2016 Hero: 16-Year-Old Olympic Champion Penny Oleksiak

Torontoist

2016 Hero: 16-Year-Old Olympic Champion Penny Oleksiak

Nominated for: making Canada proud.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Most of the country had never heard of Penny Oleksiak prior to the Rio Olympics this year. Now, she’s a Canadian icon.

The 16-year-old Toronto native scooped up four medals in swimming events at her first Olympics: one gold, one silver, and two bronze. Her reaction as she realized she came second in the women’s 100-metre butterfly—huge grin, hand over her mouth in shock—was endearing and happy-tears-inducing.

Days later, she won Canada’s first Rio gold, in the 100-metre freestyle, tying with American swimmer Simone Manuel.

It was our first gold medal in the pool since 1992. And at the closing ceremony, it only made sense she received the honour of carrying the flag.

The country fell in love with her, the powerhouse girl who took the Olympics by storm yet, in many ways, still seemed like a typical teenager, tweeting about her obsession with Drake and talking to reporters about how after Rio she’d return to Grade 11 in Toronto.

(When Champagne Papi congratulated her on Instagram, news outlets across the country ran excited stories.)

Needless to say, Toronto is bursting with pride of its homegrown wonder. (We predicted she’d be one of the athletes to watch.)

A parade was held in honour of Oleksiak and other Toronto Olympians at the end of August, hundreds of spectators lining the streets and cheering.

When Oleksiak did return to Monarch Park Collegiate in September, local reporters gathered in front of the school for a news conference. “I’m just trying to keep my Instagram the same and post funny captions and everything,” she told them, despite the fact she’s got tens of thousands of new followers.

Oleksiak’s stunning talent, and genuine down-to-earth-ness is what made her the pride of the country. What’s also exciting? Given her youth, Oleksiak hasn’t even hit her prime yet.

“She doesn’t yet have the strength and power to go out in the first half of races with the girls who are in their early to mid 20s. But that will come in time,” her Olympic coach, Ben Titley, told the Globe and Mail.

We can’t wait until 2020.


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