Brisbane’s backstroking queen Kaylee McKeown has broken one of the toughest world records in the books, setting the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre alight to post a new 200m backstroke world mark on the opening night of the 2023 NSW State Open Championships.
The 21-year-old from Griffith University in Queensland, who is coached by Michael Bohl, clocked a time of 2:03.14 to clip 0.21 seconds off American Regan Smith’s previous time set at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.
It was a world record that had stood for almost four years with many keen judges and coaches believing it was still “a time too far.”
But not for Olympic champion Kaylee McKeown, the girl who dedicated her triple gold medal success in Tokyo to her late father Sholto and who has continued her whirlwind assault on world backstroke ever since.
Last year she added the 200m world long course and short course titles and the Commonwealth Games 100 and 200m double.
She now owns the world records for 100 and 200m long course and the 200m short course as this year’s World Championships and next year’s Paris Olympics fast approach.
McKeown was in the zone when she walked onto pool deck, 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the race, but revealed later that she was forced into a rush with the meet running ahead of schedule.
“The race was actually swum 20 minutes earlier than it was scheduled on the time line – I was so rushed…and talking to Mollie I said ”what’s going on…?” I actually like sitting in marshaling and kind of gathering my thoughts before my race, but I had no time for that, as I just pulled up my straps and went for it really...”
And she was certainly still very much in a rush when she took off from lane four and wasted no time setting the pace with her 29.34 down the first 50m – just 0.28secs outside Smith’s 2019 WR split.
The Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games champion then split 1:00.73 at the 100m mark – still 0.36 outside world time but at the 150 both McKeown and Smith remarkably touched the wall at exactly the same time – in 1:31.84.
But then McKeown unleashed a sizzling final 50m split of 31.30 – compared to Smith’s 31.51 to set a new world mark – that will again surely take some beating.
McKeown also revealed she struggled to fall in love with the pool again after her Tokyo triumphs.
“After the Olympics I found it hard to get up behind the blocks again….I’m not sure, maybe after that Olympic phase, training a lot harder and training with guys in my squad at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre,” McKeown said.
“I found a new love for the sport and it just goes to show that a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer,. I haven’t necessarily changed anything in my program or training wise. It’s just that I’m happier.
“But I do love racing….it’s what we train for…I knew it was going to be a new level heading into the Olympics and I think it’s great seeing Regan doing all her double ups – it’s scary and it’s daunting to me looking when you are looking at a competitor or competitors that fierce – even Mollie O’Callaghan in Australia – the backstroke depth is definitely coming back at that top level so it’s exciting.”
Also in the record books tonight was men’s backstroker, Tokyo Olympian Isaac Cooper (St Andrews, QLD) and coached by Olympian Ashley Delaney, who broke his own Australian and Australian All-Comers record – stopping the clock at 24.38 – to clip 0.06 off his 2022 marks.
In other highlights:
World Championship and Commonwealth Games relay golden girl Shayna Jack (St Peters Western, QLD) upset Olympic champion Emma McKeon (Griffith University, QLD) in the 100m freestyle final – Jack clocking 53.122, McKeon 53.55 and Meg Harris 53.91.
Kyle Chalmers attacked the men’s 100m final from the gun and stopped the clock in 48.09 from fellow Commonwealth Games gold medal relay swimmer William Yang (SOPAC, NSW) 48.64 and young gun Kai Taylor (St Peters Western, QLD) in his first major podium finish in a personal best time of 48.92, followed by Flynn Southam (Bond, QLD) 49.08 and Cam McEvoy (Somerville House, QLD) 49.67.
World champion Elijah Winnington (St Peters Western, QLD) led from start to finish in an impressive opening swim of the meet to win the men’s 400m freestyle in 3:47.98 (53.11; 1:49.92; 2:49.98).
Rio 2016 Olympic champion Mack Horton (Griffith University, QLD) swam through the field to finish in 3:51.61 edging out James Koch (Sydney University, NSW) in 3:52.31.
Commonwealth Games finalist and Mixed Relay gold medallist Alex Perkins (USC Spartans, QLD) scored an impressive victory in the women’s 50m butterfly 26.12 ahead of Emma McKeon (Griffith University, QLD) 26.49, with 17-year-old Isabella Boyd (Nunawading, VIC) third in 26.86.
Birmingham finalist Bowen Gough (Griffith University, QLD) hung on to claim an all-the-way victory in the men’s 200m butterfly in 1:58.20 – just out-touching a fast finishing Lucas Humeniuk (Chandler, QLD) 1:58.30, with Olympian Se-Bom Lee (Carlile, NSW) third in 2:00.30.
World Championship and Commonwealth Games silver medallist over 200m breaststroke, Jenna Strauch (Maimi, QLD) scored a comfortable win in the 100m breaststroke from fellow Olympian Abbey Harkin (St Peters Western, QLD) with Matilda Smith (Miami, QLD) third in 1:08.74.