Staying in Canada has helped Kylie Masse, who won the gold in the women’s 100-metre backstroke at the FISU Universide on July 7, get on a fast track to being world-class.
Joining the University of Toronto Varsity Blues meant Masse had a relatively easy commute to also train once a week with the High Performance Centre – Ontario at the new Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. That helped Masse keep improving incrementally and be fresh for her first major international competition. The Lasalle, Ont., native’s winning time of 59.97 seconds in Gwangju, South Korea was the world’s ninth-fastest of 2015 and, for the time being, tops the personal bests of international such stars such as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and the United States’ Natalie Coughlin.
Score one for swimming at home.
“I spent a lot of time going through schools in Canada and the States,” says Masse. “But it came down to just that I was going to feel more comfortable staying in Canada… U of T has a great athletic and academic ranking. I love training there and it’s an awesome atmosphere. I’ve been there the entire off-season and it’s really good.
“I really enjoy training there with U of T,” adds Masse, who attended National Team Trials in April. “They make practices really fun. Training with the High Performance Centre [under Ben Titley] once a week during the year has been really helpful.”
Masse’s gold was a microcosm of a whirlwind past 12 months where she has shaved nearly three full seconds off her personal best in 100-m backstroke. Her first year at Toronto was topped by winning four individual golds at the Ontario University Athletics championships and being named the conference’s top swimmer and top rookie. She erased three-time Olympian Joanne Malar’s two-decade-old OUA record in 200-metre individual medley.
“I thought she was the top recruit in the country last year and was filled with potential,” says Varsity Blues head coach Byron MacDonald,. “Kylie has certainly proven that prognosis correct. She has fast-tracked the improvement arc to now be ranked top 10 in the world, which is ahead of schedule — but certainly it’s a rewarding year for her.
“Kylie is one of the few swimmers that has tremendous feel for the water,” MacDonald adds. “Her technique is superb. And her work ethic is second to none. The speed she shows in workout is very impressive — usually she has to race the guys to get any competition. And it certainly helps that she is a born racer. We put her on our 4×200-m freestyle relay at the CI’s [CIS championships] and she dropped from a best time of 2:06 to 2:01-plus when she got into a great race.
“Long term, she will vie for [national team] spots in the 100 butterfly and the freestyles and the 200 individual medley.”
Masse is modest about what will be the next stepping stone in her swim career, but the 2016 Canadian Olympic Trials are looming on the not that distant horizon.
“I’ll keep training and we’ll see. Next year, there’s Olympic Trials of course but the first thing after this is summer nationals.”
Masse is studying kinesiology at Toronto, making for a demanding course load on top of training and competing. She credits MacDonald and Varsity Blues assistant coach Linda Kiefer for putting her needs first.
“It was difficult at first but I think it’s important for each individual to find a balance,” Masse says. “Byron and Linda were great with that. Whenever they could tell I was too stressed with school they would allow me to take an afternoon off or study for an exam. There was never any pressure. They’re both personable people and very understanding and that was a huge assist to me succeeding, because I was able to communicate with them clearly.”
The Universiade is an important exposure for Masse. Journeying across 13 time zones to compete in Korea would seem to be an exercise in staying in the moment and not being weighed down by preconceived notions.
“I wasn’t sure where I would fall in the rankings or things like that so I came in with an open mind, ready to take on the experience and see where that would lead me,” Masse says of her approach before her gold-medal swim. “That day [Tuesday] I got as much sleep as I could after the morning [heats].
“I tried not to think about what was going on with the finals and I think that was important because you can get worked up sometimes
“It was really overwhelming,” she adds. “But I was also excited to wear the Maple Leaf and represent Canada.”