Kaylee McKeown leaves swimming world gobsmacked in never-before-seen feat

·6-min read
This photo shows Kaylee McKeown posing with her gold after a historic moment at the world short course championships.
Kaylee McKeown became the first woman in swimming history to hold all four major international gold medals in the same event, at the same time. Pic: Getty/Ch9

Australian superstar Kaylee McKeown is being celebrated across the swimming world after going where no woman had previously gone before in the pool. The 21-year-old triple-Olympic gold medallist added another notch to her belt in Melbourne on Sunday night after winning the 200m backstroke title at the world short course championships to clinch an extraordinary piece of history.

McKeown took gold after clocking 1:59.26 seconds to fall just short of breaking her own world record time of 1:58.94 - set two years ago. American Claire Curzan pushed McKeown all the way and took the silver medal in 2:00.53.

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"Kaylee McKeown, take a bow," Giaan Rooney said on Channel Nine's commentary. "That was a tough race, you could see that. Claire Curzan was not letting her go. Kaylee took it out hard, knew she wanted to be the one to set the pace, knowing Claire was swimming well."

While McKeown may have been disappointed she just missed out on lowering her own world mark, the victory saw her become the first woman in history to simultaneously hold the Olympic, Commonwealth, world long course and world short course titles for the same event. Aussie Olympic great Grant Hackett is the only other swimmer to achieve the same feat, doing so in the 1500m.

"I had no idea and it's pretty surreal. To be up there with someone like him, it's phenomenal," a humble McKeown said after the race. The historic swim cemented the 21-year-old's status as the Queen of backstroke, an achievement the swimming world was quick to celebrate on social media.

McKeown says she is relishing the prospect of trying to defend her titles at the next Olympic Games in Paris, in 2024. However, the Aussie admits it will be a vastly different mindset going from the hunter, to the one being hunted by her swimming rivals.

"I was the chaser (before Tokyo) ... and now I have all these girls wanting to chase me," said McKeown, who won three Olympic gold medals last year. "I just have to put myself back in that position and realise, hey, just because I've done this in my career, it doesn't mean it's going to be given to me the next time I step up to do it.

Pictured here, Kaylee McKeown celebrates after claiming gold in the 200m backstroke at the world short course championships.
Kaylee McKeown celebrates after claiming gold in the 200m backstroke at the world short course championships. Pic: Getty

McKeown was under her own world record pace for much of Sunday night's final but the mark just got away from her in the end. It marked McKeown's third gold medal of the meet after she won the 100m backstroke and swam in the victorious 4x50m medley relay team. She finished her championships later on Sunday night with a silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay.

Combining with Jenna Strauch, Emma McKeon and Meg Harris, McKeown and the Ausue quartet clocked 3:44.92. However the Americans led throughout the race to win in 3:44.35 and better their own world record time of 3:44.52.

Kyle Chalmers helps Aussie snatch amazing gold

Elsewhere, Kyle Chalmers also left viewers in disbelief on Sunday night, erasing a huge deficit to secure gold and a world record in the 4x100m men's medley relay. Chalmers started the freestyle leg with a deficit of 1.3 seconds and was still well behind at the last turn.

However, the Aussie superstar motored to the wall in staggering scenes, touching in three minutes, 18.98 seconds for a dead-heat with the USA. The time was under the Russian Federation's time of 3:19.16 that had been the world record since 2009.

Chalmers' split time of 44.63 seconds was the fastest in the history of the event. It also meant Australia finished with a national record 13 golds at the meet in Melbourne, bettering the 12 they claimed in the 1995 and 2006 editions.

Earlier, Canadian Maggie MacNeil opened Sunday night's session with her second world record of the event, smashing the old mark in the 100m butterfly. MacNeil clocked 54.05 seconds to break the record by a staggering half a second. She has won all of Canada's three gold medals at the event in Melbourne.

American star Ryan Murphy completed his sweep of the men's backstroke events. Murphy won the 200m gold on Sunday night after also claiming the 50m and 100m titles.

Murphy won the 50m two nights ago on a controversial re-swim. Australia's Isaac Cooper touched the wall first in the initial race, but it didn't count because half the field stopped swimming when an alarm went off at the start of the race. Cooper had to settle for silver when the race was re-swum an hour later.

The meet ended on Sunday night with Australia second on the medal table behind America (17 golds). Chalmers, who didn't swim his 200m freestyle heat on Sunday morning to concentrate on the medley relay, hailed Australia's gold medal haul as "incredible".

with AAP

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