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‘I would be happy if I retired now’: Swimmer Maggie Mac Neil enjoying ride before her last Olympics | CBC Sports



‘I would be happy if I retired now’: Swimmer Maggie Mac Neil enjoying ride before her last Olympics | CBC Sports

Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil has been training hard early this year, focused on what the reigning Olympic 100-metre butterfly champion says will be her final Games this summer in Paris.

Before COVID-19 hit in early 2020, Mac Neil had planned to leave competitive swimming after the Tokyo Olympics — which was rescheduled to 2021 — but felt she missed out on swimming opportunities during the global pandemic and opted to extend her career.

“I haven’t decided on a firm end date, but I know I’m not going another quad [four-year Olympic cycle]. I’ve never wanted to [compete] to 2028. I want to go to law school in the next couple of years,” Mac Neil revealed in a recent one-on-one interview at CBC Sports headquarters in Toronto.

“I’ve accomplished more than I ever wanted in swimming and by doing that, I would be happy if I retired now.”

She is back in the city this week competing in the Canadian Open event at the Pan Am Sports Centre and listed to swim the 50- and 100-metre freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly.

Mac Neil, 24, admitted to having mixed feelings while pondering her swimming future, but the pain the London, Ont., native endures with every competition and training session was a sign.

“I think most athletes do [have mixed feelings]. It’s something you’ve spent your life doing, it’s part of your identity,” said the former Louisiana State University athlete, who continues to live and train in Baton Rouge while completing her master of science in sports management.

“I’m lucky my parents always had me focused on school first and swimming second. I’ve always had education to fall back on.”

Rick Bishop, LSU head swimming coach, told CBC Sports Mac Neil has few boxes to check in the sport.

‘You name it, she’s won it’

“She’s won the world championships, broken two world records, held an NCAA record at one time, Olympic gold, world championship gold, Pan Ams,” he said. “You name it, she’s won it.”

Bishop added Mac Neil’s retirement will leave a big hole in the Canadian national team program.

“You’re talking about someone who you could count on year in and year out,” he said. “She’s been invaluable on relays, from a butterfly and freestyle perspective.”

WATCH | Mac Neil makes swimming history in Pan Am Games medley relay:

GOLD MEDAL: Mac Neil sets Canadian Pan Am gold medals record with medley relay victory

Canada captures gold in the women’s 4×100 medley relay at the Pan American Games. Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., sets a record for most gold medals by a Canadian at a single Pan Am Games with five.

Mac Neil hasn’t decided where to attend law school while prioritizing her degree and looking ahead to the start of the May 13-19 Canadian swim trials in Toronto. The event was moved this week from Montreal’s Olympic Park after a fire there last month forced the closure of the facility.

School keeps my mind off swimming. I think I would go crazy if I just focused on swimming.— Maggie Mac Neil

“My last exam is May 7 or 8 so it’s cutting it a little close [to trials] but that’s my life the last 16 years as a student/athlete,” said Mac Neil, who Bishop stated will probably race once in May after trials before joining the Canadian team for a pre-Olympic camp. “I’ll miss graduation due to trials and I didn’t go to my undergrad graduation either, but there’s nothing I would rather miss it for than to make the Olympic team, hopefully.”

In her final semester juggling academics and swimming, Mac Neil laughed when discussing whether she’ll be productive with more free time after school or just better at procrastinating.

“I always find school keeps my mind off swimming,” said the self-proclaimed swim nerd, who likes to “devour” statistics. “I think I would go crazy if I just focused on swimming. I always like to have something to think about. I’m enjoying the ride now knowing it’s going to come to an end soon.”

Canadian women's athlete poses with the seven medals she has collected in competition at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile.
Mac Neil shows off the seven medals she earned last month at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, a Canadian record. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

More training, less racing

Mac Neil competed in January but hasn’t since and believes the extra training time will make her more confident than had she raced in recent weeks.

“It’s good to get some good training, and I think that will make me more confident than racing,” said Mac Neil, who enjoys reading, sewing, travelling, kayaking and rock climbing in her downtime.

She recalled not having confidence in training during an “off year” in 2022 during which she spoke to the Swimming Canada coaching staff about sitting out individual events at the 2023 world championships to prioritize mental health.

Mac Neil noted she’s “at peace” nearly a year-and-a-half after transferring to LSU and reuniting with Bishop, her primary coach for three seasons at Michigan.

“Last year was a great change in atmosphere and environment for me,” she said. “I’ve rarely had a bad day since I moved to LSU. I’m doing great now.”

Another positive change and sign of growth for the professional swimmer is the opportunity to take charge of her training and competition schedule.

“I can have more input with my coach about how I’m feeling and what workouts I do,” she said.

Mac Neil is looking forward to a more normal Olympic experience this year after the global pandemic and training restrictions forced her to swim in a backyard pool in the middle of winter in the lead up to Tokyo.

“Winning two [Olympic] gold in a row has never been done in the [women’s] 100 fly so it’s definitely something I’m thinking about,” said Mac Neil, who clocked 55.49 seconds in Tokyo. “And the world record [of 55.48 by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at the 2016 Rio Olympics] is right there as well.

“Those are the two things my coach and I have been talking about.”

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