Backstroke record within Kylie Masse's grasp at swimming worlds

Canada will have 26 pool swimmers at the world aquatics championships, starting Sunday in Budapest, Hungary, including Kylie Masse, once ranked 201st in the world in the 100-metre backstroke and now threatening Gemma Spofforth's world record.

Rising star narrowly missed world 100m mark at Canadian swim trials

Canada's Kylie Masse will be chasing gold in the women's 100 metres at the world aquatics championships in Budapest, Hungary. Her world-leading time this season of 58.21 seconds is .09 seconds shy of the world record held by Gemma Spofforth of Great Britain. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports/File)

Kylie Masse will be staring at a world record in the 100-metre backstroke later this week in Budapest, Hungary, two years after failing to make the Canadian squad for the Toronto Pan American Games.

That one "blip" on the rising swimmer's career, says coach Byron MacDonald, could turn out to be the best thing to happen to the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist from Windsor, Ont.

At the Pan Am qualifier in April 2015, Masse slowed down the final 25 metres with her stroke rhythm, or rate, of the deciding race and failed to make the cut. But three months later, she posted the fastest final 25 metres to win a gold medal at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.

Masse also improved her start — "we felt she could get more in her trajectory off the wall," MacDonald said — working with former 50 world record holder Liam Tancock of Great Britain, who was hired by Swimming Canada. In the 100 final at the Rio Olympics last summer, she clocked 58.76 seconds to finish in a tie for third.

Kylie Masse improved her start in the backstroke after working with former 50-metre world record holder Liam Tancock of Great Britain. "Kylie had the fastest reaction time off the blocks of anybody in the [100 final [at the Rio Olympics]," says her coach, Byron MacDonald. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press/File)

"Hundredths of a second can be critical," said MacDonald, a CBC Sports swimming analyst and head coach at the University of Toronto. "Kylie had the fastest reaction time off the blocks of anybody in the final [at Rio]. We maybe improved her start by a tenth of a second but that's huge when the silver winner was only one hundredth [of a second] ahead of her [in 58.75]."

Masse, 21, didn't slow down before travelling to Budpest for the world championships, which run Sunday through July 30, winning world short-course silver in December in her hometown and gold in the 50, 100 and 200 three months ago at the Canadian trials. Her world-leading 58.21 this season in the 100 lowered her national mark and is only .09 seconds shy of the world record held by Gemma Spofforth of Great Britain.

"We sat down in September after Rio and talked about going for the world record. It's a goal," said MacDonald, adding Masse has made huge strides in the past three years, given she ranked 201st in the world coming out of high school.

"She works hard in training, recovers quickly from training and racing, and has very little fear of racing. In Kylie's words, 'a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer.'"

Masse lit fire under Caldwell

Hilary Caldwell, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist in the 200, was overtaken by Masse in the final few metres in the event at the Canadian trials in Victoria, finishing .06 seconds behind in 2:07.29.

"I didn't like being out-touched [at the wall] because the 200 is my event," Caldwell told CBC Sports last week on a conference call with reporters. "I have the Canadian record [2:06.80] and still don't like to lose, but [Masse's performance] was like lighting a fire under me.

"We have the potential for two women to be on the podium in the 200 backstroke [at worlds] and that would be exciting. She's definitely somebody, in terms of her power in the 100, that I'd like to emulate."

The Canadian team at the world championships consists of 26 pool swimmers, 14 Olympians and nine rookies.

5 more Canadians to watch

Penny Oleksiak — What does Oleksiak do for an encore after becoming the youngest summer Olympic gold medallist in Canadian history in Rio at age 16? Now 17, she warmed up for worlds with a bronze medal in the 100 butterfly at the final stop on the Mare Nostrum circuit. Oleksiak, who won four medals in Rio, is making her debut at worlds.

Hilary Caldwell — Competing at her third worlds, the 26-year-old Victoria resident will assume more of a leadership role on a young Canadian team. Caldwell will be looking to improve from a fourth-place performance in the 200 backstroke at the short-course worlds in December and finishing second to Masse at Canadian trials in April.

Michelle Toro (nee Williams) — The Toronto native, who won 4x100 relay bronze at the Rio Olympics, is making her second appearance at worlds. Toro won gold in the 50 freestyle and bronze in 100 free at Canadian trials after setting a personal best time of 24.04 seconds in Windsor, Ont., at the FINA world swim championships in December.

Javier Acevedo — A silver medallist in the 50 backstroke at the junior worlds in 2015, the 19-year-old Acevedo is the youngest male swimmer on the Canadian squad in Budapest and one of nine rookies. He is expected to race the 100 and 50 back after winning gold and silver, respectively, in those events at Canadian trials.

Yuri Kisil — The 21-year-old Calgary native squeezed under the 48.90-second world qualifying standard by .03 seconds in the 100 free. Kisil is also expected to compete in the 50 free in Budapest. He won three individual gold medals in the 50, 100 and 200 free events at the 2017 U Sports Swimming Championships in February.

5 international athletes to watch

Katie Ledecky, United States: Before making headlines with four gold medals and five overall at the Rio Olympics, the talented Ledecky became the first male or female swimmer to sweep the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle races at a single worlds in 2015. The 20-year-old Stanford University student qualified for six events in Budapest: 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 free, plus the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Ledecky's qualifying time in the 800 was nearly nine seconds faster than the rest of the field.

Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden: Sjostrom could be one of the stars in Budapest after winning three medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Two years ago, the 23-year-old set a world record of 24.43 seconds in the 50 fly and last month shattered the Mare Nostrum record in 23.85. A three-time world champion in the 100, her signature event, Sjostrom will be vying for her first major international title in freestyle.

Katinka Hosszu, Hungary: It's hard to believe the woman nicknamed "The Iron Lady," left the 2012 London Olympics empty handed. Hosszu won three gold medals and one silver last summer in Rio, and the 28-year-old home favourite has entered six individual events in Budapest: 200 individual medley, 400 IM, 100 back, 200 free, 200 fly and 200 back.

Adam Peaty, Great Britain: The budding breaststroker is preparing for the defence of his 50 and 100 world titles. At the British swimming championships in April, the 22-year-old Peaty swam 57.79 seconds in the 100 for the win and sprinted to a world-leading 26.62 finish in the 50. In Rio, he was Britain's first male Olympic swimming gold medallist in 28 years.

Chad le Clos, South Africa: Le Clos will try to rebound in Budapest from a disappointing Rio Olympics during which the 2012 Summer Games gold medallist in the 200 butterfly placed fourth. He's also slated to compete in the 100 after winning gold in the event at the short-course world championships in December at Montreal, where le Clos' time of 48.08 seconds improved his own world mark of 48.44.


Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc


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