GWANGJU, South Korea – Kylie Masse became the first Canadian swimmer to successfully defend a world title as she won the women’s 100-m backstroke Tuesday for Canada’s second gold medal at the FINA World Championships.
‘’It’s an incredible feeling,’’ said Masse, 23, who calls LaSalle, Ont., home and trains at the University of Toronto under Linda Kiefer and Byron MacDonald. ‘’That was definitely one of my goals coming in here. I’m really happy with that. I couldn’t ask for anything more.’’
Masse was fourth at the turn but produced a powerful second length to win in 58.60, a half second off her Canadian mark and former world record set at the last worlds in 2017. Minna Atherton of Australia followed in 58.85 and Olivia Smoliga of Team USA was third in 58.91. Kelowna, B.C., native Taylor Ruck of the High Performance Centre – Ontario was nearly on the podium finishing fourth in 58.96.
‘’I knew it was going to be a tough race,’’ said Masse. ‘’It’s such a strong and deep field so I just tried to stay in my own lane and stick to my own race strategy. Coming off that turn I gave myself momentum and speed to finish that last 25 the way I wanted to do.’’
Swimming Canada High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson was impressed by Masse’s performance under pressure.
“When you come into any major championships and Games as defending champion, there’s a whole different level of expectation on the athlete that wasn’t there beforehand,” Atkinson said. “I think that Kylie handled herself tremendously. To come back, get a gold medal, get her hand on the wall first, her experience came through over that second 50, and she is a true champion.”
As two-time defending world champion, Masse knows she’ll be on the hot seat for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
‘’I want to continue to improve,’’ said Masse, the Olympic bronze medallist in Rio. ‘’I would love to be better with my time and that’s my goal. But right now I’m over the moon to win here again.’’
Meanwhile quadruple Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak of Toronto qualified seventh for the women’s 200-m freestyle final finishing in a personal best 1:56.41.
‘’I felt really good going out but I let it get a little bit away from me,’’ said Oleksiak, who led the first 150 metres of her semifinal. ‘’I’ve been trying to work on the front half of all of my races. I just need to get more confident with that.’’
“Penny swimming her best time to progress through to her first major championship or Games 200 freestyle final, that’s great,” Atkinson said. “She certainly showed great intent the way she went out for that race and we’ll see what she’s got in the tank for the final.”
Her High Performance Centre – Ontario teammate Mack Darragh of Oakville, Ont., ranked 14th in the men’s 200-m semis and did not advance.
The eight-day meet continues through Sunday at the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.
Story and Photo: Swimming Canada