Road To The Olympic Games

Aquatics·Analysis

What Canada learned at the swimming world championships

From Kylie Masse's breakout to Penny Oleksiak's underwhelming performances, here's what stood out for Team Canada at the swimming world championships.

Kylie Masse breaks out, Penny Oleksiak has work to do

Kylie Masse emerged as the newest Canadian swimming star by winning gold and setting a world record in the 100-metre backstroke.

In swimming, the next major competition after an Olympic Games is always the long-course world championships held the following summer.

The world championships are ultra-competitive and prestigious because they only happen every two years, and all the best active swimmers show up completely prepared.

The Canadian swim team arrived in Budapest, Hungary for this year's event buoyed by a surprising and historic Rio Olympic Games. Last summer, the team amassed six medals (all in women's events), the most since the men and women combined for 10 in the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Olympic pool.

Budapest was a chance to prove that Rio wasn't an outlier. Here's what the Canadian team learned during the eight days of competition:

Canada has a new star

Kylie Masse completed her impressive ascent in the 100-metre backstroke, setting a world record (58.10 seconds) while becoming the first Canadian woman to claim a world championship in swimming.

Canadian Kylie Masse sets world record in 100m backstroke

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Masse raced to the record time of 0:58.10 as she became the world champion. 2:51

It was refreshing to witness. Masse, from LaSalle, Ont., smoothly won by nearly a half second, and appeared to be enjoying the experience she called "surreal."

The 21-year-old won the bronze medal in Rio last year. She is the first Canadian to set an individual world record since Annamay Pierse in 2009.

Full credit should be applied to Masse's coaches, Linda Kiefer and Byron MacDonald, at the University of Toronto. They kept her sane and focused, all while instilling the belief that swimming the fastest-ever two lengths of backstroke was possible.

In Budapest, Masse made it look routine.

If you're not getting better, you're getting passed

Mike Babcock's clever "if you're not getting better, you're getting passed" tweak to Joe Paterno's famous quote applies to Toronto's Penny Oleksiak, who nearly one year after her transcendent Rio Olympics leaves Budapest without an individual medal.

The viciously competitive swimming world waits for no one.

Last year in the 100 freestyle, Oleksiak and American Simone Manuel swam 52.70 seconds to tie for Olympic gold.

This year, Manuel improved by almost a half second to become the outright world champion. Oleksiak was two tenths of a second slower and finished sixth.

American Simone Manuel claims women's 100m freestyle gold at FINA Worlds

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Manuel swam to a personal-best 52.27 to earn gold, while Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom took silver and Denmark's Pernille Blume won bronze. Canada's Penny Oleksiak finished in 6th place. 3:29

Not to mention, the women's relay teams — the 4x100 and 4x200 freestyle — that were bronze medals for Canada in Rio and part of Oleksiak's historic haul were slower in Budapest and missed the podium.

This has been a year of many changes for the 17-year-old and the Budapest experience could be both sobering and instructive as the 2020 Olympic approach.

"The point is to keep in touch with the leaders. She is doing that," says CBC Sports swimming analyst Byron MacDonald. "For her, in my opinion, it is really all about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She does not really have to be ready for three more years."

The swim world rolls onward. And so continues the serious and exhausting work of keeping up.

'Mixed' success in the relays

Often early adopters when it comes to new sports and events, Canada latched onto the new mixed relays (two men and two women) and managed bronze medals in both the 4x100 freestyle and medley.

U.S. breaks world record, Canada wins bronze in 4x100m mixed freestyle relay

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The U.S. won gold and set a world record in 3:19.60, while Netherlands took silver. Canadians Penny Oleksiak, Yuri Kisil, Javier Acevedo and Chantal Van Landeghem won bronze at the FINA World Championships. 5:39

Only the mixed medley relay has been added to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020.

Expect the mixed relays to become more competitive in the coming years as coaches improve their strategy and swimmer selection.

We don't typically write much about non-medal results, which may at times understate important performances. Swimming Canada officials were encouraged by a fourth-place finish in the women's 4x100 medley relay, up one spot from Rio.

Women still ahead of men

While the women's relays, Oleksiak and backstroker Hilary Caldwell couldn't repeat their Olympic performances, Masse's historic upgrade certainly softens the blow.

So does a bronze medal for Sydney Pickrem in the 400 individual medley on the final day.

The 20-year-old earnestly swam a personal best in a raucous Duna Arena, which was going wild for the home country's Katinka Hosszu, who won by a healthy margin.

Canada's Sydney Pickrem wins bronze in women's 400m medley at FINA Worlds

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The Clearwater, B.C native finished 3rd with a time of 4:32.88. Hungary's Katinka Hosszu walked away with the gold 7:15

Pickrem improved vastly from her 12th-place finish in Rio, and brought Canada's medal total to four at the buzzer.

Without top Rio performers Ryan Cochrane and Santo Condorelli, the Canadian men's team appeared depleted.

However, at the beginning of an Olympic quadrennial there's some hope for replacements.

Javier Acevedo was 14th in the 100 backstroke, but at 19 years old was the second-youngest swimmer in the semifinals. Yuri Kisil, 21, was 10th in the 100 freestyle. They are both on the young side for men's sprints, so there's still time to improve.

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