Canadian swimming star Maggie Mac Neil prioritizes mental health ahead of the world to come

Canadian Olympic champion and international swimming star Maggie Mac Neil is putting her mental health first in a bid to bring a little more balance and calm to her life and swimming career.

In an exclusive interview with CBC Sports, one of Canada’s most famous swimmers explained that he will not be competing in any of the individual events at this summer’s upcoming world championships in Budapest, citing anxiety and pressure to succeed as something that has put pressure on him. and make it difficult to compete.

“I always thought I was invincible. I was totally normal and doing well in high school and most of college. But I think this year has been a little bit more difficult for me,” Mac Neil explained, speaking at Canada’s swim trials in Victoria, BC

“I’ve come across some post-Olympic struggles and it’s been really challenging. It was a really big challenge for me. I realize everyone goes through struggles and it’s okay to have those struggles.”

In February, Mac Neil approached Canada’s Director of High Performance Swimming John Atkinson and shared some of his concerns over the hopes for him.

Mac Neil explains that during the meeting the two made a plan not to take part in individual events during the world and to focus solely on relays.

“It’s difficult to stay at the top and the pressure is really coming on me. I need a cool summer. I don’t want to be knocked out of an international competition. I want to train and compete well for Canada, but I need a little time for that. a let up I guess,” said Mac Neil.

“Your mental and physical health comes before you as an athlete. So they [Swimming Canada] must have thought of us as very important first people. I’m grateful for that.”

Support from Swimming Canada

Atkinson said he was equally grateful to Mac Neil for raising his concerns and was happy to spend time with him to map out what the next few months would be like.

“We will always accept our athletes and support them. At the end of the day, athletes as people come first. Athletes have their own thoughts and aspirations. And our aspirations are quite compatible with theirs and you have to work with them to get there,” Atkinson said. .

“There are changes. It’s a positive thing. And we will always be there for the athletes first.”

Atkinson says he believes that an individual approach to each athlete’s needs allows Canadian swimmers to excel in the pool.

“What matters is how the athletes are now and how they get to Paris and are motivated for the next Olympics,” he said.

“You have to treat each athlete as an individual. We don’t have strict rules. We will work with each athlete on what they need and how we can help.”

Mac Neil has been amazing in the pool over the last few years. The 22-year-old from London, Ontario, has won almost everything there is to win in swimming.

In Tokyo, he won medals of every color including Olympic gold in the 100-meter butterfly. She followed that with four gold and one silver at the 2021 short-term world swimming championships in Abu Dhabi.

VIEW | Mac Neil wins Canada’s first gold at the Tokyo Olympics:

Mac Neil is also a two-time NCAA champion with the Michigan Wolverines.

For her efforts, Mac Neil was named Canada’s best female swimmer of the year. She was also named the Tokyo Olympics Best Female Athlete by the National Olympic Committee Association.

However, although the award is flattering and victory is always the goal, Mac Neil says the pressure to be great in every encounter is starting to get too heavy.

“It’s been challenging. I love being myself and all the opportunities I’ve had and found over the last six months,” he said.

“Usually I’m pretty calm about it all. I try to stay calm and not let my emotions get too high or too low. But I think sometimes I get nervous and I get really quiet and reserved and think about things too much.”

To add to the problem, during the NCAA championships in March, Mac Neil slipped and fell on the pool deck and ended up slightly breaking his elbow. It’s not a big deal according to Mac Neil, however, it will need some rehab over the next few weeks.

“It was a really bad bruise so I assumed it was a bone bruise,” Mac Neil said. “Just to be safe I did a CT scan on Monday and an MRI yesterday, and it turns out I have a small fracture.”

Mac Neil wins 100m fly in test

That didn’t stop Mac Neil from competing in Wednesday night’s 100m final in Victoria. He won the race in 57.13 seconds and earned his place on the national team heading to Budapest in mid-June.

Mac Neil will only compete in the relay, with plans to return to the 100m at the Commonwealth Games later in the summer.

“I’m really relieved at this move. I’m very grateful to John and the doctors and Team Canada as a whole for supporting me as I made that decision and supporting me for the selection criteria at this meeting,” said Mac Neil.

“I really wanted to join these teams for this summer, so that’s why I swam the 100m today but this will be the end of my meeting.”

Mac Neil’s experience is no different from what any other Canadian superstar swimmer has faced and has been talked about openly after his Olympic success as well.

Penny Oleksiak became a star after her incredible performance in Rio at the age of 16. Oleksiak became the first Canadian athlete to win four medals at a single summer Olympics.

He appears to be on top of the world but far from the spotlight Oleksiak falls under pressure to stay on top.

“After 2016 there was a lot of pressure on every meeting I took part in. I was expected to win every race I did. It felt like everyone was watching me,” Oleksiak told CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault during a pre-match interview. Tokyo.

VIEW | Penny Oleksiak discusses pressure swimming at the top level:

Penny Oleksiak: Pressure swimming as champion

Penny Oleksiak dominated the 2016 Rio Olympics as a teenager, but faced the pressures that followed took its toll. He spoke with Adrienne Arsenault about dealing with stress and preparing for the return of the Olympics. 8:06

It took Oleksiak years to complete before he was able to find his love for swimming again – but more than anything else worked through the expectations that others had of him.

The Oleksiak experience isn’t lost on Mac Neil, who wants to be part of a change in sport when it comes to speaking out when the burden of being the best gets too heavy.

“I’ve seen people and team-mates go through it and I’m there for them. I hope they can do the same and I know they will,” said Mac Neil.

“Mental health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days and it’s great that the stigma is over. You don’t have to question it.”

More Canadian records broken

There was a quick swim inside the Saanich Commonwealth Place Wednesday night.

Two other Canadian records fell on the second night of the final at Swimming Canada’s national trials in Victoria — the night after 15-year-old Summer McIntosh broke her 400m freestyle record and Finlay Knox broke her individual 200m medley record.

On Wednesday night, Kylie Masse, of La Salle, Ontario, broke her own record in Canada in the women’s 50m backstroke with a blistering time of 27.18.

VIEW | Masse breaks Canadian 50m backstroke record in national trials:

Kylie Masse sets Canadian record in 50m backstroke in trials

Kylie Masse of Windsor, Ontario, breaks the Canadian record in the 50 meter backstroke with a time of 27.18 Wednesday in Victoria, BC 1:26

Josh Liendo, 19, broke his own previous record of 51.40 in the men’s 100m run with a time of 50.88 and saw him qualify for the world championships this summer.

Knox also qualified for the world in the same event in a time of 51.86.

WATCH l Liendo set a Canadian record in the men’s 100m in Day 2 trials:

Josh Liendo breaks Canadian record in 100 meter butterfly race

Josh Liendo of Markham, Ontario., breaks a Canadian time record of 50.88 in the 100 m butterfly Wednesday in Victoria, BC 1:54

Abby Dunford of Regina, 16, earned her place in the women’s 1500m freestyle world championship by clocking 16:20.26, below FINA standards.

Qualifying for the world in the 100m butterfly event along with Mac Neil was Katerine Savard in a time of 58.01.

More than 550 swimmers from across Canada compete in the Para event, junior event and senior event, all looking to earn their place on the Canadian team headed for the world championships this summer.

WATCH l Nicholas Bennett breaks his own 200m freestyle national record:

Nicholas Bennett breaks his own Canadian record in the 200m . freestyle

Nicholas Bennett won the men’s 200m multi freestyle class in the Canadian trials in 1:54:82 and broke his own national record. 2:21

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