Penny Oleksiak returns to the pool 9 months after knee surgery

Nine months after undergoing knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear, Canada’s most decorated Olympian Penny Oleksiak is poised to make her return to the pool this week in Barcelona on the second stop of the Mare Nostrum Tour.

Oleksiak is with a group of about 18 Canadian swimmers who have been at a training camp in Spain since early May ahead of the annual Mare Nostrum Tour, which features three stops — the first stop was in France this past weekend. 

The second leg begins Wednesday during the two-day Barcelona stop and Oleksiak is set to compete in four events according to the start lists for the events. The final stop goes in Monaco on Saturday and Sunday. 

CBC Sports will live stream all four days of the event.

The 22-year-old from Toronto was hoping to make her return last month at the national swim trials at the Pan Am Sports Centre but wanted to take a little bit more time to recover. 

“I’m working hard to prioritize my recovery right now. Unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to race my best at trials,” Oleksiak said in March. 

But now she’s set to swim in the 50, 100 and 200-metre freestyle events as well at the 50 butterfly over two days. Oleksiak is entered in the 50 butterfly and 100 freestyle preliminaries on Wednesday in Barcelona. The finals are slated to begin at 11 a.m. ET.

She’s then set to compete in the 50 and 200 freestyle preliminaries on Thursday morning. 

Oleksiak last competed at an international competition for Canada at the world championships in Budapest last June. 

She won two silver medals and two bronze medals at the worlds in Hungary, giving her nine career world championship medals overall, which is more than any other Canadian swimmer in history. Every medal Oleksiak has won at the world championships throughout her career has been in the relays. 

Oleksiak became the most decorated Canadian Olympian at the Tokyo Games when she won three medals, increasing her career total to seven – one gold, two silver, and four bronze.

This is an important meet for Oleksiak.

She’s already been named to the team of 31 Canadians heading to the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan from July 1-11, however, these upcoming swims in Barcelona will let the Swimming Canada coaches and staff know exactly where Oleksiak is since she’s been out for the better part of a year. 

A swimmer opens her mouth to take a deep breath above the water while racing.
Canada’s Maggie Mac Neil, pictured winning women’s 100-metre butterfly at the Canadian swimming trials in Toronto on March 29, will compete this week. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Other big names competing for Canada in the second leg include Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil, most decorated world aquatics swimmer Kyle Masse and veterans Javier Acevedo and Katarine Savard. 

Canada’s Ingrid Wilm competed in the first stop on the Mare Nostrum Tour in France over the weekend, winning silver in the 50m back and then bronze in the 100m back.

Ruck absent after breaking hand

Noticeably absent from the group of swimmers in Spain is Taylor Ruck, who broke her hand last month in a skateboarding accident.

The 22-year-old didn’t compete at the Canadian swimming trials last month, saying she will be taking a short break from swimming.

“I need to put myself in the best position to perform to my goals at the Olympics next year,” Ruck said in a statement.

“Right now, that means I need to unplug for a little while, so I can come back refreshed and ready to be at my best in the pool.”

Ruck’s return to racing will depend on how quickly she recovers from the broken hand. There is no timeline at this point for her return to racing.

Canadian swimming stars Summer McIntosh and Josh Liendo are not competing in the Mare Nostrum, electing to stay back in North America to continue their training. However, they both competed this past weekend at the Atlanta Classic. 

McIntosh competed in six events and posted three personal best times, including winning the 100 and 200 backstroke events. Liendo competed in three events, winning the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle.