Canada's Kylie Masse surges to silver in Olympic 100m backstroke
2-time world champion improves on bronze from 2016 Games
Swimmer Kylie Masse is Canada's latest medallist in the pool.
The Lasalle, Ont., native narrowly missed the gold medal in the women's 100-metre backstroke, earning a well deserved silver on Tuesday in Tokyo.
"I upgraded from 2016, so I am really happy with that," said Masse, who won bronze at this event in Rio.
"It was an incredibly challenging, talented field of athletes who have been swimming crazy times all year so I knew it was going to be a battle. I am proud to get on the podium tonight."
A close race was predicted and it couldn't have been tighter. Australia's Kaylee McKeown set an Olympic record with a time of 57.47 seconds. Masse finished just behind at 57.72. American Regan Smith captured bronze with a time of 58.05.
WATCH | Kylie Masse earns silver in 100-metre backstroke:
While most Olympic venues are quiet and without fans, there is a buzz in the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. The stands along one side of the pool are full of swimmers and team officials, pumping some welcome energy into the building. Their cheering and flag-waving provided a great atmosphere as Masse and the rest of the field raced toward the finish.
Masse set the pace in this blistering final. She clocked the fastest 50-metre time ever at 27.91 but couldn't hang on in the second half of the race.
The 25-year-old knew that topping that podium would take something special.
Masse said it would have been "incredible" to win an Olympic gold medal, but she has no regrets about how she approached the race.
"Kaylee has been swimming really fast, she's the world record holder. I would have had to go 57.30 to beat her and I just didn't do that today," Masse said. "I went the second-fastest time that I've ever gone. I am proud of that in an Olympic final after such a crazy year."
WATCH | Masse accepts silver medal:
Byron MacDonald, a CBC swimming analyst and one the country's most decorated coaches, said Masse did all she could to put herself in a position to win.
"The only person to beat her was the world-record holder, so you can't complain. She went out quickly and then she made a really strong push but just couldn't hold off the Aussie at the end."
"Three tenths of second [the margin of victory in this race] is a fair bit, it's probably a foot and a half, but it's still close in the sense of you never know what you could do differently," said MacDonald, who coached Masse at the University of Toronto.
"I don't think Kylie could have changed much of her race plan. I think she executed it brilliantly."
WATCH | Breaking down Canada's big night in the pool:
Everyone competing in Tokyo faced challenges leading up to these Olympics, especially Canadian athletes, who spent much of the last year locked down and unable to train at the level they are used to. At the same time many others — including the Australians — have been in the pool all along, never really missing a beat despite COVID-19.
"I don't want to think about that too much. It's clear that everyone has faced challenges this year — some more than others — but I would never use that as an excuse," Masse said.
WATCH | How Canadian swimmers were affected by the pandemic:
After her bronze in Rio, Masse was very clear what her goal was coming into Tokyo.
"I want to go a personal best," she told CBC Sports. I want to be the fastest I've ever been and I'll be extremely happy if that happens."
Despite entering as the reigning world champion, pundits and oddsmakers didn't think Masse had a chance to win this race, instead focusing on Smith and McKeown, who set a world record at the Australian trials a few weeks ago.
It's been a magical few days at the pool for Canada, starting with a silver medal in the women's 4x100 freestyle followed by Maggie Mac Neil's gold yesterday in the 100 butterfly.
WATCH | Mac Neil wins Canada's 1st gold of Tokyo 2020:
Masse's silver makes it three medals in the pool, with more opportunities remaining for Canada as the swimming competition continues.
"It's extremely inspiring to be surrounded by other people that are successful. It makes you want to achieve that, to be a part of that," Masse said afterwards, her silver medal still around her neck.
"I know there is a lot of talk about momentum and it is real. Watching Maggie win gold yesterday was incredible and inspiring."