Backstroke specialist Kylie Masse claimed her second silver medal in the Tokyo Olympic pool on Saturday, once again making for an exciting race at the wall with rival Kaylee McKeown of Australia.
Masse led for much of their 200-metre backstroke race, before McKeown really accelerated in the final meters to win the gold in 2:04.68. Masse swam her fastest-ever time of 2:05.42 to finish second, while another Aussie, Emily Seebohm, took bronze in 2:06.17.
It struck familiar tones to the race between McKeown and Masse just a few days ago.
Earlier in the Olympic meet, the 25-year-old Canadian earned a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke. The native of Lasse, Ont. was out-touched at the wall by 20-year-old McKeown in that one too, where the Aussie set a new Olympic record.
“I knew it was going to come down to the last bit, and I think maybe from how I felt, my stroke did maybe slow down a bit,” said Masse on Saturday, who led for the first 150 meters. “But that was the best time for me, a Canadian record, so I’m pleased with that.”
It’s been a passion push for the unstoppable McKeown in Tokyo, since the Australian lost her father Sholto in 2020 and vowed she would be at her finest at these Games in his memory. McKeown has earned three medals in Tokyo.
Masse has already improved upon her performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics. There she earned bronze in the 100-meter backstroke and a fifth-place finish with the women’s 4 x 100-meter medley relay team. Canada could add to its medal tally this weekend when that relay takes place on Sunday. Masse, Penny Olesiak and gold-medal winning butterfly specialist Maggie MacNeil are likely entrants.
Masse accomplishments, which also include two world championships – often get upstaged by those of Oleksiak.
“That’s always been part kind of my personality to just fly below the radar and I kind of enjoy that,” said Masse. “The people that are getting recognized are well deserving and should be recognized. So, yeah, I’m quite content with what I have.”
It was the fifth medal in Tokyo for the swim team, and the 12th for Canada, all earned by women.
Five years ago, Masse didn’t even race the 200-meter backstroke in Rio. The time she raced in Tokyo Saturday would have won that Rio race.
The easygoing Masse clapped heartily for her Australian competitors on the podium. With no family in Tokyo, she waved up at the pocket of Canadian swim team members hollering and waving flags.
Her double-medal showing in Tokyo is impressive, considering her training was upended leading into these Olympics, while many nations kept right on swimming.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, and pools closed, Masse went home to her parents’ house in LaSalle, Ont. She found free weights and borrowed a stationary bike from a neighbour. She did yoga, online fitness classes and met with her team on Zoom. Before Canada’s national team athletes gradually returned to pool training in late June of that year, they were out of the water 122 days, the most among the world’s top swim countries.
Before the pandemic, she had been training with Linda Kiefer and Bryon MacDonald at the University of Toronto. But long-lingering closures at that pool forced her to move to the High Performance Centre in Scarborough instead, joining swimmers like Penny Oleksiak, Kayla Sanchez and Summer McIntosh there under coach Ben Titley.
Another training mate, Kelowna, B.C’s Taylor Ruck also made Saturday’s final and finished sixth (2.08.24). Ruck has had an emotional few months. She was early-nominated for Canada’s Olympic team in the 100-metre freestyle back in the spring, but then beat by faster performers in that event at the Canadian Olympic trials and moved out of it for the Olympics. Instead she has swam the two backstroke races in Tokyo. She did not earn medals in those, however she earn a silver for swimming the heat that put the Canadian 4x100-meter freestyle team into the final. Ruck also swam a leg to help qualify the 4 x 100-metre medley team for Sunday’s final.
Masse credited Ruck for their training together.
“She’s definitely contributed to my backstroke success,” said Masse. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without her pushing me in training.”
Masse has been a serious contender in the 100-m backstroke in recent years. She took Olympic bronze in 2016, became the first Canadian woman to win a world title in swimming in 2017, and repeated in 2019. She also won the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and Commonwealth Games. Masse, McKeown and American Regan Smith have all been trading world records in that event. The competition is tight, and the times are sure to get even faster in the next few years in the backstroke events.
Also in action on Saturday, Brent Hayden raced the 50-meter semi-final, and placed ninth, just missing the final.
Later this weekend in the Olympic pool, Oleksiak has a chance to add to her medal collection in the 4x100-m medley relay on Sunday. She is currently tied with speed skater Cindy Klassen and speed skater/cyclist Clara Hughes as Canada’s most decorated Olympian at six medals. A seventh would give her solo claim to the title.