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BEYOND LOCAL: Canada's Masse wins women's 100-metre backstroke race at Olympic Trials

Masse secured her spot on the team for the Paris Games with the top-two finish
Kylie Masse leaps in to the water as she wins the women's 100m backstroke during the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Canada's Kylie Masse admits she had some self-doubt with her swimming performances at times over the last year or two.

Returning to the approach used in her early days in the sport has helped get her back in top form. 

Masse delivered a stellar performance on Wednesday night at the Olympic & Paralympic Trials, winning the women's 100-metre backstroke in 57.94 seconds.

"I swim better when I'm relaxed," she said. "That goes full circle to (earlier) in my career when I was just relaxed and enjoying it, racing, and being with my friends."

Masse secured her spot on the team for the Paris Games with the top-two finish. Ingrid Wilm of Calgary was second in 59.31 — over a half-second inside the Olympic qualifying time — to lock up the other berth in the discipline.

Masse, from LaSalle, Ont., won bronze in her Olympic debut in 2016. She earned her first world title a year later and set a world record at the same time. 

At the Tokyo Games in 2021, Masse took silver in the 100 and 200 backstroke and added bronze in the 4X100 medley relay. 

Despite the success, the pressure and expectations had an impact. In 2022, Masse relocated to Spain for training and tried to work on her tendency to "hyper-fixate" on weaknesses in her skillset.

"I feel a lot more settled now so I'm happy," she said. 

Masse, 28, raced like it in front of an adoring crowd at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.  She was the only swimmer to record a sub-60 second time (58.27) in the morning preliminary session. 

Masse went over a quarter-second faster in the evening final, going under the 58-second mark for the first time in three years. 

"I think it just tells me that I'm in a really good spot," she said. "I think I needed that to be able to continue to move forward and to just know what I'm capable of and to know where I'm at."

Wilm, meanwhile, won three bronze medals at the world aquatics championship in Doha earlier this year. She'll be making her Olympic debut at the July 26-Aug. 11 Games.

"I'm so excited to see what Kylie can do (in Paris) and she made it so easy to be competitive and race beside her to try to do what I wanted to do today," she said. 

They were the only swimmers to nail down Olympic spots on the night. The three other A-final winners all missed the qualifying standard. 

Alexander Axon of Newmarket, Ont., finished first in the men's 200-metre freestyle in one minute 47.56 seconds. Oliver Dawson of Grande Prairie, Alta., took top spot in the 200-metre breaststroke in 2:12.42 and Emma Finlin of Edmonton won the women's 1,500-metre freestyle in 16:28.15. 

Teenage star Summer McIntosh stole the show over the first two days of competition at this weeklong event. The 17-year-old from Toronto was dominant in her 400-metre freestyle victory on Monday and followed it up a night later with a comfortable win in the 200 free.

In para-swimming on Wednesday, Reid Maxwell of St. Albert, Alta., trimmed nearly five seconds from his Canadian record in the men's 400-metre freestyle S8 class with a time of 4:28.20. 

In the women's 400 free S10, Aurelie Rivard of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., finished in 4:33.64. In the S7 class, Sabrina Duchesne of St-Augustin, Que., had a time of 5:24.68 and Sebastian Massabie of Surrey, B.C., finished the men's 150-metre medley (SM4) in 3:00.75. 

Para-swimmers who finish with an 'A' qualifying time are eligible to be nominated to the Paralympic team when the Trials wrap on Sunday night. 

There are slot allocations for 15 women and seven men. The Paralympics will be held Aug. 28-Sept. 8.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024. 

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press