Olympic swimming star Penny Oleksiak named Canada’s athlete of the year

Canada's Penny Oleksiak holds up her four medals she won at the 2016 Summer Olympics during a news conference Sunday, August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

TORONTO – You could excuse Penny Oleksiak for being a little distracted during her high school law class on Tuesday.

After winning four Olympic medals last summer in Rio, she knew she was in the mix for the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year. Oleksiak’s teacher let her check her phone during class and the 16-year-old swimmer eventually got the news she was looking for.

Oleksiak was named the winner of the Toronto Star award, selected annually by a panel of sports journalists from across the country.

“It was pretty exciting when I found out,” Oleksiak said on a conference call. “One of my teachers, Mr. McAlpine, is across the hallway. He was like freaking out after class when he found out. So that was fun.”

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It was the latest accomplishment in what has been a dream year for the Toronto swimmer.

Oleksiak, who won Olympic gold in the 100-metre freestyle, served as Canadian flag-bearer at the closing ceremony at Maracana Stadium. She added four more medals at the short-course world championship this month in Windsor.

READ MORE: Penny Oleksiak embraces star status after picking up 4 medals

“I think I really learned that I’m stronger than I think,” Oleksiak said of her season. “I want to say that just because going into Rio, I definitely had my doubts about myself. I didn’t think I’d be able to even get into finals.

“I think I proved to myself that I trained pretty hard last year and that I was able to exceed expectations.”

Oleksiak edged Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby for the honour. Other finalists were sprinter Andre De Grasse, golfer Brooke Henderson, Paralympic swimmer Aurelie Rivard, tennis player Milos Raonic and high jumper Derek Drouin.

“Congratulations ↕OleksiakPenny on winning the #LouMarsh Award – you’ve made Canadians so proud,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price took the honour last year. Oleksiak is the first swimmer to win the trophy since Mark Tewksbury in 1992.

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The Lou Marsh Trophy is named after a former Toronto Star sports editor.

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