Maggie MacNeil swimming the 100m butterflyDarren Calabrese/COC
Darren Calabrese/COC

Maggie Mac Neil races towards Paris 2024

Maggie Mac Neil, reigning Olympic champion in the 100m butterfly, has her sights firmly set on Paris 2024. The three-time Olympic medallist will race to secure her place on Team Canada along with the rest of the country’s top talent, at the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Trials on May 13-19.

The Trials, which were originally set to take place in Montreal, were moved to Toronto’s Pan Am Sports Centre, after a fire at Montreal’s Olympic Park left the original venue unsuitable for competition. The Toronto venue is no stranger to fast swimming, having been the location Team Canada’s 2023 World Championship Trials, which saw Summer McIntosh set two world records. chatted with Mac Neil ahead of the meet about training, trials, and the Olympic experience. What’s something that people don’t know or get wrong about swimming?

MM: Growing up, I always got the question, “Did you win your meet?” which isn’t really a thing for swimming. You can win an event, but you don’t usually win a meet. What’s your approach to this season? Are you tackling anything differently than previous years?

MM: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say I’m doing anything differently. Just training harder and trying to keep things as similar as they’ve been in the past because it’s worked well.

This is the first year I haven’t done a lot of competitions. Usually I compete a lot more, but I’m excited to get a good block of training in.

Maggie Mac Neil poses with seven medals around her neck
Maggie Mac Neil of Canada poses for a photo with her seven medals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. Photo by Andrew Lahodynskyj/COC Do you like the longer blocks of training versus a lot of racing? 

MM: I always love racing more than training. I usually like to compete more often just to see where I’m at, but I think with where I am in my training so far, I think training isn’t a bad thing. I’m excited to kind of just put my head down and get some good work done. Is there a particular workout or session that makes you feel really ready to compete? 

MM: I really love anything race pace where I can get up to full speed. I do a lot of aerobic work, so it’s fun when I can just go fast. 

READ: Magnificent Maggie Mac Neil makes Canadian history at the Pan Am Games How is the experience different when you’re competing in a relay versus an individual event?

MM: Relays are so much more fun. They bring a new kind of pressure because you want to do well for yourself and for the three other people. But they’re always just so much more fun and the pressure doesn’t feel as scary.

From right to left, Kylie Masse, Sophie Angus, Maggie Mac Neil and Summer McIntosh, bronze medalists in the women’s 4x100m medley relay at the 2023 World Aquatics World Championships. Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol Can you describe the experience of being at the Olympic trials? How is it different from other meets?

MM: The Olympic trials are obviously more pressure, but it feels like any other normal competition. My only Olympic trials that I remember really were during COVID, obviously, where we didn’t have spectators. I also competed in 2016, but I don’t remember that one as vividly. 

READ: Best of 2023: Champions who returned to glory What advice would you give your younger self if you could go back in time? 

MM: “You’re doing everything right.” I think I made a lot of sacrifices–I missed sleepovers, I missed my grade eight field trip, things like that, which seemed like a lot at the time, but it was all worth it.

Maggie MacNeil waves in front of cameras
Canadian swimmer Margaret MacNeil wins gold in the Women’s 100m Butterfly during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Monday, July 26, 2021. Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC And what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received from a coach?

MM: My coach always says, “Just swim like you have nothing to lose because you’ve accomplished everything already.” So I think when I can have fun and have that mentality, I tend to swim a lot better. Lots of people remember your performances as special Olympic moments. Do you have any favorite moments as a fan or as a spectator yourself that you’ve witnessed? 

MM: I loved watching the women’s soccer team win! I watched it in my cottage when I got home. It didn’t feel like the Olympics until I was home watching it, because that’s where I’d always watched it.

It was kind of hard to believe that I was there and I did that. But yeah, it’s always fun to watch with my family.