Canadian Masse sets world record in 100m backstroke

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Kylie Masse didn’t know how special her race was, that she was making history as she completed the 100-metre backstroke in a world record time of 58.10 seconds on Tuesday.

“I touched the wall and I looked back and I had to make sure I was looking at the right name and the right time,” Masse said on a conference call. “In the moment, I don’t even know what I was thinking but excitement and joy.”

With the win, Masse became Canada’s first-ever world champion in a women’s swimming event and the country’s first world-record holder since Annamay Pierse set the standard in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke in 2009. She broke the oldest world record in women’s swimming, the 58.12 seconds set by British backstroker Gemma Spofforth on July 28, 2009, during the height of the tech suit era.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” said Masse, who finished well ahead of silver medallist Kathleen Baker of the U.S. (58.58) and Australia’s Emily Seebohm (59.59).

“I was really just focusing on my start. I’ve been working really hard on it, so just executing that well and just the first 50, controlled fast speed, then really building on the last 50 and the last 15 metres into the finish.”

The wins caps an incredible 12-month run for the 21-year-old from LaSalle, Ont., who won bronze in the event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and silver at the 2016 short course world championships in Windsor last December, where she also won silver in the 4×100-metre medley relay.

A year ago, she wouldn’t have thought much of this possible.

“I think definitely before the Olympics I wouldn’t have thought that (I could win a world title),” she said. “But after the Olympics, I think I really saw that I belong in the final and I belong on the podium so, yeah, I think that just all comes with confidence. I think that, like, this entire year I felt better I guess about my racing. That all helped leading up to the championships.”

It also has helped, she said, to be part of a strong group of female swimmers competing for Canada. The team left the Rio Olympics with six medals, including four by Penny Oleksiak.

“I think it was incredible last summer to be part of that Canadian team,” she said. “It really gave us confidence and momentum to show we belong on the international stage. I think we were trying to continue that momentum and continue that success into these championships.”

While Masse says a growing sense of confidence has made the biggest difference for her over the last year, she’s put in a lot of work with University of Toronto swimming coaches Byron MacDonald and Linda Kiefer. They’ve analyzed her stroke during practices, worked on her with video analysis.

“The smaller details would be things like my start and transition, from the underwater into the swimming, and the turn especially,” she said.

Most important to her this week were their final words of advice.

“They just said have fun,” she said. “All the training that I’ve done is behind me, this is the fun part and this is the best part, just racing. Having fun, I think that’s the most important, as well.”

When she spoke to the media, Masse had yet to see her parents, Cindy and Louie, who had travelled to Budapest to watch her compete. She said having them there made the win even sweeter — and if she didn’t get to see them for a while, they’d understand.

“My parents, I’m super-grateful that they’re able to travel here and come and watch me,” she said. “They really just leave it up to me. They know swimming’s my thing. They kind of just cheer me on. They’re the best.”

In other events on Tuesday, American Katie Ledecky breezed to her third and fourth gold medals of the world championships, capturing the 1,500-metre freestyle by more than half the length of the pool and the 200-metre freestyle by .39 seconds. Having already won the 400 free and 4×100 free relay on the opening day of swimming, Ledecky stayed on course for a record-tying six golds by a female swimmer. Her third medal made her the first woman to win 12 gold medals at the world championships.

Kierra Smith of Kelowna, B.C. finished sixth in the 100-metre breaststroke final with a time of 1:06.90. It was her first international final in the distance. American Lilly King won gold. Smith will compete Thursday in the 200-metre breaststroke, in which she finished seventh at the Rio Olympics. Canadians Mary-Sophie Harvey of Trois- Rivières, Que. (1:58.15) and Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., (1:58.46) finished 14th and 15th in the women’s 200-metre freestyle.

— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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