Swimming prodigy Kaylee McKeown continued Australia’s fine form in the pool after breaking the Olympic record on her way to winning gold in the women’s 100m backstroke final in Tokyo.
During the qualifying for the final, the Games record fell four times. First it was broken in the heats by Canada’s Kylie Masse, then American Regan Smith, then McKeown, before Smith took it back in the semi-final. In Tuesday morning’s final, only one of these rivals could emerge with the gold medal.
Ultimately it was McKeown, who came within two one-hundredths of a second of her own world record. The 20-year-old added a third gold medal to the nation’s expanding medal count. Masse and Smith made up the podium, while McKeown’s compatriot, two-time Olympic gold medallist Emily Seebohm, finished fifth. By competing at Tokyo 2020, Seebohm became only the second Australian swimmer to make it to four Games.
Masse touched first at the turn, with McKeown in third, before the Australian stormed home in the final 25m. Masse took silver with Smith rounding out the podium.
“My legs were definitely hurting in the last 20m to go,” said McKeown. “I’m sure that would have been pretty noticeable on the TV. But I’ve trained for that. I knew that I had a really strong backend and the chance to be on the podium today. I’m just thankful that I’ve come away with the position that I have.”
The veteran Seebohm was delighted for her younger counterpart. “To see Kaylee do it was so – I want to say ‘effing’ special. It was. It was so effing special,” she said.
McKeown lost her father to cancer last August, and Seebohm said she had tried to provide support throughout the swim meet. “Not having family and fans here – it’s really hard,” said the 29-year-old. “So I think we’ve kind of been each other’s family. For her to do that – and for me to be in that final. I just got over and hugged her. It’s really special, being able to be each other’s family here and really have each other’s backs.”
In the men’s 100m backstroke final, dual Rio medallist Mitch Larkin finished seventh and admitted he needed to find more speed ahead of his medley – a race he has focused on – later this week.
“I’ve actually been struggling to get my rate up pretty high and get that easy speed,” he said. “It’s something I felt today. Obviously I’d been working on it the last couple of days. But I feel good – my body is fit, I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, I’m nice and strong. Obviously I have to reset, recover and get ready for the 200m medley.”
Earlier in the morning, American Katie Ledecky and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus both moved comfortably through the women’s 200m freestyle semi-finals. Titmus qualified fastest to book lane four for the medal race, and will be joined in the final on Wednesday morning by fellow Australian Madi Wilson. Ledecky qualified third-fastest. Titmus won round one of the rivals’ long-awaited meeting, taking gold in a tightly-fought 400m freestyle encounter on Monday.
“Last night was pretty tough,” Titmus said when asked about her recovery following the Tuesday morning win, which was followed in the evening by the 200m heat. “I was back in the village for about two hours - so it was hard to get a snooze, I just tried to lay there and relax.
“Last night I felt a bit sluggish,” she said. “That was understandable - but it was just about getting into this morning. Same thing this morning - it was just about trying to execute a good race to be in for tomorrow morning.”
The action in the pool continues on Tuesday night. American Caeleb Dressel and defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia will be hoping to progress comfortably through the men’s 100m freestyle heats. Australia’s 400m freestyle silver medallist Jack McLoughlin will be back in action as the men’s 800m freestyle returns to the Olympics for the first time in over a century.