World-record holder Kaylee McKeown upstaged American arch-rival Regan Smith to claim the 100m Olympic backstroke crown yesterday as Russia and Britain clinched titles to limit powerhouse United States to a single gold.
Australian sensation McKeown, who shattered Smith’s world record last month, flew through the water at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre to touch in 57.47 seconds, a new Olympic record and only fractionally outside her own world best. Smith had to settle for third behind Rio Olympic bronze medallist Kylie Masse of Canada.
McKeown, 20, broke Smith’s world record at the Australian trials last month, setting a new mark of 57.45, setting up a highly anticipated showdown in Tokyo. It did not disappoint, with the Olympic record falling three times in the heats. “My legs were definitely hurting in the last 20,” said an ecstatic McKeown, who switched up a gear to storm home after Masse turned first. “I’m sure it would have been pretty noticeable on the TV but I trained for that and I knew that I had a really strong back end and a really good chance to be on the podium.”
McKeown had a tough lead-up to the Games, with her father dying last year from brain cancer. “It’s not necessarily what I’ve been through,” she said. “Everyone has a journey of their own and it just so happens that mine’s been a really tough one. I wouldn’t have it any other way because I don’t think I’d be where I am today without all that happening.”
She is also targeting the 200m backstroke gold, having recently set the fourth-quickest time in history. In a shock, Smith failed to qualify out of the American trials, with Rhyan White and Phoebe Bacon instead tasked with trying to stop McKeown. In a day of upsets, American 100m breaststroke world-record holder and defending champion Lilly King was beaten, as was teammate and 100m backstroke champion Ryan Murphy. King was stunned by 17-year-old compatriot Lydia Jacoby, who swam a scintillating final 50m to touch in 1:04.95 and edge her into bronze, with South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker taking silver.
“It was crazy. I was definitely racing for a medal, I knew that I had it in me,” said Jacoby. “I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal. So, when I looked up and saw that scoreboard I was insane.” Murphy was also dethroned, with Evgeny Rylov leading a Russian one-two. The 24-year-old hit the wall in 51.98sec to pip teammate Kliment Kolesnikov, who finished in 52.00, ahead of Murphy in 52.19. It snapped a streak of six straight Olympic titles for the United States in the event.
Britain pulled off a sensational gold-silver double in the men’s 200m freestyle. Tom Dean took the honours when he came from behind in the final 50m to set a new national record of 1:44.22, with Scott grabbing silver ahead of Brazil’s Fernando Scheffer.
“I knew it was going to be a dog fight. I didn’t know how people were going to swim it,” said an ecstatic Dean. “I just want to say thanks so much to everyone, my mum, family, girlfriend. I’m lost for words, it’s amazing.”
Defending champion China’s Sun Yang is not in Tokyo as he serves a doping ban. Australia’s Ariarne Titmus topped the timesheets in the women’s 200m freestyle semi-finals with a comfortable 1:54.82.
American defending champion Katie Ledecky was third-fastest behind Hong Kong’s Siobhan Bernadette Haughey. Long-time world record holder, Italy’s Frederica Pellegrini, also qualified.
Hungarian world record holder Kristof Milak was quickest by more than two seconds into the men’s 200m butterfly final, making him a red-hot favourite. But his veteran compatriot Katinka Hosszu struggled in the women’s 200m medley despite being defending champion and world record holder, squeezing into the final seventh-fastest behind top-seeded American Kate Douglass.
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