Ian Chadband / AAP News
Image: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia
Kaylee McKeown has annexed 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.
Triple Olympic gold medallist Kaylee McKeown caused surprise in Budapest by ruling herself out of Sunday morning’s preliminaries of the 100m backstroke, the event she dominated in Tokyo and at which she holds the world record.
As 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 allrounder.
But it didn’t pay off as the 20-year-old had to give her best to American star Alex Walsh, who was a dominant winner in 2 minutes 07.13 seconds.
The Queenslander was 1.44 seconds behind after the final freestyle leg, clocking 2:08.57 for the silver but at least getting the better of brilliant US teenager Leah Hayes, who clocked a world junior record of 2:08.91 for the bronze.
Yet her decision not to compete in the 100m backstroke seemed baffling when she appeared as one of the Dolphins’ key bankers for gold.
McKeown’s name had been on the start lists for the 100 back but she and head coach Rohan Taylor evidently felt it would be better for her to throw herself undistracted at the medley final, for which she’d qualified on Saturday.
It’s a busy week of action for McKeown with other relay commitments, so the decision was clearly taken with one eye on planning for the future.
But it may 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.
But McKeown 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’d hoped with her powerful backstroke.
Walsh only increased her lead to 1.38 seconds after the breaststroke, with Walsh reckoning her ultimate resounding victory was “a dream come true”.
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 relay team both triumphed.
But Winnington has given himself another chance of a medal by qualifying for the 200m freestyle final in fifth fastest (1:45.53).
Olympic 200m breaststroke champ Zac Stubblety-Cook found the going too hot in his weaker event, the 100m, finishing seventh in 59.65 behind Italian winner Nicola Martinenghi (58.26).
Western Australian Brianna Throssell, an Olympic medley relay champ, 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.
After winning in 22.57, he admitted that he’d had the “jitters” back in his hotel room, worrying about the race. “But once I’m on the blocks that’s as safe as I feel,” he added.
There was another remarkable swim from Brazil’s Nicholas Santos, who took silver at the age of 42, thus becoming the only 40-something swimmer to win a world championship medal.