TOKYO — Welcome to the six-medal club.
But don’t stop now.
Swimming powerhouse Penny Oleksiak has already made history in the pool at Tokyo 2020, picking up a pair of shiny souvenirs to boost her career total to a half-dozen and to join Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen as the most decorated Canadian Olympians of all-time.
While the speedskating legends don’t mind sharing their perch with Oleksiak, they would prefer it be brief.
“I hope she smashes that record,” Klassen said.
Hughes agrees wholeheartedly. She is currently on a backcountry trip and wasn’t available for an interview but when she managed to find a bar of cell service, she was anxious to pass along this message.
“I want everyone to know I’m stoked and hope she breaks this record if she already has not!”
She hasn’t … yet.
Oleksiak & Co. just barely missed the podium during Thursday’s 4×200 freestyle relay, finishing fourth.
That crew — also including Summer McIntosh, Rebecca Smith and Kayla Sanchez — set a Canadian record with a clocking of 7:43.77.
Just how fast was this race? The Australians bettered the previous world record and settled for third. Whoa.
Oleksiak still has two more opportunities to add to her medal haul in Tokyo, including the 100-metre freestyle, the event that produced her golden moment in Rio in 2016, and the 4x100m medley relay. She will certainly be one of the favourites in that final, a showdown that is scheduled for Friday morning in Japan but will be must-see late-night TV back home. (The starting gun goes Thursday at 9:59 p.m. ET, and these speedsters will be done by 10.)
“It’s really exciting seeing her in the pool. You get on the edge of your seat,” Klassen said of Oleksiak. “You just root for her and you’re just so excited to see what she can do next.”
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Klassen knows a thing or two — or six — about bringing Canadians to the edge of their seats.
She was the story of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, piling up five medals on the speedskating oval. That bolstered a collection she’d started in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Hughes was among the fastest in the world in two separate sports. She earned two podium appearances as a cyclist at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, then four more on those long blades between 2002-10. In fact, she and Klassen — both are from Winnipeg originally and now live in Alberta — won silver together in team pursuit in Turin.
Everybody can appreciate what Oleksiak is accomplishing, but only these two can relate.
This talented Torontonian burst on scene as a 16-year-old in Rio, bringing four medals back from Brazil. Still only 21, she anchored Canada’s 4×100 freestyle relay to silver for Canada’s first medal in Tokyo, then claimed another keepsake when she battled back for bronze in the 200.
“I honestly haven’t seen my Rio medals in a while — my mom put them in a safe as soon as she could,” Oleksiak told reporters after that record-setting splash. “But I think after this Olympics, I’m going to take them all and put them somewhere. In my drawer or something, I don’t know.”
It’d better be a sturdy drawer.
Klassen, now a police officer and mom, choked back tears when asked what a stash of medals will mean to Oleksiak once her competitive career is done.
That tells you a lot.
“You kind of got me emotional … I can’t believe it,” Klassen replied. “I just think she’s going to look back and see how many great memories she has, not just winning the medals but more importantly the friendships that she made along the way and the people that were there for her and the support she has through her coaches, her teammates and also the support she’s had through Canada.
“I don’t think it’s just going to be about the medals. It’s all of the experiences and the memories that she’s had, and it’s going to be those friendships and relationships that she has built through sport that are going to be with her 20, 30, 40 years down the road. That’s what is so important.”
Twenty, thirty, forty years down the road, there will be a new wave of Olympians making Canada proud.
Perhaps, they’ll be chasing history. Maybe they’ll still be chasing Oleksiak.
Can she win a seventh? Wouldn’t eight be great?
The other members of the six-medal club certainly hope she’s not done yet.
“She is such a phenomenal athlete,” Klassen said. “And she’s only 21. She could be going to the next Olympics, too, and after that, as well. It’s just so inspiring to see such a young Canadian doing so well. It’s inspiring to our whole nation, but more importantly to our young athletes and young children, just to look up to her and see her race.
“And watching her, she seems so down-to-earth. She just seems like a great person, someone you’d want all Canadians to be looking up to. She’s just an inspiration for so many people.”