Canadian teenage swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak landed in Toronto on Tuesday to a hero’s welcome following her historic Olympic performance in the pool in Rio and is already embracing her status as an athletic star despite her youth.
“I love seeing people telling me how supportive they are of me, what I’m doing,” said the 16-year-old, who picked up a gold, a silver, and two bronze medals at the Rio Games.
“Just to be able to know that you’re an inspiration to kids and everything, it’s a pretty great feeling.”
Oleksiak was part of the first Team Canada group to arrive at Pearson International Airport early Tuesday morning with the next two flights scheduled for Wednesday.
The swimming star, who is heading into Grade 11 this fall, said she’s eager to spend the next couple weeks with family, friends and a new pet.
“I got a kitten a few days ago. I’m just excited to see her and to also see my dog, my family, my friends and everything,” she told reporters. “Just to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while.”
Residents in Oleksiak’s east-end Toronto neighbourhood are planning a celebration for her return, tentatively planned for Aug. 28.
Johanna Carlo, a board member of the Beach Village Business Improvement Area, says the group has applied for a permit to hold a big party for Oleksiak and other athletes who have lived in the neighbourhood.
Carlo says they’re planning on having live music and she’s hoping people will bring home-made signs and wear red and white.
Meanwhile, the competitive spirit is still very much alive and well for Oleksiak as she now sets her eyes on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“To be able to come out of Rio and have a gold medal, it’s setting the bar pretty high for 2020,” she said.
“I don’t know if that was testing out the waters anymore but it’s definitely boosted my confidence into 2020.”
-With a file from The Canadian Press