IRVINE, Calif. – Last year at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, right after Canadian Kylie Masse broke the world record and beat her out for the gold medal in the women’s 100m backstroke, Kathleen Baker entered a new goal time into her phone: 58.10.
That was Masse’s world record, and every day since then, at 8 p.m., it flashed on Baker’s phone to remind her of her mission.
On Saturday at the Phillips 66 National Championships, Baker accomplished that mission, breaking the world record in the women’s 100m back in 58.00.
“I put a goal in my phone so it reminds me every day,” Baker said. “Right now it’s a 58.10, and I just broke that, so I’m going to put 57.99 down.”
Baker, who won silver in the 100m back at both the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2017 FINA World Championships, said she has been training for backstroke a little more consistently this year, with a focus on the 200m back. She also increased her strength training, working on squats, in particular, to give her the legs the strength and stamina she needs to finish a race.
“I’ve had a really great season of training, and having the qualifying meet a little bit later really helped recover off of college swimming and get a lot of long course (training) in,” Baker said. “I did a 200 back backstroke at practice – hard, every single week this summer – and I think that helped me get used to the pain of doing a 200, which made the 100 feel easier.”
Baker led the 100 back Saturday from start to finish and was 61-hundredths of a second ahead of world record pace at the turn. She touched the wall 75-hundredths of a second ahead of the second-place finisher, Olympic and Worlds teammate Olivia Smoliga.
It was the second win of the week for baker after tying fellow U.S. National Team member Regan Smith in the 200m backstroke on Thursday. The 16-year-old Smith finished third tonight in the 100 back to set a World Junior record in 58.75.
“I definitely always think you shoot for winning, but it was so great to share that moment with (Smith in the 200 back), and I think it’s really special to be able to have a tie when we both do so amazing,” Baker said. “Of course, I’m overjoyed with a world record and first place swim, and I’m just sort of on cloud nine right now.”
With the win, Baker qualified for the U.S. Pan Pacific Championships Team – where she is likely to go head-to-head again with Masse – in her second event. All first-place finishers in tonight’s events automatically receive a berth on the team. The second-place finishers will likely be added to the roster pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events. They will compete Aug. 9-12 in Tokyo.
“I was so excited for this, and it’s really sort of my bread and butter,” Baker said. “I’ve had a lot of competition, especially with the youngsters pushing me to do better each year, and I just couldn’t be happier with this. It’s always been a goal of mine, and coach (David) Marsh and I talked a lot about it. He thought I was capable of it, which really pushed me to believe, too.”
Women’s 400m Free
Since 2016, the women’s 400m freestyle in the United States has belonged to two people – Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. That was the case once again Saturday night, with Ledecky and Smith going 1-2 in this event, turning in times of 3:59.09 and 4:02.21, respectively.
Ledecky’s swim was the 10th-fastest performance of all time in the 400 free. Ledecky, incidentally, owns all 10 of those top 10 performances. It was her third win of the week after taking the 800 and 200 free earlier in the week. She now has 16 career national titles, tying her for seventh all-time among women with Natalie Coughlin.
For Smith, the 400 is the third event in which she’s qualified for the 2018 U.S. Pan Pacific Championship team. She qualified automatically via her fourth-place finish in the women’s 200m free, and she also finished second behind Ledecky in the 800m free.
Men’s 400m Free
U.S. National Team member Zane Grothe successfully defended his national title in the men’s 400m freestyle, going stroke-for-stroke with fellow National Teamer Grant Shoults the whole race to edge him at the wall, 3:46.53 to 3:46.90.
Grothe tried to pull away from Shoults a couple times in the back half in the race. He managed to put a body-length between them going into the final wall, but Shoults’ signature underwater transition off the turn set up the epic race down the homestretch.
Grothe finished seventh in this event last year at the FINA World Championships.
Women’s 100m Breaststroke
Just like Ledecky and Smith have been dominant in the 400 and 800 free over the last two years, so too have Olympians Lilly King and Katie Meili in the women’s 100m breaststroke. They have taken 1-2 in this event ever since the 2016 Olympic Trials, and on the international stage have been just as successful, taking gold and bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio, and gold and silver at last year’s FINA World Championships.
They did it again Saturday, with King finishing first in 1:05.36 and Meili taking second in 1:06.19. It was the second win of the week for King, who also won the 50m breaststroke last night.
King’s time in the 100 breast Saturday was 1.23 second off the world record of 1:04.13 that she set last year at World Championships, but it did qualify her for the Pan Pacific Championships Team.
Men’s 100m Breaststroke
Michael Andrew won the 50m breaststroke and 50m butterfly earlier this week, but Saturday night’s win in the men’s 100m breaststroke is the one that finally qualified him for the U.S. Pan Pacs team, besting a talented field with a time of 59.38. Andrew Wilson was second in 59.43.
Every swimmer in the final except one was a member of the U.S. National Team and included three Olympians – Cody Miller, Kevin Cordes and Josh Prenot.
Men’s 100m Backstroke
The men’s 100m backstroke turned out to be a clash of the backstroke Titans. In lane 4 was the 6-foot-7 Matt Grevers, the 2012 Olympic champion in this event. In lane 5 was Ryan Murphy, the 2016 Olympic champion and world record holder. Last year at the FINA World Championships, it was Grevers who had the edge, taking silver over Murphy’s bronze in the 100 back.
This time, the ball bounced Murphy’s way, as a great turn and finish made all the difference, 52.51 to 52.55.
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