Oleksiak feels 'more prepared and more confident' heading into 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Heading into the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak was a 16-year-old rookie competing in her first Olympics. Oleksiak would smash any expectations set upon her, winning four medals; the most won by a Canadian athlete in any Summer Olympics and became the youngest ever Canadian gold medallist. Now with the Tokyo Summer Olympics seven months away, Oleksiak will be a veteran at age 20, armoured with a different set of expectations.
“Right now I’d say I’m pretty excited for Tokyo,” Oleksiak told TSN.ca. “I’ve been really, really motivated this year and I think I’ve been training almost better than I have been in the past four or five years even before Rio so it’s super fun.”
To prepare for Tokyo, Oleksiak trains six days a week, sometimes twice a day, with each session lasting three to three and a half hours. She trains alongside other Canadian swimmers vying to make the women’s relay team with Oleksiak admitting it can get very competitive as they push each other in hopes to best Rio’s bronze-medal performance.
As for whether the competitiveness crosses the line into chirping, Oleksiak said “I wouldn’t say so but I think it would make it more exciting. I feel like swimmers are pretty tame.”
For the 19-year-old, it has been an adjustment being referred to as an Olympic gold medallist and the pressure that comes with that.
“I think before when people would say I was an Olympic gold medallist, I used to let that get to me and get really worried about it, and nervous going into races, or any events like that,” said Oleksiak.
“But then I’ve kind of learned to use that more to empower me when I’m behind the blocks and that gets announced or something and kind of just own it and know that I’ve done that and I can do it again hopefully.”
Oleksiak took a break from swimming in the summer of 2018, which helped her to reset going into the next two years of training for Tokyo and reinvigorate her love for swimming. As for a turning point in accepting her success, she points to maturing as an athlete and as a person.
“I’d say it’s more just kind of maturing and growing into it, and growing into self-confidence almost,” Oleksiak said. “I think when you’re 15, 16 you’re still figuring yourself out and figuring your life out and I even still am now for sure but I’m definitely learning how to accept what I’ve done more and be better if I can be.”
Her success as an Olympian has led to Oleksiak taking on a role with RBC Training Ground, the official Olympic talent search for athletes aged 14-25 looking to see if they might be suited to an Olympic sport. One success story is cyclist Kelsey Mitchell, who was a varsity soccer player when she was discovered three years ago. She is now a world record holder in track cycling. Oleksiak’s role includes showing up to encourage the athletes and inspire them to try a new sport. For her, the RBC Training Ground influence hits extra close to home.
“My sister actually went to one and she’s 25,” said Oleksiak. “The age cut-off is 14 to 25 years old. She originally signed up because she thought it was funny to sign up. She just quit rowing and she finished school and everything so she wasn’t even going to do it but I told her to just do it and see how it goes and she got picked up by Bobsled Canada. It’s just cool to see her be so excited and invested in sport again and hopefully the next Olympics she’ll be there.”
Canada went into the Rio Olympics as a bit of an underdog in swimming. However, after winning six medals in 2016, the expectations have changed for Canada’s swimmers heading to Tokyo. Oleksiak has matured in learning to deal with the pressure and is ready to see what’s next.
“I think it’s super awesome to know we’re going in with such a presence this time around and especially with the girls we have that could potentially be on the relays,” said Oleksiak. “It’ll be really exciting to see what we can do and not just in relays but individual events as well.”