Masse spearheading Canadian assault on GC2018 pool
Canadian swimming looks once again to be in rude health with all eyes on a record haul at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The 26-strong squad of swimmers includes 16 women and 10 athletes under the age of 20 and - after out-shining their male teammates comprehensively at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Canada’s golden girls are ready to put their Tokyo 2020 credentials firmly on show in the Optus Aquatic Centre.
Masse’s biggest threat in the backstroke events is Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who has previously held the world record in the 50m backstroke, and still holds a number of Australian records.
“Racing Emily is always a pleasure, she's a super nice, super talented girl and I think it'll be a great race,” Masse said.
“The atmosphere and the crowd will really be roaring throughout the whole Games.
“Everybody says that the Commonwealth Games are fun and friendly and I’m really looking forward to my first one. It will be my first time in Australia and going up against the incredibly talented swimmers that country produces means that there will be a lot of great races.
“Those kind of environments are the conclusion of all the training and when you stand behind the box all you want is to put all of that together and enjoy doing the experience and sharing it with your teammates. The Commonwealth Games is exactly the kind of occasion that brings all that out of you.”
At July’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, it was Ontario native Kylie Masse who was taking all the headlines winning the 100m backstroke gold, breaking a seven-year world record in the process. That world title arrived just 12 months after Masse’s brilliant bronze in the same event in Rio, one of six medals in total for Team Canada in the pool, all of them won by women.
“Those first medals in Rio made us believe that we really belonged on the world stage and showed us what we can do,” Masse said.
“That snowballs into great things, and the success and enjoyment we had as a team built up off each other and really helped us forward.”
Back in Delhi at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, all eyes had been on Ryan Cochrane and the Canadian men’s team that he headed up, while the women searched for someone with his ability to build a team around. By Glasgow 2014, that scenario had begun to balance out with a new structure behind the scenes and medals for the likes of Hilary Caldwell and Brittany MacLean confirming their ascension onto the international stage.
“I can remember back at the London 2012 trials, I idolised Ryan Cochrane and (triple Commonwealth bronze medallist in Delhi) Julia Wilkinson," she said.
I was young and I think I placed around 100th in my race, but I was just in awe as I watched those guys in the finals.
“Go forward four years and I was racing the likes of Hilary Caldwell and now we are teammates and it’s crazy how fast things have gone. It feels surreal that now I’m part of that structure and that people look up to me.”
In a country as big as sports-mad Canada, where ball and puck sports dominate the back pages, swimming has struggled to compete for column inches and stature with the likes of ice hockey. Becoming the country’s first female swimming world champion in Budapest may not have made Masse a household name from coast to coast, but in the small Ontario town of LaSalle and the Windsor Essex Swim Team (WEST) club she spent so much time in growing up, Kylie soon became a local superstar.
“I swam at WEST from the age of 10 to 18, and I was always quite small so nobody predicted that I would necessarily succeed in the early days. Now, it is inspiring for me to keep going and to share my own experience that you really don’t have to be a star when you are younger to be the fastest when you’re older. It is important for kids to have their eyes opened when it comes to those kind of things that you always hear said and to know that if you work hard you can succeed.”
Post-London 2012, Team Canada brought in British swim coach John Atkinson as the new high performance director, and he quickly set about building on Canada’s traditional strength in depth in the relays, something which looks to have fed directly into the unity binding the success of the current women’s team.
“The success we have seen over the past couple of years has sparked quite the increase in engagement in swimming in Canada,” the 21-year-old said.
“Our team for the Gold Coast is even more of a blend of experience than it was in Rio and there will be a few more young kids for whom this will be their first international meet so it will be exciting and an awesome experience for them and the whole team.”
Among the more ‘experienced’ names on the teamsheet alongside Masse and Caldwell are the country’s youngest-ever Olympic champion, 17-year-old Penny Oleksiak and world championship silver medallist Rachel Nicol (24). They will be charged with helping the likes of newcomers Jade Hannah and Kayla Sanchez, both triple gold medallists at the 2017 junior world championships in Indianapolis, come to terms with the unique atmosphere and pressure of a Commonwealth Games.
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This article was produced by AMP Media.