World Championships: Kaylee McKeown Touches Out Regan Smith for 50 Backstroke World Title

Kaylee Mckeown of Australia reacts after winning the gold medal in the 100m Backstroke Women Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 25th, 2023.
Kaylee McKeown -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Editorial content for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships is sponsored by FINIS, a longtime partner of Swimming World and leading innovator of suits, goggles and equipment.


World Championships: Kaylee McKeown Touches Out Regan Smith for 50 Backstroke World Title

The Fukuoka World Championships got off to a rough start for 22-year-old Australian Kaylee McKeown. Entering as one of the favorites in the women’s 200 IM, McKeown was disqualified in the semifinals for an illegal backstroke-to-breaststroke turn. However, that setback allowed McKeown to focus on backstroke, and she has been golden in those races.

She won gold in the 100 back, overtaking Regan Smith to win by a quarter-second and finish just eight hundredths off her own world record. Now, she’s two-thirds of the way to a stroke sweep after McKeown again took down Smith in the 50 back. Off the start, McKeown emerged ahead and held a slight lead throughout the race. Smith made a late surge and nearly stole the gold, lunging for the wall at the same time as her Aussie rival, but McKeown got in just ahead in 27.08, three hundredths ahead of Smith’s 27.11.

McKeown now becomes the third-fastest performer event in the event behind the Chinese duo of Liu Xiang (26.98) and Zhao Jing (27.06). She lowered her own Australian and Commonwealth record of 27.16 set in May 2021.

“I’ve never actually podiumed for a 50. I’ve always come out like fourth or worse off, so it’s really nice to be able to share that podium with some amazing girls. I’m very happy that I’ve got some good speed, so fingers crossed that my speed can carry into some endurance for the 200 tomorrow. I’m pretty nervous for it, but I’m excited to get it out of the way,” McKeown said.

“This is a perfect stepping stone for Paris. The more that I can do here and the more I put myself under stress and pressure and just emotionally and physically as well, the better off I’ll be next year, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I didn’t come into the meet with any goals of PBing, records, podiums at all. I just wanted to get through my races, heats, semis and finals, and I’ve been able to do that.”

Smith, who set an American record of 27.10 in the semifinals, finished one hundredth off that time in the final as she dropped to fourth all-time in the event. The swim was an impressive bounce-back for the American as she stepped up for the 50 back final less than 30 minutes after taking silver in the 200 butterfly. The difficult double likely zapped some of Smith’s speed entering the 50, but her impressive closing speed made Smith the first swimmer in Fukuoka to clinch two individual medals in one night.

“We train all year for this. I do a lot of TYR Pros during the year, and I do a lot of tight doubles, so I was definitely prepared for this,” Smith said. “It’s definitely hard, doing it prelims, semis and finals, but I think I did a really good job of going into business mode and doing what I needed to do, and I’m very pleased that I was able to medal in both of my events tonight.”

The bronze medal went to Great Britain’s Lauren Cox, who finished eight hundredths ahead of 2022 world champion Kylie Masse, with Cox touching in 27.20 to the Canadian’s 27.28. Katharine Berkoff, the 100 back bronze medalist and winner of this event ahead of Smith at U.S. Nationals last month, ended up fifth in 27.38.

In her first World Championships, Cox became the first British woman to win a medal at a global-level competition since Jazz Carlin won 400 and 800 free silver medals behind Katie Ledecky at the 2016 Olympics. She finished just one hundredth of Kathleen Dawson’s 2021 British record of 27.19.

“I’m over the moon. It’s such a good feeling. I couldn’t believe it to be honest. I needed to look for about 30 seconds at the board before I could be like ‘wow, that’s me,'” Cox said. “When I got here, my goal was to make a final so to come away with a medal is just incredible.”


Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x