Penny Oleksiak stands on the pool desk with a towel draped over the shoulderTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Olympic Swimming Trials: Oleksiak books her ticket to Paris, Tierney breaks national record

We’re into the final stretch of the Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, Presented by Bell. Just two more days of competition remain after Friday night’s excitement at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, which saw Canada’s most decorated Olympian secure her spot at Paris 2024.

After missing out on qualifying in the women’s 200m freestyle earlier in the week, Penny Oleksiak put all her focus on the 100m freestyle — the event in which she won Olympic gold eight years ago at Rio 2016. She was competing at the Trials just four months removed from knee surgery, the latest injury that she has dealt with over the last couple of years.

In the final, Oleksiak jumped out to take the lead through the turn. But soon, she was being challenged by Mary-Sophie Harvey as the two raced for the wall. Oleksiak got her fingers there first, stopping the clock in 53.66. Though it was heartbreakingly five-one hundredths (0.05) of a second shy of the Olympic Qualifying Time for the individual event, she will compete in Paris as a member of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

Penny Oleksiak swimming in a freestyle race
Penny Oleksiak competes in the 100m freestyle at the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto on Friday, May 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Harvey, who is already qualified individually in the 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle, finished second to also earn her spot in that relay. Brooklyn Douthwright and Taylor Ruck, who finished in third and fourth place, respectively, should round out that squad.

Like Oleksiak, Ruck made her Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at Rio 2016 and owns two Olympic bronze medals in the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Next up was the men’s 200m backstroke. Blake Tierney, who had already qualified in the 100m backstroke, took more than two and a half seconds off his personal best as he broke the Canadian record that had stood since 2019. His new national mark of 1:56.74 put him under the Olympic Qualifying Time to earn him entry in a second event.

Blake Tierney sticks out his tongue as he looks at his time while hanging off the pool lane
Blake Tierney reacts after setting a new Canadian record in the 200m backstroke at the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto on Friday, May 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

He said afterwards that he hadn’t focused a lot of his training on the 200m backstroke, but was able to pull from what he’d been working on in the 100m backstroke and 200m freestyle.

“The mindset was definitely a lot less outcome-based, and I felt like a pressure had been lifted off my shoulders after the 100 backstroke and I qualified. So I kind of just went out there, tried to have the best race I could, and didn’t really think about a Canadian record or making the team in it.  I just wanted to have the best time, and I did that, so I’m really happy with it,” said Tierney.

The women’s 200m breaststroke could hardly have been any tighter. Kelsey Wog, who had been the only one to under the Olympic Qualifying Time in the morning prelims, took out the early lead. But in the lane next door, Sydney Pickrem didn’t let her get out of reach. As they headed home through the last 50 metres, they were neck and neck as they both picked up their pace.

Sydney Pickrem swims a breaststroke race
Sydney Pickrem competes in the women’s 200m breaststroke at the 2024 Olympic Swimming Trials Presented by Bell (Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

Pickrem, a two-time world championship bronze medallist in the event in 2019 and 2024, touched in 2:23.79, just one hundredth of a second ahead of Wog, who was fourth at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships. Both beat the Olympic Qualifying Time to book their spots on the Olympic team.

“I was kind of a stress mess today and I’ve been trying to keep my emotions under wraps, so to be able to come here tonight and still get a decent race, obviously it’s not the best, but it’s the job that I needed to get done today and that’s what me and my coaches have all looked forward to doing,” said Pickrem, who expressed gratefulness for her coaches being with her through some tough times as she prepares to part ways with them at the end of the year. “The tears, they’ve literally lifted me up on these days so today they lifted me up and I think that’s why I’m here.”

She was also motivated by watching longtime teammate and friend Oleksiak race earlier in the session.

“You just want everybody to do their best. Pen and I, Pen especially was a baby in 2016 but we’ve grown up achieving Olympic dreams together and that’s really cool, when you can say you went from those ages to now. I’ll be 27 next week so it’s definitely been a ride!” Pickrem chuckled.

Ilya Kharun in a black swim cap swims butterfly stroke
Ilya Kharun competes in the men’s 200m butterfly at the 2024 Olympic Swimming Trials Presented by Bell (Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

Closing out the night’s Olympic program events was the men’s 200m butterfly, featuring one of the fastest rising stars of Canadian swimming, 19-year-old Ilya Kharun. In his first appearance at the World Aquatics Championships last summer, he finished just 0.16 off the podium in fourth place, setting the national record in the event at 1:53.82.

Through the first 150 metres, he was on pace to re-write his own record, but slowed just a little as he raced for home. Still well clear of the field, he posted the second fastest time in the world thus far this year, winning in 1:54.41 to qualify for his first Olympic Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, Presented by Bell, will continue until Sunday at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Preliminary heats begin at 9:30 a.m. ET each day, with the finals sessions starting at 6:00 p.m. each evening. It all leads up to the official announcement of Team Canada’s Paris 2024 swimming team on Sunday night.

All competition sessions are being streamed live on CBC Sports digital platforms (CBC Gem,, CBC Sports app). There is also a nightly highlight show on CBC TV.