Olympics-Swimming-Awesome McKeown extends gold run for Australia’s women
Newsfrom JapanSports Tokyo 2020
By Martin Petty
TOKYO (Reuters) - Kaylee McKeown powered to her first Olympic gold on Tuesday and a third win in three days for a triumphant Australian women’s team, launching a thrilling fightback in the 100m backstroke to go within a fingertip of her own world record.
Canada’s Kylie Masse took a good lead from the start and held it at the halfway mark but McKeown switched gears out of the turn and clawed back to win in 57.47, with Masse taking silver and American Reagan Smith the bronze.
McKeown’s victory put Australia’s swimmers on equal terms with the United States in the gold medal race with three each, turning up the heat in the latest round of one of the most enduring Olympic rivalries.
The win comes during an impressive run in which McKeown ranked top in three Tokyo events, driven by the memory of her father, who died of cancer last year.
“One hundred percent I know it’s stupid of me to say it but I can feel his presence, certain things pop up on my phone, only things he’d say to me,” she said.
“He was with me that entire race not just last 10 metres so its kind of a little superpower that I have within myself.”
The 20-year-old Queenslander was just two hundredths of a second shy of the world record she set in the Australian trials in June.
The win followed a similar gritty display on Monday from compatriot Ariarne Titmus, who came from behind to snatch gold from dominant American Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle.
“I never thought I would be in Olympics let alone an Olympic final then to stand on the podium with a gold medal around my neck, it’s something that a lot of people dream of,” McKeown said.
“I’m still soaking it all up.”
Australia’s performance at the Games reflected the atmosphere and the bond within the team, she said.
“I wouldn’t change this team for any in the world,” McKeown added. “The Aussies have a lot of pride behind them.”
Australian Emily Seebohm, who finished fifth in the same race as McKeown, said the team was like her family.
“I want to say it’s effing awesome. I told her she is an epic legend,” Seebohm said.
McKeown’s win will be another blow for American Smith, who set 100m and 200m backstroke world records at the 2019 world championships and surrendered one of them to the Australian last month.
The Olympics medal was also the second for the McKeown family following elder sister Taylor’s medley relay silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“She’ll push herself until she vomits. She’s an absolute animal,” Taylor told Australian television.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Ed Osmond)