She lost the title “world record holder,” but Kylie Masse added a few more titles to her lengthening swimming resume in 2018.
The latest accolade for the 22-year-old from Windsor, Ont., is her second straight Swimming Canada Female Swimmer of the Year (Olympic program). Her coach at the University of Toronto, Linda Kiefer, will once again receive the corresponding Coach of the Year award.
The award recognizes the backstroker’s accomplishments throughout the year: including two gold medals (and two silver) in April at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and gold at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in August. Based on her performance at the Commonwealth Games, Masse also received the 2018 Canadian Commonwealth Excellence Award.
Most importantly, she won when it counted, taking her signature 100-m backstroke over top competitors from Australia, Japan and the USA, and earning the honour of female swimmer of the championships at Pan Pacs.
Already the Olympic bronze medallist, Masse entered 2018 as world champion and world record holder in the 100 back. At the American Pan Pac trials, however, Olympic silver medallist Kathleen Baker shaved a tenth of a second off Masse’s 2017 time of 58.10.
Unfazed, Masse took on Baker, Australian backstroke legend Emily Seebohm, and others in the final. While she wasn’t thrilled with the time of 58.61, when she saw the “1” beside her name, she felt relief at the end of a long year of training and competition.
“I did find it hard and difficult to have both (Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacs). It was constant, which is what sport is and I love it but it was definitely exhausting,” Masse says. “I’m really proud to have come out on top at the end of summer as well as at Commonwealths. It was special to me to have my world record broken and then to win gold at Pan Pacs. I didn’t get the world record, but I won gold, so I was really happy with that and proud of myself I was able to do that after a long year.”
“The hardest one by far was Pan Pacs. It was a hard double with two major Games in the same year, let alone three or four months apart,” Kiefer says. “She has learned to win. Three major games in a row with worlds 2017, Commonwealth and then Pan Pacs.
“It’s not easy and she makes it look easy.”
Entering the year as the favourite brought with it new levels of expectations, pressure and media attention.
“Your thoughts sometimes get in your head and I found I had to really try and mentally get myself ready to race. Things were different and I had to learn how to deal with that,” Masse says. “I know it’s not realistic to be going best times every single meet; I’m the first person to tell myself that. But for some reason as soon as I was the world record holder I felt I had to be winning at every meet I went to, always be on my game.”
Although that extra mental weight sat on her shoulders in the days before big races, in the moments before she was able to clear her mind and focus on the task at hand.
“I think the most important thing is, whatever you think isn’t going to change anything. You can’t change anything if you’re already at the meet. You’re as fit as you can be. You just have to swim, so just trust yourself,” she says.
In addition to the two wins in the 100, Masse’s golden time of 2:05.98 in the 200 at Commonwealth Games just happens to stand as the No. 1 time in the world for 2018. How long can she say she’s “still learning” the longer distance?
“I say I’m still learning it because I have a hard time putting it together,” she says. “It’s kind of a game of going out fast and hanging on, or going out a bit more controlled and coming back faster. I’m still kind of playing with different ways of swimming it I guess.”
What made that winning time more impressive was that the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre is outside, normally a disadvantage for backstrokers used to looking at lines on a ceiling. She also picked up a silver there during a downpour in the 50-m distance, usually not her specialty. It’s just another example of Masse rolling with the challenges that come her way, whether in the pool, as a full-time student at U of T, or elsewhere in life.
“It’s such a key characteristic to have is to be adaptable, because getting worked up about things that aren’t going as planned isn’t going to do anything,” she says. “I take that into school as well. Definitely with swimming there’s never going to be a perfect race, a perfect environment, a perfect instant.
“Being prepared for anything and going with the flow is important to establish with yourself. To know what you need to do and not get bogged down if you can’t do what you want to do.”