Backstroke dominator McKeown eyes medley gold at Paris pool

Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

MELBOURNE: 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.