World Championships: Regan Smith Outduels Kylie Masse to 100 Back Title

Regan Smith -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Regan Smith Outduels Kylie Masse to 100 Back Title

Regan Smith’s face when she hit the wall at Duna Arena Monday showed simultaneous relief and disappointment.

Winning her first title in the 100 back was a goal achieved, though with the way Smith has been swimming, a slight dismay at the time would’ve been understandable.

The American outdueled Canadian Kylie Masse down the stretch, getting her hand to the wall first in 58.22 seconds at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest. That time was 0.18 seconds up on Masse, denying the Canadian her third straight world title. Claire Curzan grabbed silver, her first piece of individual Worlds hardware in 58.67.

Smith put a scare into the world record in semifinals in 57.65, just .08 off the mark, trying to regain it from Kaylee McKeown. The Australian Olympic champion withdrew from the 100 back in Budapest in the name of “managing her program” on the path to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s cool to be the 100m backstroke world champion,” Regan Smith said. “I’m so pleased, the ultimate goal was the gold medal, I wasn’t quicker than yesterday, but the most important to win another gold to Team USA. It’s getting harder and harder to deal with the pressure because a lot of people expecting me to deliver. I’ve been working a lot with a psychologist to survive this situation and it seems to be working.”

It’s the third world championship for Smith, having won the 200 back and medley relay in 2019.

The women’s 100 backstroke field has long been one of the most intriguing in the world, and it produced some of the best races in Tokyo last summer. Masse entered as the two-time reigning World Champion, having won in 2017 in Budapest and 2019 in Gwangju. Smith set the meet and then world record at 57.57 at the latter off the front of the 400 medley relay.

The Olympic record was set five times at the Tokyo Games, eventually resting with McKeown at 57.47 en route to gold in the final. That time was just .02 shy of the world record she set in Adelaide last June.

Only three swimmers – Masse, Smith and Kira Toussaint – were held over from the Tokyo Olympic final to the Budapest final.

“I’m really happy to stand on the podium, it’s always an incredible feeling to compete at World Championships and fight for the podium with these girls – this is something I’m really proud of,” Masse said. “Last year was really challenging so I’m happy to be here and swim again.”

Smith blew the field away in the semifinals at 57.65, winning by nearly a second. Only Masse (58.57) kept within a second of her, with Curzan third. That had been the order of the top three in prelims, as well, Smith leading in 58.31.

Monday, Smith turned first at the wall in 28.09, .06 up on Masse and a hundredth ahead of world-record pace. For the first time this week, Smith didn’t have the fastest final 50 in the field – she was 30.13, ceding that honor to her future Stanford teammate Curzan (30.07). Masse also kept close at 30.25.

For Curzan, the medal is her second bronze of the meet, to go with the 400 freestyle relay.

“I’m really satisfied with the result,” Curzan said. “Just to be in this field is a big honor and I can be really proud of what I have achieved.”

The top three separated themselves early and decisively, with the final five swimmers clustered within .24 seconds. Wan Leitan of China was fourth in 59.77, with Emma Terebo of France following. Toussaint finished sixth in 59.99.