Olympics-Backstroke dominator McKeown eyes medley gold at Paris pool

  • Swimming
  • Wednesday, 17 Apr 2024

Swimming - World Aquatics Championships - Aspire Dome, Doha, Qatar - February 11, 2024 South Korea's Kim Woo-min in action during the men's 400m freestyle heats REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Backstroke queen Kaylee McKeown marked herself a major threat for the 200 metres individual medley gold at the Paris Olympics as she shattered a national record at the Australian Open Championships on Wednesday.

McKeown will defend her 100m and 200m backstroke titles at Paris but a separate showdown with Canadian sensation Summer McIntosh beckons for the medley title after the Australian's sizzling time of 2:06.99 at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre.

McKeown's swim, the best this year and seventh best all-time, eclipsed Stephanie Rice's long-standing Australian record of 2:07:03 from the super-suit era.

The 22-year-old also became the fifth woman to break the 2:07 barrier, breathing down the neck of teenager McIntosh who clocked a personal best of 2:06.89 at national trials last year.

Three years ago, McKeown was top-ranked in the 200m medley in the leadup to the Tokyo Games but withdrew from the event to focus on the backstroke and medley relay events.

At Paris, however, she will hope to take them all on, adding a major challenge to McIntosh and American world champion Kate Douglass's 200m IM title hopes.

"Absolutely, I'm up for the challenge," said McKeown, who was nearly four seconds quicker than runnerup Ella Ramsay.

"It'll be hard ... but I feel like I'm putting myself in a good position to test myself to do the best I can."

McKeown's coach Michael Bohl prepared Rice for her 200 and 400 IM gold medal wins at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I'm sure he will be sending her a message about (the record)," joked McKeown.

Elijah Winnington won a duel of three world champions to claim the men's 400 metres freestyle title, reeling in Australian team mate Sam Short with a searing final lap and a time of 3:41.41.

South Korean Kim Woo-min, who denied Winnington a second 400m world title at Doha in February, was a distant third.

Winnington's time, 0.23 seconds quicker than 2023 world champion Short, was just shy of his personal best of 3:41.22 for the 2022 world gold at Budapest.

"That's a world class field with us three out there ... A hundred days out (from the Olympics), that's really good," said Winnington of his swim.

The first evening session also saw Australia's powerhouse women's freestyle programme on show as Mollie O'Callaghan beat her Olympic relay team mates for the 100m title despite a minor wardrobe malfunction.

O'Callaghan's swimming cap rode up her hair in the final lap but the 20-year-old red-head brushed off the problem to win in 52.27 seconds, comfortably ahead of runnerup Meg Harris and third-placed Olympic champion Emma McKeon.

O'Callaghan, back-to-back 100m world champion in 2022-23, was a touch disappointed with her time. Her personal best, set last year, is 52.08.

"I would have liked faster, you know I always like to go faster," she said.

"But there's plenty more things I've got to improve."

McKeown will bid for a second title at the meet in the 100m backstroke on Thursday, while Olympic champion Zac Stubblety-Cook will bid for the 200m breaststroke crown.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Doha; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Christian Radnedge)

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