Kathleen Baker channels “inner shark” to break World Record at U.S. Swim Nationals

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Kathleen Baker World Record breaker

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Kathleen Baker broke the 100m backstroke world record at the U.S. Swimming Championships in Irvine, California.

On a thrilling penultimate day of swimming at the nationals, the crowd had their ‘I was there!’ moment as the world record tumbled.

Baker clocked 58.00sec, shaving one tenth of a second off the previous record.

That had been set in July 2017 by Canadian Kylie Masse, who won bronze in Rio a year earlier.

Kathleen told the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA that ‘Shark Week’ helped:

I watched a lot of Shark Week, so I was channeling my inner shark. – Kathleen Baker to Olympic Channel

The 21-year-old called the record-breaking swim “Definitely unexpected”.

I was looking to see if I won first, and then I realized I went 58 was literally shook. – Kathleen Baker

The USA swim star’s unstoppable rise is hugely impressive considering that she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was just 13.

Baker’s coach David Marsh has to constantly adjust her training routine according to how she feels on any given day.

“I really look at her face when she comes in [for practice],” Marsh said. “I ask how you feel today. If she doesn’t say excellent or outstanding, I know that she doesn’t feel good. … I’m constantly adjusting her program every day.”

That personalised program looks like it’s paying off for the fastest woman in the world at the 100m backstroke event.

Baker Shares Second Title At Champs

The extra focus on the 200m isn’t going too badly either and Baker has already booked her passage to the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships… after a dramatic final in California.

She finished dead level with Regan Smith as the title was shared.

Those PAN PACS will be held in Japan this year and are an important stop on the road to Tokyo 2020.

Missy Franklin Misses Out

Four time 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin will not swim at the two biggest international meets leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — the Pan Pacific Championships in August and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

She placed 18th in the 200m freestyle heats on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, she was 22nd in the 100m free heats.

I’ve trained really, really hard the past seven months and was definitely hoping it would show up a little bit more. – Missy Franklin

Franklin still holds the 200m backstroke world record but is still in a lot of pain from back injuries and the aftermath of surgeries in 2017.

She often needs cortizone shots just to compete, and she has fought on bravely despite the pain and mental struggles.

I would 100 times rather be sitting in Omaha in 2020 having not made the team, knowing that I tried, rather than looking back on these last two years and always thinking what if. – Missy Franklin

The 23-year-old shared that she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety before summer 2016 and has been open about her struggles.

Caeleb Dressel: Crisis averted

In our Olympic Channel preview piece we said these nationals could become the Caeleb Dressel show, and it has, just not in the way we expected.

Double Olympic gold medallist Dressel has been suggested as the heir apparent to Michael Phelps ever since he won 7 titles at the World Championships in 2017, matching Phelps’ record.

But things didn’t go to plan in Irvine.

Dressel signed up for eight events: 50, 100, 200 freestyle, 50, 100 breaststroke and butterfly, and the 200 Individual Medley.

On Day 1 he finished sixth in the 100m freestyle. His worst swim in four years.

I was absolutely horrible. – Caeleb Dressel

Then he was beaten again in the 50m butterfly on Thursday and the pressure mounted.

Caeleb Doesn’t Crumble

Two years and Tokyo 2020 were suddenly uncertain, a lot was riding on the 100m butterfly race.

I know how much was on the line. It’s basically setting up the next two years for a race that lasted 50 seconds. I do enjoy that. I didn’t want to crumble under that. – Caeleb Dressel

This was Dressel’s first real test in four years and he proved his mental strength, winning the 100m fly in 50.50 seconds, the fastest time in the world since he won the 2017 World title in 49.86 seconds (just .04 off Michael Phelps‘ world record).

The 21-year-old knocked an old Phelps rival, Chad le Clos, off the top of the 2018 world rankings in the process.

Proving himself under pressure and learning from mistakes may make Dressel an even more fearsome opponent as we flow towards Tokyo 2020.

Michael Andrew – Wonder kid comes good

Teen swim sensation Michael Andrew is delivering on his promise at the U.S. Nationals and looks set to make a splash at Tokyo 2020.

Andrew qualified for his first Pan Pacific Championships with victory in the men’s 100m breaststroke, his first senior-level national title in an Olympic event.

The 19-year-old has won three national titles in Irvine this week: 100m breast, 50m breast and 50m fly.

I’m super stoked about it. It’s a 100. It’s an Olympic event and it got me on the Tokyo [Pan Pacs] team. – Michael Andrew

There is so much more to come from this pool prodigy.

Katie Ledecky was born to win

Another headliner at this summer swim festival is five time Olympic champ Katie Ledecky and she hasn’t disappointed.

With victories in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle, Katie Ledecky is continuing her domination.

On Thursday, the Olympic champion won the 200m freestyle after she ripped her racing swimsuit in the locker room.

Then she realised the backup suit was ripped too.

With about 15 minutes before her heat, Ledecky put on a practice suit not designed for racing.

She won anyway, taking away only positives.

It didn’t make me too nervous. It was a blessing in disguise because it really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. – Katie Ledecky

Her 400m freestlye time of 3:59.09 now means that she personally holds the fastest 11 times in history.

Does it ever feel like she’s racing against herself?

U.S. Nationals so far

Earlier in the meet, Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke by 1.53 seconds over Jacob Pebley.

He’ll race at the PAN PACS.

Co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel clocked the fastest 100m free ever home soil — 52.54, also her second-fastest time ever.

She beat Mallory Comerford by .55. Margo Geer and Abbey Weitzeil were third and fourth to make the Pan Pacs team, too.

Andrew Seliskar emerged as 200m free champion by .23 over Olympian Blake Pieroni, who had won the 100m free on Wednesday.

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot overtook Andrew Wilson in the last half of the men’s 200m breast, cruising to win by 1.43 seconds in 2:07.28, the fastest time in the world this year.

Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant

The swimmers had a couple of A-Lister spectators for inspiration:

U.S. Swimming nationals final day

Night 5 in Irvine on Sunday will conclude the action at the 2018 U.S. Swimming Nationals, here’s what to look out for:

  • Katie Ledecky will not race the 1500 free, having already qualified for 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events.
  • Leah Smith, runner-up to Ledecky in the 400 and 800 free, has also dropped the 1500, as well.
  • Erica Sullivan is now top seed in the heat that swims in finals.
  • Look out for the Zane Grothe Grant Shoults face-off in the 800 free on Sunday, top seed Clark Smith pulled out as he has not recovered from heart trouble in March.
  • Grothe and Shoults put on a show in the final of the 400 free on Saturday.
  • Simone Manuel will be in action in the 50m freestyle, Caeleb Dressel is racing the 200m Individual Medley and look out for the 50m freestyle against #2 seed Michael Andrew.
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Author: Ken Browne
Ken Browne is a multimedia journalist for the Olympic Channel.