says she’s still getting used to competing internationally.

She closed out the competition on Day 5 with her fifth gold medal in the women’s 4x100m medley relay.

2019: Hello world, meet Maggie

It’s almost hard to believe that it was just four years ago that Mac Neil competed at her first World Aquatics Championships. But what a debut it was. In her first senior international competition, she defeated an absolute star — Swede Sarah Sjöström — to become world champion of the 100m butterfly. Mac Neil swam to a Canadian, Americas, and Commonwealth record time of 55.83 seconds to take down the woman who was the reigning Olympic and four-time world champion as well as the world record holder in the event.

  • Maggie Mac Neil waves from the water while hanging on to edge of pool
  • Maggie Mac Neil poses with two other medallists

Add a couple of bronze medals in the women’s 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays and it’s no surprise that she was named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Swimmer of the Year.

Tokyo 2020: Golden Olympic debut

Mac Neil had to wait a little longer than expected to compete at her first Olympic Games. Like a lot of athletes during the first year of the pandemic, she had to get creative to maintain her momentum, and spent time training in her family’s backyard pool. But that dedication certainly paid off when she finally got the chance to swim in the Olympic lanes.

Maggie Mac Neil gasps at the result after winning gold
Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil wins a gold medal in the women’s 100m butterfly during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC

Mac Neil became Canada’s first gold medallist at Tokyo 2020, cementing her status as the woman to beat in the 100m butterfly. She also opened many eyes to one particularly special skill — her turn. In seventh place after the first 50 metres, she used what would become known as her trademark underwater kick to power into the final 50 metres, getting her to the wall in a new Canadian and Americas record of 55.59 seconds.

She left Tokyo as a triple Olympic medallist, once again a key component of the women’s 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays that won silver and bronze.

Maggie Mac Neil holds up gold medal on podium
Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil wins gold in the women’s 100m butterfly during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Monday, July 26, 2021. Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC

2022: Taking time to take care of herself

While many were anticipating Mac Neil would continue her reign of the 100m butterfly in 2022, she was not afraid to do what was best for her.

Though she had always thought of herself as “invincible”, being an Olympic and world champion brought with it more pressure and anxiety. She bravely voiced her concerns about the challenges she was experiencing and with the support of Swimming Canada a plan was made. Mac Neil still wanted to represent Canada, but she took a step back and only swam in relay events at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships. She came home from Budapest content with the silver and bronze medals won in the women’s 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays.

Four Canadian swimmers pose with their silver medals
Maggie Mac Neil (lower right) with teammates Kayla Sanchez, Taylor Ruck, and Penny Oleksiak after winning silver in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary (Swimming Canada/Jo Kleindl)

2023: Back on the butterfly podium

Having given her mental health the focus it needed, Mac Neil was well prepared to return to racing at the top level as an individual in 2023. At the World Aquatics Championships, she got back onto the podium in the 100m butterfly, winning the silver medal. And as had become the norm over the last four years, Mac Neil took her spot in swimming the butterfly leg of the women’s 4x100m medley relay, earning another bronze medal.

Maggie Mac Neil holds up her silver medal hung around her neck
Maggie Mac Neil with her silver medal won in the 100m butterfly at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

Still just 23 years old, Mac Neil is most definitely a true leader for Team Canada, both in and out of the water.