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Canada’s Maggie MacNeil storms onto world swim stage

July 26, 2019
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Gold medalist Canada's Margaret MacNeil, centre, stands with silver medalist Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, right, and bronze medalist Australia's Emma McKeon following the medal ceremony for the women's 100m butterfly final at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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Gold medalist Canada's Margaret MacNeil, centre, stands with silver medalist Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, right, and bronze medalist Australia's Emma McKeon following the medal ceremony for the women's 100m butterfly final at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) — The year Maggie MacNeil was born, people thought the world might end.

They packed away canned goods and fretted about computer meltdowns as the year 2000 approached, unsure what the dawn of a new millennium would bring.

MacNeil was born two months later in London, Ontario. A little bundle of swimming potential waiting to be unlocked.

The unveiling came at the world championships in Gwangju.

MacNeil dethroned Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden in the 100-meter butterfly to win gold in 55.83 seconds. She also helped earn a bronze and Olympic berth for Canada in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

Still to come is the 50 butterfly.

“Oh my god, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I still haven’t come to terms with it yet.”

The sophomore at Michigan is almost as surprised as anyone about her breakthrough.

“I’m not totally sure,” she said when asked how she’s blossomed on the big stage.

Although she represented Canada as a 15-year-old at world juniors in Singapore, she missed making the team in 2017. In Gwangju, she’s on the senior national team for the first time and is already cementing herself as a crucial member.

“Starting with Maggie and our relay on the first day, that definitely got us rolling,” teammate Taylor Ruck said. “It’s really inspiring for all of us.”

Part of MacNeil’s success likely has to do with her tenacity. She isn’t someone who backs down from achieving a goal.

She recalled her first swim meet as an 8-year-old. The day before, her school held a skating event where she fell and sprained her wrist.

Still, she refused to withdraw from the meet.

“It hurt like heck, but I knew I wanted to do it,” she said.

That drive has helped MacNeil blossom into a well-rounded athlete. She balances her passion in the pool with outside pursuits like playing violin and clarinet, crediting her parents, who are more artistic than athletic. Her dad is a drama teacher and the family has a love for music.

MacNeil’s athletic career was new for her parents but they’ve supported her by attending almost every meet. Her dad, she says, cries after her races.

“I’ve heard before that he’ll watch me and start leaning in the direction that I’m going,” she said.

If she keeps rising, her dad might have a lot more leaning left to do. Her performance in Gwangju bodes well for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“We’ve had a lot of team meetings,” MacNeil said, “and it’s all about making the maybe possible.”

It looks like that’s exactly what she’s capable of doing.

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