Kaylee McKeown has grabbed Australia’s second individual medal of the world swimming championships — a 200m medley silver — but only after a shock decision not to compete in her best event.
The triple Olympic champion caused a surprise in Budapest by ruling herself out of Sunday morning’s preliminaries of the 100m backstroke, the event she dominated in Tokyo and the distance at which she holds the world record for that stroke.
Because the semi-finals were taking place less than 20 minutes before the medley final later in the afternoon, McKeown took the decision to throw all her efforts into proving herself a global champion all-rounder.
However, even though the 20-year-old had to give best to keep up with American star Alex Walsh, a dominant winner in 2 minutes 07.13 seconds, McKeown was adamant that the decision to go for the pressure-free, medley option had paid off.
“I wasn’t really expecting to come up and podium tonight. It was more just getting the international experience,” said the Queenslander, who was 1.44 seconds adrift of Walsh, clocking 2:08.57, but ahead of US bronze medallist Leah Hayes, who set a world junior record of 2:08.91.
“At the start of this year, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be doing Worlds or Commonwealth Games because of my shoulder injury, so I’m really proud of myself that I’ve managed to get here and gather the momentum to get on the podium in my first event.”
Yet her decision not to compete in the 100m backstroke had seemed baffling when she had appeared one of the Dolphins’ key bankers for gold.
It’s a busy week of action for McKeown, so her decision was also clearly taken with an eye to the future and ensuring she was not overly pressured.
However, it might have been frustrating for the Redcliffe swimmer to see the qualifiers for the 100m backstroke final led by American Regan Smith’s 57.65 — two-tenths of a second outside McKeown’s landmark best.
She was never really in the hunt for gold in the four-stroke event discipline, after being left trailing on the opening butterfly leg by Walsh and not eating into her lead as much as she had hoped with her powerful backstroke.
McKeown had hoped to add to Australia’s golden start, on Saturday, when both Elijah Winnington in the 400m freestyle and the women’s 4x100m freestyle team both triumphed.
However, Winnington has given himself another chance of a medal by qualifying for the 200m freestyle final as fifth-fastest (1:45.53).
Olympic 200m breaststroke champ Zac Stubblety-Cook finished seventh in his weaker, 100m event, in 59.65, behind Italian winner Nicola Martinenghi (58.26).
West Australian Brianna Throssell battled home sixth (56.98) in the women’s 100m butterfly as 19-year-old Torri Huske took the gold for the US in 55.64, narrowly missing the world record.
The international highlight of the day was multi-Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel winning the 50m butterfly, his second gold of the weekend after being part of the victorious 4x100m freestyle squad.
Isaac Cooper and Mitch Larkin missed out on making the 100m backstroke final, finishing 12th and 13th on their semi-final times, while Jenna Strauch’s strong finish couldn’t get her into the women’s 100m breaststroke showdown.