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Canadian Kylie Masse captures Olympic silver medal in 100-metre backstroke

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TOKYO — Kylie Masse set the pace in a lightning-fast women's backstroke final to emerge with an Olympic silver medal.

The 25-year-old from LaSalle, Ont., led at the halfway turn in the 100-metre backstroke with the fastest first length of her life.

Australia's Kaylee McKeown caught Masse at the wall to take gold by just over two tenths of a second.

Both women went under the Olympic record set in the previous day's semifinals by bronze medallist Regan Smith of the U.S.

"I knew it was an incredibly challenging and talented field of backstrokers that have been swimming crazy-fast this whole year, so I knew it was going to be a battle," Masse said.

"I'm proud of myself to get on the podium tonight."

Her medal was the third in as many days for the Canadian women's swim team following Maggie Mac Neil's gold in the 100-metre butterfly Monday and a freestyle relay silver Sunday.

Toronto's Penny Oleksiak and Sydney Pickrem of Clearwater, Fla., qualified for the 200-metre freestyle and 200-metre individual medley finals respectively Tuesday. They'll race Wednesday morning local time (Tuesday evening in Canada).

McKeown's winning time was two hundredths of a second off her world record of 57.47 seconds. Masse's 57.72 was two hundredths back of her career-best in June's Olympic trials.

Masse (pronounced Moss) is a double world champion in 100 backstroke, having claimed titles in 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea, and 2017 in Budapest.

The global COVID-19 pandemic upended Masse's swimming life for over a year leading into Tokyo, so the Canadian was philosophical about missing out on gold.

"It would have been incredible to have gotten gold. I would have absolutely loved that," Masse said. ""I went the second-fastest time that I've ever gone and I have to be happy with that. I'm proud of that in an Olympic final.

"After such a crazy year, I don't think you can be too hard on yourself."

Masse's home pool is at the University of Toronto, where she trains under coaches Linda Kiefer and Byron MacDonald.

With that pool closed for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, she relocated to Toronto's Pan Am Sports Centre last year to join a training group overseen by Ben Titley.

When the first wave of the pandemic shut down all pools for weeks in the spring of 2020, Masse got into a harness and tethered herself to a fence so she could swim in place in her parents' backyard pool.

"Everyone's faced challenges this year," Masse said. "Some more than others. I don't want to ever use that as an excuse. I did everything I possibly could."

Masse felt she was able to compensate for a lack of races over the last year with an unprecedented volume of training.

"That helped me go 57 (seconds) early in the year and helped me go 57 now," she said. "That's the fastest I've been in five years.

"I know that the training that I've done this last year, even (with) all of the obstacles, has been successful and some of the best training I've had in my life."

Masse tied for Olympic bronze with China's Fu Yuanhui in Rio in 2016.

The only other women in the world to win multiple career medals in 100 backstroke are American Natalie Coughlin, Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe.

Masse was a world bronze medallist in the 200 backstroke in Gwangju and that final is Saturday. Sunday's medley relay lineup has yet to be announced, but she is the lead candidate for the backstroke leg.

Toronto's Summer McIntosh, the youngest athlete on Canada's Olympic team at 14, placed ninth in the 200-metre freestyle semifinal Tuesday to finish just outside the top eight advancing.

Women's 1,500-metre freestyle made its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Katrina Bellio, a 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., finished 21st.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect spelling for coach Byron MacDonald's first name.

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