Kylie Masse wins gold, sets new Commonwealth backstroke record
Canadian swimmer takes title, top time away from Australian rival
GOLD COAST, Australia — They may be known as the 'Friendly Games', but that doesn't mean there's no room for a friendly rivalry.
Canada's Kylie Masse took gold in the women's 100-metre backstroke at the Commonwealth Games on Saturday night in the Gold Coast, fending off strong competition from host-country favourite and two-time defending Games champion Emily Seebohm.
It marked the third time Masse lowered the Games record, which now stands at 58.63 seconds, in just two days. That record, like the 100m title, also used to belong to Seebohm.
Just three-hundredths of a second separated Masse from Seebohm.
"I knew Emily was going to be there with me the whole way, and I knew it was going to come down to the finish, " Masse says. "I just tried to focus in and hammer those last few strokes and try and get my hand on the wall first, I was happy I was able to do that."
Fellow Canadian Taylor Ruck took bronze in 58.97 after earning a silver in the 50m freestyle. The 17-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., added her fifth medal at these Games with a silver in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay with teammates Kayla Sanchez, Rebecca Smith and Penny Oleksiak.
Aurelie Rivard also earned silver in the women's 200m individual medley SM10.
More showdowns to come
Round 1 may have gone to Masse, but the 100m final is only the first of what's shaping up to be a thrilling contest between the two swimmers here on Australia's east coast.
"[Seebohm] is an incredible swimmer," Masse says. "A great role model to me in backstroke and I really look forward to racing her for the rest of the meet."
Masse, the 22-year-old phenom from LaSalle, Ont., set the world record in the 100m distance at the world championships in Budapest last summer, and first took the Commonwealth record from Seebohm in dramatic fashion during preliminary action on Friday.
Minutes after the Australian lowered her own record to 58.91 in her heat, Masse won her morning heat in 58.70 seconds. The Canadian later lowered that record by swimming to a 58.66 time in the semifinals, before lowering it again in her golden swim.
"I didn't really expect [the Commonwealth Games record] to last long with Kylie right behind me [in the heats]," Seebohm said.
Seebohm, 25, says Masse is the gold standard — for now.
"[Masse] holds the world record so she's always going to be the one to beat until that's gone."
Road to the next Olympics
The Canadian says she's just getting used to being the hunted, and says she's trying to concentrate on her own form, not her opponents.
"Coming into a big meet with a target on your back is something that is relatively new to me," Masse says. "I kind of just focus on my own stroke and what I can control... not worry about outside pressures."
Masse and Seebohm will see plenty of one another here at the Gold Coast Aquatics Centre — they'll contest the 200m backstroke on Sunday and will be in the same heat of the 50m on Monday.
That's not to say Masse isn't taking time to enjoy every else the Games, and the Gold Coast, have to offer.
The rivalry will shift to a team environment on the final day of swim competition on Tuesday, with Masse and Seebohm expected to handle the backstroke duties for their respective countries in the women's 4x100 medley relay.
All of these showdowns with Seebohm will be important for Masse as she tries to round into form for the 2020 Olympics, where she's being counted on to help lead the Canadian charge in the pool.
"Every international meet is a stepping stone leading into 2020," she says. "I'm trying to take something from [the Commonwealth Games] and take those little details in my race that I need to work on and catch up on and just get back in training."
Masse returns to action on Sunday for the 200m backstroke heats, which culminate with the gold-medal final that evening.