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Kylie Masse - swimming medals, records and ‘making a difference’ for Canadian girls

“I hope to leave a legacy in swimming, but also for female athletes across all sports,” Kylie Masse tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).

At 26, with World and Commonwealth titles, a world record and four Olympic medals to her name Kylie Masse is already widely-regarded as ‘Canadian swimming royalty’.

Judging by the incredible response from youngsters in the crowd watching her compete in the recent FINA World Cup in Toronto, it is also very clear she is already an established role model to young girls in her homeland.

Kylie blushes when she is reminded about their reaction and the way she was ‘mobbed’ by fans seeking autographs and selfies after this competition – and each she races in Canada.

“I mean, it's a huge honour,” she says with a beaming smile.

“I know how much I hope I'm a role model because I know how much I admired some of my role models and I know the impact that it can have on someone that's young and getting into a sport or trying to find their sport.”

Kylie, as she mentions, was of course once one of those aspiring stars herself and grew up idolising home-grown athletes as well as those from rival nation the USA and further afield.

Her drive at that age did not come from medal-chasing or record-setting though, instead a simple “love for swimming and being in the water,” she tells the WSA.

“From a young age I started lessons and then after taking part of a summer league and I told my parents I wanted to swim more often,” says the three-time Commonwealth champion.

“They told me I could join the local club (in Ontario) and that meant I could also swim through the winter and not just in the summer, and I’ve basically never stopped since.”

In 2015, at the age of 19, she missed out on a place in the Canadian team for the Pan American Games, but instead qualified for the World University Games and there – in South Korea – she claimed her first international honour.

She recalls that event giving her a “huge confidence boost” because until that time the swimmer herself was not entirely convinced a career at the elite end of the sport was a realistic dream.

“I had a lot of family and friends who I think believed in me more than I believed in myself,” the swimmers tells the WSA. “I don't think I ever expected to be at this level.

“I really just enjoyed swimming for what it was and the social aspect.

“I'm thankful that I stuck with it through the challenges and through the obstacles that I faced growing up and so happy to be here!”

Propelled by her 2015 “breakthrough” performance Kylie entered Rio 2016 keen to gain experience in her first Olympics and ignored any pre-Games talk about being an ‘outside medal contender’ in the 100m backstroke.

On 7 August, the night of her semi-final, she watched on as 16-year-old team-mate Penny Oleksiak became the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic swimming medal in 20 years, with silver in the 100m butterfly.

24 hours later, Kylie celebrated her own historic moment by claiming a joint bronze, with Fu Yuanhui, and setting a new 100m back national record of 58.76 seconds.

12 months later she became the first Canadian woman to win a World swimming title, while the event - Budapest 2017 - also saw her break the longest-standing women’s world record in the sport.

She lowered the previous 100m backstroke landmark time of 58.12 seconds - set by Britain’s Gemma Spofforth in 2009 during the controversial ‘super-suit era’ – with a new mark of 58.10 secs.

Kylie went on to become one of only three women to win a medal in the same event at four successive majors between 2016 and 2021, which took in the Rio Olympics, Budapest and Gwangju World Championships, as well as the Tokyo Olympics.

In Japan, she added 100m and 200m backstroke silver, as well as a bronze in the women’s 4x100m medley relay, to her 100m back bronze from Brazil five years earlier.

Her motto or message to others aspiring to follow in her footsteps? “It’s a difficult one,” she admits.

“I think I try and maintain perspective and try not to get too high on the highs and too low and lows.

“I feel like that's really helped me personally because it's allowed me to find balance in life.

“Yes, I love swimming and I have so much invested in swimming, but when something isn't going well, I can't just dwell on that and I need to focus on other passions that I have in life.

“So, I find just having perspective gives me a better balance and that's kind of a whole life motto approach that I try and follow.”

Images from Kylie Masse and Fina

Kylie is the proud owner of 29 major international medals to her name, with Olympic gold the only noticeable absentee from her collection, but there is still time to attain that honour.

The swimmer herself insists that while completing a ‘career-grand-slam’ would be “amazing” she is already proud of her achievements and wants to enjoy her time in the sport.

“I’d have to say that my proudest moments so far would be at the Tokyo Olympics,” she tells the WSA.

“After all the challenges and adversity of Covid and the pandemic, moving training bases and all sorts of things, I'm just super proud of the results that I achieved along with my Canadian teammates, those are memories that I will never forget.

“As for the ultimate dream, I think to just continue loving the sport and to pursue it to 2024 and have the best Olympics that I can.”


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