RIO DE JANEIRO – Star swimmer Penny Oleksiak will carry the Canadian flag into Maracana Stadium for tonight’s Olympic closing ceremony.
The 16-year-old from Toronto won four medals in Rio, including Canada’s first gold.
She will lead a Canadian contingent that appears is on pace to surpass its goal in Rio of finishing in the top 12 in the overall medal count.
Heading into Sunday, Canada had 22 medals – four better than the 18 won in London four years ago – and was 10th in the medal standings.
Oleksiak seemingly came out of nowhere to lead Canada’s swim team to six medals in Rio.
She started the haul by leading Canada to bronze in the 4×100 freestyle relay on the first Saturday of competition, then rocketed to silver in the 100 butterfly the following night. There was another relay bronze before she surged to gold in the 100 freestyle on the penultimate day of the swim meet.
She became Canada’s most decorated swimmer at a single Games and appears on track to eventually become Canada’s most decorated Olympian ever.
Speedskater Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes, in both speedskating and cycling, are tied for the most career Olympic medals with six apiece.
Oleksiak boasts the physical gifts of a long, lean, tapered body like a torpedo. She trains in a quality environment in the pool that was the swim venue for last year’s Pan American Games.
Her coach Ben Titley says the sky is the limit for Oleksiak, if she wants it.
“If you want to be great, great is about being successful over a long period of time,” Titley said last weekend after the swim meet had ended. “It’s not my role to put limits on anybody or anything. Anything is possible as long as you give it the time dedication and if you have the talent to excel at that, you’re capable of everything.
“It would be my intention that Penny actually become Canada’s most successful Summer Olympian. Why can’t Penny be the most medal-winning athlete in the history of Canada?”
Soccer star Christine Sinclair carried the flag into the closing at the London Olympics four years ago after leading Canada to a bronze medal. Gold-medal winning trampolinist Rosie MacLennan was the flag-bearer at the opening ceremony two weeks ago.