Around this time last year, Kylie Masse might not have pictured herself as a world champion and record holder. That all changed at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Still riding the momentum from the bronze medal she won at the 2016 Games, Masse roared to victory in the 100-metre backstroke in a world-record time Tuesday at the world swimming championships in Budapest, Hungary. In the process she became Canada's first ever woman world champion swimmer.
Masse powered to the wall in a time of 58.10 seconds, edging the previous long-course backstroke record of 58.12 seconds set by British swimmer Gemma Spofforth at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
"I don't think it's really sunk in yet," Masse said in a conference call Tuesday. "I touched the wall and looked back and had to make sure I was looking at the right name and the right time. I was just super excited. In the moment I don't even know what I was thinking but excitement and joy."
It's been a lot of excitement and joy for Masse over the last year. She followed up her bronze in Rio with silver medals in the 100 backstroke and the 4x100 relay at the 2016 short-course world championships in Windsor, Ont., near her hometown of LaSalle before her record-breaking performance at Budapest's Duna Arena.
While she said she and her coaches have been fine-tuning her technique — she mentioned her starts and turns as key areas of focus — Masse is quick to credit the 2016 Olympics as a turning point. It was a massive success for Canada's women's swim team which won six medals, including four by Toronto teen Penny Oleksiak, and was given The Canadian Press Team of the Year award for 2016.
"I think it was incredible last summer to be a part of that Canadian team and it really gave us confidence and momentum, and showed we belong on the international stage," Masse said.
The confidence generated from that medal haul allowed Masse to see herself as a champion.
"Definitely before the Olympics I wouldn't have thought that, but after the Olympics I saw that I belong in the final and I belong on the podium, and that all comes with confidence," Masse said.
"This entire year I felt better about my racing and that all helped leading up to the championships."
Kathleen Baker of the United States was second in the 100 backstroke 58.58 seconds and Australia's Emily Seebohm was third in 59.59.
Masse is the first Canadian to hold the 100-metre long-course backstroke record since Wendy Cook in 1974 and the first Canadian record holder in any discipline since Annamay Pierce set the 200-metre long-course breaststroke record in the semifinals of the 2009 championships.
Earlier, American Katie Ledecky breezed to her third gold medal of the world championships, capturing the 1,500-metre freestyle by more than half the length of the pool on her most gruelling night of the meet.
Ledecky touched in 15 minutes, 31.82 seconds — more than six seconds off her world-record pace from the championships in Kazan two years ago, but clearly conserving energy for her second race of the night.
She only has a 49-minute break before returning to the pool for the semifinals of the 200 free.
Having already won the 400 free and 4x100 free relay on the opening day of swimming, Ledecky stayed on course for a record-tying six golds by a female swimmer. This was one of the biggest locks of all, and the 20-year-old was essentially just racing herself as the rest of the field fell far behind.
"It's hard the other 364 days of the year," Ledecky said, barely breathing hard. "It's putting the work in for practice, so when I get to this day of the meet, I can just do it. It's routine. Just get up and know that I have the work in the bank to get up and swim those times."
Lilly King of the United States and Britain's Adam Peaty also broke world records Tuesday.
King eclipsed the four-year-old mark in the 100-metre breaststroke, again beating Russian rival Yulia Efimova with a time of 1:04.13 seconds. The previous record of 1:04.35 was set by Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte.
Peaty set a pair of marks in the 50 breaststroke, a non-Olympic event. He went 26.10 in the morning preliminaries, shaving 0.32 seconds off the standard he set two years ago in Kazan. He went even faster during the evening semifinals, touching in 25.95.