Australian teen star McKeown 0.06 seconds off world record in Olympic lead-up

Kaylee McKeown’s ploy to fly under the radar ahead of the Tokyo Olympics is over.

The 19-year-old came within 0.06 seconds of becoming the only Australian to hold an individual long-course world record after a superb swim in the 100m backstroke at the Sydney Open on Saturday.

Kaylee McKeown after recording the second fastest time ever in the 100m backstroke. Credit:Delly Carr (SOPAC)

McKeown’s coach declared he has never seen anyone push through pain barrier like his prodigious young swimmer after watching one of Australia’s hottest gold medal chances clock a sizzling time of 57.63 – the second fastest of all-time and just shy of American Regan Smith’s world record of 57.57 set in 2019.

After breaking her Australian and Commonwealth records on Friday in the 200m backstroke – an event she won silver in at the 2019 World Championships – McKeown revealed she received a message from Smith congratulating her.

But after McKeown’s latest and most impressive swim, one would expect Smith to be anxious about the form of Australia’s rising star, who is in training for a maiden Olympics campaign, provided she qualifies.

A world record at next month’s Olympic trials in Adelaide could be on the cards but McKeown’s camp will seek to keep a lid on the hype.

“We’re not going to read our press,” coach Chris Mooney said. “We’re going to keep a lid on it … we have had those conversations.

“She executed it really well. It’s new territory for us too. We’re definitely learning on the run. We really feel as though we haven’t got the job done yet.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach some good athletes in the past but she’s just not scared of pain. She punches through pain barriers like no one I’ve ever seen in my life.”

McKeown lowered her personal best by three tenths of a second in the 100m backstroke and given swimmers are still in a heavy training block for the Olympics, there is a real chance she will go faster at trials and in Tokyo.

“I looked [up] and I was like ‘oh surely not. Oh shit’. Those were literally the words that came to my mind,” McKeown said. “It’s a good surprise … pretty stoked with it, not going to lie. I wasn’t expecting to come out and do that swim this morning.”

Asked if Smith’s world record mark was in her sights at Olympic trials, beginning June 12, McKeown said: “I don’t necessarily think about that kind of stuff. I rock up to the meet and do the best I can.

“It’s a pretty outstanding world record to be chasing and there are a lot of girls out there who are still chasing those times.”

While Australia holds the women’s 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle relay world records, no individuals currently have a world record to their name.

The last Australian to set a world record was Matt Wilson, who equalled the best time for the 200m breaststroke time in the semi-finals at the 2019 World Championships. Russian Anton Chupkov is now No.1 in the world in that event.

Kaylee McKeown with her late father Sholto, mum Sharon and her silver medal from the 2019 world championships.

As well as the 100m and 200m backstroke, McKeown is ranked No.1 in the world in the 200m and 400m individual medley.

McKeown has ruled out a tilt at the 400 individual medley and her coach indicated she would contest only two events at Tokyo.

After the death of her father in August last year, McKeown has a renewed focus about her life in the pool.

“Last year has really put things in perspective for me,” McKeown said. “I just don’t see the point in wasting my time. I’d rather get up and do the best I can and have no regrets about it.

“My coach’s words are ‘fly under the radar but if you’re feeling vanilla, you’ve got to go for it’. You’ve only got one shot at swimming. It’s short career, so why not put up the best you can when you can.”

Mooney says McKeown has had just three days off in the past eight weeks.

“It probably gives me more confidence than her,” Mooney said. “She’s the postman. She delivers. That’s her job. She knows what she needs to do. There’s no fuss.”

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