By Jim Morris
Kylie Masse smiled when asked if she gets tired of the media asking her about breaking the 100-m backstroke world record again.
“Kind of,” said the 23-year-old, who trains at the University of Toronto. “There is only so much to say. I can’t control what anyone else swims. I can only control what I’m doing. I can’t focus on that so much.
“I’m always working towards it in the pool. It’s something I do think about a lot. Thinking about it all the time isn’t going to benefit you. It could be detrimental.”
Masse, an Olympic bronze medallist, set the world record in the 100-metre backstroke at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. Her time of 58.10 seconds was broken by American Kathleen Baker when she swam 58.00 seconds at last year’s U.S. championships.
Wrestling the record back from Baker is on Masse’s agenda when she competes at this summer’s worlds in Gwangju, South Korea.
“It’s what sports is all about,” said Masse, who is coached by Linda Kiefer and Bryon MacDonald. “Right now, I’m working to get it back. That’s kind of my focus.”
Masse squared off against Baker at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo. The final was an exciting three-way battle with Masse edging former world champion Emily Seebohm of Australia by 0.11 while Baker was third, 0.22 behind.
“It was nice to have one gold at Pan Pacs and beat her,” said Masse. “I’m really proud of that and I’m grateful for that gold medal. But she still has the record.”
Masse flirted with the world’s best time at the 2019 Canadian Swimming Trials in April, winning the 100-m back in 58.16 seconds.
Kiefer was happy Masse lowered her time from the 58.61 she swam to beat Baker at Pan Pacs.
“Now we’re back to where we want to be,” said Kiefer. “We’re now in a really good space heading into the worlds.”
When you build a house, you start with a foundation, put up the walls, cover it with a roof, then finish the rooms. The most painstaking work can come on the final small details: Picking the paint for the walls, adding molding, installing the proper fixtures.
Masse has put in the hard work to become one of the best backstrokers in the world. Now she’s working on the small details, the little things that will shave milliseconds off her race so she again can be the world’s best backstroker.
“It’s a combination of everything, the whole race, from the second you get off the blocks until you touch,” Masse said. “Every little thing. It’s trying to perfect each and every detail of the race to maximize the whole race.”
When you are dealing in fractions of a second small things can make a big difference.
“I still need to do a lot of work on staying consistent, even some things I have been working on for a couple of years now, my start, my turn,” said Masse. “There are still times where I don’t execute it as I wish.
“I still have a lot to improve on with those tiny skills that I know will have a large impact on my race.”
The search for that extra grain of speed can’t compromise the fundamentals.
“That’s the challenge of it all, trying to look at those details but at the same time put together your stroke and not to kind of change everything completely,” said Masse.
“It’s putting all the pieces together like a puzzle and fit it all together.”
Her time in the 100-m final at trials came as a pleasant surprise for Masse.
“Leading up to trials and taper I felt really not great in the water,” she said. “I felt really low in the water and heavy. I didn’t feel like my stroke was there.
“To swim the times I did really surprised me. I think that’s what I have to keep in mind. You can’t think about the way you feel because it doesn’t necessarily reflect how are you going to swim.”
Staying focused during the race is important.
“I don’t exactly know when I’m going fast,” she said. “At the same time there are so many parts that make up the whole race you can kind of slip up one aspect but make it up in another skill.”
While the 100-m backstroke is her premier event, Masse is also a contender in the 200-m back. She won the Canadian trials in a national record two minutes, 5.94 seconds. The 200-m back remains a puzzle Masse hasn’t quite solved.
“The 100 is so much of a pure sprint. I don’t have to think a lot; my body just knows what to do. For the 200, I have to be more controlled. I think there is more of a strategy. My stroke is a bit longer and not as fast,” she said.
“I’m still kind of playing around with it.”