In swimming, the next major competition after an Olympic Games is always the long-course world championships held the following summer.
The world championships are ultra-competitive and prestigious because they only happen every two years, and all the best swimmers of the era show up completely prepared.
The Canadian swim team arrived in Budapest, Hungary for this year’s event buoyed by a surprising and historic Rio Olympic Games.
The team amassed six medals (all in women’s events), the most since the men and women combined for 10 in the 1984 Olympic pool. Budapest was also a chance to prove that Rio wasn’t an outlier.
During the eight days of competition now completed, the team was hit with a wave of reality, here’s what we learned.
Once again, Canada has a world record holder
Kylie Masse completed her impressive ascent in the 100-metre backstroke, setting a world record (58.10 seconds) while becoming the first Canadian woman to claim a world championship in swimming.
It was refreshing to witness. Masse, from LaSalle, Ont., smoothly won by nearly a half second, and appeared to be enjoying the experience she called ‘surreal’.
The 21-year-old won the bronze medal in Rio last year. She is the first Canadian to set an individual world record since Annamay Pierse in 2009.
Full credit should be applied to Masse’s coaches, Linda Kiefer and Byron MacDonald, at the University of Toronto. They kept her sane and focused, all while instilling the belief that swimming the fastest-ever two lengths of backstroke was possible.
In Budapest, Masse made it look routine.
‘If you’re not getting better, you’re getting passed’
Mike Babcock’s clever ‘if you’re not getting better, you’re getting passed’ tweak to Joe Paterno’s famous quote applies to Toronto’s Penny Oleksiak, who nearly one year after her transcendent Rio Olympics leaves Budapest without an individual medal.
The viciously competitive swimming world waits for no one.
Last year in the 100 freestyle, Oleksiak and American Simone Manuel swam 52.70 seconds to tie for Olympic gold.
This year, Manuel improved by almost a half second to become the outright world champion. Oleksiak was two tenths-of-a-second slower and finished sixth.
Not to mention, the women’s relays – the 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle – that were bronze medals for Canada in Rio and part of Oleksiak’s historic haul, were slower in Budapest and missed the podium.
This has been a year of many changes for the 17-year-old…