History Lessons: Taking A Look At The Last Masse/Smith/McKeown 100 Back Matchup

2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

If you’ve been following swimming at the international level for the past few years, there is no doubt that you’ve heard about the famed women’s 100 backstroke world record progression. If you haven’t, here’s a quick summary:

Following Gemma Spofforth‘s 2009 World Championships swim of 58.12, the women’s 100 backstroke world record stood stagnant for nearly 8 years. Spofforth held onto the record until July 25, 2017, when Kylie Masse swam a 58.10 for gold at the 2017 World Championships to shave 0.02 seconds off the mark. Masse remained world record holder until July 28, 2018, when American Kathleen Baker swam a 58.00 at US Nationals to become the quickest woman of all time. Exactly 1 year later at the 2019 World Championships Regan Smith brought the record down to a 57.57 during her leadoff of the American women’s 4×100 medley relay. Smith WR was kept intact for nearly 2 years until Kaylee McKeown posted a blistering 57.45 at Australian Olympic Trials on June 13, 2021.

That’s a total of 4 world records in the event since 2017, courtesy of 4 different women. While Kathleen Baker didn’t make it onto the USA roster for the Tokyo Games, largely in part to the fact that she broke her foot mere weeks before Trials, 3 of the 4 most recent world record holders are just hours away from the Olympic final.

The trio of women put on a show during prelims when they each posted a new Olympic record one after another in the exact same order that they broke the world record. Masse began in heat 4 with a 58.17, followed by Smith in heat 5 with a 57.96, and then McKeown in heat 6 with a 57.88. Smith then took the Olympic record back during the semi-finals when she swam a 57.86 and Masse and McKeown followed with a 58.09 and 58.11, respectively.

As the anticipation grows for this sure-to-be-stellar Olympic final, we’re taking a look at the last 2 (and likely only) times that Kylie Masse, Kaylee McKeown, and Regan Smith swam in a 100 backstroke heat together. One might think that it occurred at 2019 Worlds where Smith set her world record but Smith actually didn’t race individually there in the 100 backstroke as Americans Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker were still at the helm.

While all 3 of them didn’t race each other in the 100 back in Gwangju, they did all contest the 200 back and they all wound up on the podium as Smith took gold in a 2:03.69, McKeown silver (2:06.26), and Masse bronze (2:06.62). Further, that meet did feature a Masse/McKeown showdown in the individual 100 and then a Masse/Smith showdown in the relay leadoff of the women’s 4×100 medley (Minna Atherton raced the opening leg for Australia, not McKeown). The victor of those 2 matchups were Kylie Masse in the individual race (58.60) and Smith in the relay (57.57).

The 2 races 100 backstrokes in question that featured all 3 women actually took place a year before 2019 Worlds at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Knowing what we know now, it becomes rather fortuitous that Masse, Smith, and McKeown found each other in the same heat at 2018 Pan Pacs as they were seeded 2nd, 5th, and 8th, respectively.

During heat 2 of 3 at the meet, Kylie Masse delivered a 58.29 Championship record, while Smith was nearly a second slower in 59.27, and McKeown trailed with a 59.91. Despite being well of Masse’s pace, McKeown qualified for the Pan Pacs final in 7th place, creating a second Masse/Smith/McKeown matchup.

In the final, Kylie Masse was a little slower than she was in the prelims with a 58.61 which was good enough for gold as Emily Seebohm hit a 58.72 for silver and Kathleen Baker a 58.83 for bronze. Regan Smith was left off the podium but managed to dip under 59 with a 58.95 for 4th. Current world record holder McKeown was next with a 59.25 for 5th place overall. To summarize, here are the results of this golden trio’s only 2 matchups in history:

2018 Pan Pacific Championships – Prelims: Heat 2

  1. Kylie Masse – 58.29
  2. Regan Smith – 59.27
  3. Kaylee McKeown – 59.91

2018 Pan Pacific Championships – Finals

  1. Kylie Masse – 58.61
  2. Regan Smith – 58.95
  3. Kaylee McKeown – 59.25

While the past matchups are certainly interesting to look at, it’s clear now that the precedent is rather meaningless. Since Masse’s 2018 defeat of Smith and McKeown both have had another 3 years of training and racing experience which have clearly paid off in the form of a world record each. With her recent 57.45 world record, McKeown has shaved nearly 2 seconds off that 59.25 she delivered at Pan Pacs while Smith has gone from 58 high to a 57 mid.

With only hours to go until the final, we want to know what you think? Will Smith retain her #1 spot from semis and take Olympic gold? Will McKeown pull off the ultimate redemption from 2018? Will Masse win her 4th straight major international, and first-ever Olympic title? Or will a 4th woman shock the field and pull off one of the biggest upsets of the meet? Your guess is as good as ours.

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gllr0302
11 months ago

seems worth mentioning Masse’s 57.7 from this season, putting her even closer to the other two.

Sub13
11 months ago

I’m nervous AF for Kaylee. Was pretty confident for her coming in but after she dropped the IM it felt like there was extra pressure on her to win her two events.

Fingers crossed.

Swimingggg
11 months ago

I would be happy if any of them win! I am very excited for the race tonight. As a Canadian, hoping for Masse to get the touch. She is so good at getting the touch. In Rio, I remember her having a great finish to get the bronze. Since, she has won 2x world champ titles, the Pan Pac title and the Commonwealth Games title in this event. Would love to see her top it off with Olympic gold!

MATTHEW FRANK
11 months ago

Kylie Masse looks extremely ripped…Kylie takes GOLD

njones
11 months ago

I don’t know if Masse has a 57 low ceiling like I think the other 2 may have…however, it may not take that to win based on the pressure and challenge of the mornings etc. And what Masse does is simply WIN. So I’ll go out and say she wins by a finger nail in 57 mid with the other 2 agonizingly close behind…

Oceanian
11 months ago

McKeown needs a steadier start than in her semi. And needs to keep away from the lane ropes.

JCO
11 months ago

The final will be slower than expected (similar to the final at trials) and White gets her hand on the wall first

Swimfan
Reply to  JCO
11 months ago

White was close to smith in last nights semis for 75 meters would love to see an American sweep

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Swimfan
11 months ago

Meaning gold & silver? It’s been a VERY long time since the medals could be swept (G-S-B)

Marklewis
11 months ago

I hope the touch pads are double checked before the finals tonight.

The winner is going to need a perfect race.
Any mistake could be the difference.

Masse doesn’t make mistakes, which is why she wins these big matchups.

Swimfan
Reply to  Marklewis
11 months ago

At the world champs on the medley relay smith blew masse outta the water I think she’ll do it again with a 57.2