After not winning an Olympic medal in 20 years, the Canadian women’s swimming team now has three in three days at Rio 2016, the latest courtesy of Kylie Masse in the 100m backstroke.
Masse built on the maple leaf momentum at the Olympic Aquatics Centre with a hard fought tie for bronze on Monday night. Hitting the turn in fourth place, she visibly gained speed and ground in the final 25 metres of the race to tie China’s Fu Yuanhui for bronze in a time of 58.76 seconds. In an extremely tight finish, they were both just one hundredth of a second behind silver medallist Kathleen Baker of the United States, who was just three-tenths behind Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu of Hungary.
“I kinda saw the scoreboard a little bit but I wasn’t trying to focus on that,” Masse said of her second half surge. “I knew it was a tight race and I knew just from swimming prelims and semis and going into finals we were all so close, a lot of tough competitors, so I knew it was going to come down to the touch and just trying to get my hand on the wall first.”
Masse’s podium time was also a Canadian record, lowering by three-tenths of a second the standard she first set in qualifying for the Olympic team at the national trials in early April and then tied in her semifinal in Rio.
And while there was some joking with reporters afterwards about not cutting fingernails to ensure a longer reach, Masse said her final push to the bronze medal did involve a little luck.
“I think it’s a different story for backstroke because we can’t see anything, so it’s a little bit trickier than something like freestyle where at least you can see your competitors,” she explained of trying to time the lunge to the wall. “Backstroke you’re kinda blind and just hoping for the best.”
Masse had already been enjoying a career year before the Olympic medal became the icing on the cake. A month after winning the Canadian trials, the University of Toronto student was named CIS Female Athlete of the Year.
“I think it’s a dream of every athlete to be at the Olympics and it was a dream come true when I qualified,” said Masse. “I knew it was going to be different here but I kinda just had to take it all in but at the same time focus on my race and I know you can’t control what anyone else does so just focus on your race and what you have to do.”
Masse ended a lengthy medal drought in the 100m backstroke for Canada, which hadn’t had a finalist in the event since Montreal 1976 when Nancy Garapick also won bronze. The only other medal was a silver by Elaine Tanner at Mexico City 1968.
Her trip to the podium follows that of the 4x100m freestyle relay and Penny Oleksiak in the 100m butterfly, making this the first time Canadian women have won three medals in the swimming pool since Los Angeles 1984. And there are still five more nights of racing to come.
“Everyone’s been performing so well, not just in the pool, the other Canadian athletes, it’s really inspiring to see everyone do well and it really gives each athlete hope for their own successes.”