VICTORIA — Kylie Masse has served notice she will be one of the swimmers to beat at this year's FINA world championships.
The Olympic bronze medallist from Windsor, Ont., swam the fastest time in the world this year and came within an eyelash of setting a world record in the women's 100-metre backstroke during Thursday's opening day of the 2017 Team Canada trials.
Masse won the final in 58.21 seconds, just .09 of a second off the world record held by Gemma Spofforth of Great Britain. Masse also broke the America's record of 58.33 held by American Missy Franklin.
Her time was better than the 58.45 swam by Hungary's Katinka Hosszu to win the gold medal in the 100 back at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Masse went into the final feeling confident after swimming a Canadian record 58.42 in the morning preliminaires.
"This morning it was my first race and getting my feet wet, there was no pressure," she said. "I just went out there and had fun with it."
Masse believes the world record is in her sights.
"That's every swimmer's dream," she said. "There's still a lot of work to do."
There was a tie for second with Hilary Caldwell and Dominique Bouchard finishing in one minute, 0.25 seconds.
Both were under the FINA A qualifying time of 1:00.61 needed to be nominated for the world championship team. Caldwell was awarded second spot because she swam a faster time in the prelimiairies.
Caldwell, who won bronze in the 200 backstroke in Rio, said swimming against Masse made her faster.
"It's pretty cool to be in a heat with her," said Caldwell. "To be beside her, it's doing great things for our backstrokers in Canada."
The trials, which end Sunday, have attracted over 400 swimmers to Saanich Commonwealth Place looking to earn a spot on the Canadian team which will compete at the championships July 14-30 in Budapest.
To qualify for individual events, swimmers must finish in the top two in their races and be under the FINA A qualifying time.
Katerine Savard of Montreal swam a personal best time to win the gold medal in the women's 200 freestyle in 1:57.13 with Mary-Sophie Harvey of Trois-Rivieres, Que., second in 1:57.81. Both were below the FINA A time of 1:58.68.
Kayla Sanchez of Toronto was third in 1:58.28 while Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., was fourth in 1:58.59. They will join Savard and Harvey on the 4x200 relay team in Budapest.
Savard believes the relay team can challenge for the podium at the world championship.
"I'm 23 and I'm feeling old," she laughed. "They are so young and so fast. I knew if I wanted to make the team I had to swim fast."
Kierra Smith of Kelowna, B.C., swam the 200 breaststroke in 2:24.36, below the qualifying time of 2:25.91. Ashley McGregor was second in 2:25.32 while Sarah Darcel was third in 2:27.74.
Javier Acevedo of Toronto was the first man to secure a nomination for the world championship team by winning the 100 backstroke in 53.64 seconds. The qualifying time was 54.06.
Acevedo was the youngest man on last year's Olympic team in Rio at 18.
"I realized having fun is more important to me than thinking about times," he said. "Having fun for me, helps me gets the time like that."
Eli Wall won the men's 200 breaststroke in 2:12.26, above the FINA qualifying time of 2:11.11.
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada High Performance Director, was pleased with the opening day results.
"Day 1 went the way I thought it would play out," said Atkinson. "Credit to Kylie Masse and her coaches Linda Kiefer and Byron MacDonald on her great performance today. Two best times today and world class swimming."
The two 50 butterfly races, the men's 800 freestyle and the women's 1,500 were not selection races for the world championships.
Alexander Katelnikoff took the gold in the men's 800 freestyle in 8:18.64. Sadie Fazekas won the women's 50 freestyle in 26.90.
Penny Oleksiak, winner of four medals in Rio, led the qualifying in the 50 butterfly with a time of 26.40 seconds but the 16-year-old from Toronto was scratched from the final.
Matthew Dans of Ottawa won the men's 50 fly in 24.35.
Stephanie Horner of Beacons Field, Que., won the 1,500 in 17:05.58.
The Canadian Press