Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Swimming – Women’s 100m Butterfly – Final – Tokyo Aquatics Centre – Tokyo, Japan – July 26, 2021. Margaret MacNeil of Canada reacts after wining. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
Without her contact lenses, Margaret MacNeil could not see who won gold in the women’s 100m butterfly on Monday but the Canadian said she had a good feeling about it when she heard her name being called after a tight finish at the Tokyo pool.
The 21-year old gasped in shock as she squinted at the timing board, which showed her in top spot with a time of 55.59, ahead of favourites Zhang Yufei of China (55.64) and Australia’s Emma McKeon (55.72).
Both Zhang and McKeon had faster times than MacNeil going into the final, with the Canadian racing from the seventh lane.
But rather than being a hindrance, MacNeil, who goes by the name Maggie, said she benefited from being away from the favourites in the middle lanes.
“I could hardly see anyone on the far side of the pool, which I think helped me a lot, because I was able to just focus on my own race,” said MacNeil, who had put her glasses on for the news conference.
“I just put my head down and tried to get to the wall as fast as possible.”
MacNeil’s idol, Rio champion and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom, was well off the pace, finishing seventh in 56.91.
The Canadian had announced herself on the global swimming stage by beating Swede Sjostrom for the first time at the 2019 World Championships.
Zhang, who took silver, said she felt quite close to MacNeil, who was born in China.
“I feel that she is a family member,” said Zhang.
Bronze medallist McKeon was hugely impressed with MacNeil’s time, which was pushing Sjostrom’s world record of 55.48.
“It’s close to the record. Anyone who swims under 56 is pretty impressive,” she added.
MacNeil, who suffers from severe asthma and has had to focus on shorter distance events, won a silver as part of the Canadian 4x100m freestyle relay on Sunday.
The gold will take some time to get used to.
“I still don’t think I’ve realised the whole world champion thing, so this will take a while to get used to it.”