Four Olympic Records Set Up Title Joust for Regan Smith, 100 Back Field

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Regan Smith (USA) in the women's 100m backstroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Four Olympic Records Set Up Showdown for Regan Smith, 100 Back Field

The speed in the 100 backstroke at the Tokyo Olympics should not be a surprise to anyone. In the only Olympic event with a world record set since the end of 2019, historically fast times were not just anticipated but almost expected.

Even by that measure, the fact that two days of competition have lowered the Olympic record four times is remarkable. And it sets the expectation, entering Tuesday morning’s final, that it will take a world record to win gold. It might require undercutting the Olympic record to even earn a medal.

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kaylee McKeown (AUS) in the women's 100m backstroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Kaylee McKeown; Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Regan Smith, Kylie Masse and Kaylee McKeown have set torrid pace. The three stars ended Monday night with the Olympic record in Smith’s possession. But if the past two days have been any indication, that won’t last long.

“It’s cool,” Smith said Monday. “I know tomorrow, I’m sure a bunch of girls are going to be super, super quick, but it feels good right now. I feel like there’s some good energy and I just want to keep this ball rolling into tomorrow.”

The Olympic record resisted movement in the 2016 Olympics, with Emily Seebohm’s time of 58.23 holding from London. (As it was, that time came from the heats, so it technically withstood five rounds of attempts, including Missy Franklin’s gold-winning 58.33.)

But them came Masse with her 58.17 in the fourth prelims heat Sunday. Then Smith went 57.96 in the fifth heat. Then McKeown in 57.88.

As finals arrive, it’ll be Smith holding the top seed and the Olympic record, a 57.86 posted in the first semifinal heat Monday. Masse led out McKeown by .02 in 58.09 in the second semi.

The women are acutely aware of each other and the influence they exert. But part of that is understanding the need to stay within themselves and focus on their race alone.

“It is a balance and it’s something you kind of have to learn personally,” Masse said. “I feel like I’ve been able to get better at it each year the last couple of years. It’s all about staying in your own lane and focusing on what you can control. I can’t control how fast anyone is going to swim; all I can control is how fast I’m going to swim, and I can’t change what they’re going to do. That’s the bottom line that I tell myself. I just have to focus on myself and stay in my lane, be confident in my training and be confident in myself.”

“During the race, I try to stay in my own lane because I can’t control what the swimmers around me are doing,” Smith said. “But it’s really cool to be in an event that’s as talented as this event is. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Handicapping a favorite is difficult. Masse has the veteran advantage as the world champion in 2017 and 2019. She has a racing pedigree unmatched by the youngsters. McKeown owns the speed advantage, having gone 57.45 at Australian Trials to take the world record from Regan Smith (57.57). Masse also held the world record for a year from the summer of 2017.

All that achievement will make for a wide open final, perhaps one of the most scintillating of the entire meet.

“Everyone hasn’t been able to race international swimmers in a long time, so it feels good,” Masse said. “She (McKeown) has been swimming incredible. I know it’s going to be tough. It’s an extremely talented field, which is amazing and it only keeps me motivated and pushing.”