Canadian teenage swimmer Taylor Ruck wrapped up a fairy-tale Commonwealth Games on Tuesday with a record-tying eighth medal — a silver in the 4×100 medley relay — then returned to reality at the athletes village.
Making history on the international sports stage apparently doesn’t cut you any slack when it comes to an online English exam scheduled for the day after.
A beaming Ruck, still processing her bumper medal haul of one gold, five silver and two bronze, didn’t seem to mind after a breakthrough six-day competition that saw her win medals in all eight of her events.
“Not in my wildest dreams,” said the 17-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., when asked if she had expected so much hardware.
But Ruck, who won two relay bronze at the Rio Olympics, had served notice she was something special with some eye-popping times since last summer.
“Coming into the competition, I was really excited to see what would come out of it,” she said. “Looking back at all my races and relays, I’m just so happy with how everything was.”
Ruck joins Canadian Ralph Hutton and Australians Susie O’Neill and Emily Seebohm as the only athletes to win eight medals at a Commonwealth Games. Hutton accomplished the feat in 1966 at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, while O’Neill did it in Kuala Lumpur in 1988 and Seebohm in 2010 in New Delhi.
On Monday, Ruck had tied the Canadian women’s record with her seventh medal, matching Elaine Tanner (four gold and three silver) in 1966.
Thanks to a four-medal showing Tuesday, Canada finished the meet with 20 medals — three gold, 10 silver and seven bronze — including five in para-swimming events. Four years ago, Canadian swimmers won 11 (4-1-6) in Glasgow.
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high-performance director, said the internal forecast had been between 14 and 18 medals.
Ruck helped boost that total. After failing last April to qualify for the world championship, Ruck left her home in Arizona — her parents moved there from B.C. when she was young — and relocated to Toronto in May to work with coach Ben Titley.
It has been a rapid rise since.
Canadian team officials expected a breakout meet from the teen here, noting that coming out of the world junior championships last summer in Indianapolis and a December meet in Sheffield, England, she had four swims in the top eight in the world.
Rio hero Penny Oleksiak leaves with three medals and some disappointment. The 17-year-old from Toronto won three relay silvers but failed to make a mark in her individual events. Oleksiak was fourth in the 50 and 100 butterfly, fifth in the 100 freestyle and seventh in the 200 free.
The spotlight has been on Oleksiak since she became the first Canadian to win four medals at a single Summer Games. In Rio, she tied for gold in the 100 freestyle, claimed silver in the 100 butterfly and two bronze in the relays.
Oleksiak acknowledged Tuesday that the Rio success has required some adjustments.
“I think the last few years were still kind of trying to figure out my life after Rio and sort out what I wanted to do. And this year was like I’m just going to take a year for myself and just kind of sort stuff out.
“I mean I wasn’t too impressed with my performances at this meet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t go up from here and that doesn’t mean I can’t start preparing for the (2020) Olympics.”
Oleksiak won Olympic gold in the 100 freestyle in a Canadian-record 52.70. She clocked 53.85 in finishing fifth here. Her Olympic silver medal-winning race in the 100 butterfly produced another Canadian record at 56.46. She was timed in 57.50 here.
“It’s a lot for anyone to cope with, especially a teenager,” Atkinson said of the post-Rio attention. “We know that she is a great talent and we know that there is an adjustment phase to that. I think she swam better as the meet has gone on … she is a true champion and I think she’ll be coming back from this and be really strong in the future.”
In addition to the relay medal, Canada picked up two more silvers and a bronze Tuesday.
Kylie Masse of Windsor, Ont., was runner-up in the 50 backstroke and was part of the silver medallist relay team to add to the two golds she had won previously in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
Masse was pipped at the wall by Seebohm, who won by four one-hundredths of a second with a time of 27.781.
The outdoor pool was hit by a downpour just as the swimmers walked out.
“I think it was actually kind of fun in the ready room,” said Masse. “When it started pouring, everyone was like ‘Oh my God.’ Everyone started laughing. And when I came out I saw my teammates on the side, on the left there, and everyone had their ponchos on and towels over their head but they were still jumping up and down.”
The games were a success for Masse who came in with a target on her back after winning 100 backstroke at last year’s world championship in world-record time.
“That’s something I have to get used to and I have to learn to work with and take care of myself,” she said. “So I’m looking to improve on that in future competitions.”
Para-swimmers Morgan Bird of Calgary and Abi Tripp of Kingston, Ont., finished second and third behind Australian Lakeisha Patterson in the women’s S8 50-metre freestyle.
“To be able to reach the podium for Canada is very surreal for me,” said the 24-year-old Bird. “Any chance I get to represent Canada and race alongside my teammate is just very special for me.”
“It’s such a great experience,” added the 17-year-old Tripp. “And it’s for Canada. It’s really special to be on the podium.”
It was Tripp’s first international medal.
Following a trials meet in July in Edmonton, the Canadian swimmers head to Japan for a camp in advance of the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in August.
Swimming Canada is using the Pan-Pacs as a rehearsal run for the 2020 Olympics.
After the meet, Atkinson spoke for the swim team in expressing its thoughts and prayers for all those affected by the horrific bus crash in Humboldt, Sask.
“It puts a lot of things in perspective,” he said. “But whilst we’re here with young people celebrating sport, the tragedy hits home hard.”
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press