White Rock swimmer Hilary Caldwell is headed back to FINA World Swimming Championships, after a pair of strong finishes at Canadian National Swim Trials last weekend in Victoria.
Caldwell, a two-time Olympian who won bronze in the 200-m backstroke in Rio in 2016, punched her ticket to worlds in two backstroke distances – the 100 and 200 metres – after top-two finishes in each race.
Of the two events, it was the 200-m final Saturday night that provided the most intrigue as Caldwell was upset for first-place by Windsor, Ont.’s Kylie Masse, who overtook Caldwell – a longtime member of the South Surrey-based Pacific Sea Wolves who now lives and trains in Victoria – in the final few metres to win with a time of two minutes, 7.23 seconds. Caldwell was .06 seconds behind Masse.
“It’s incredible,” Masse said in a news release. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to in the backstroke for a long time now. It’s really cool to be racing side-by-side with her.”
Caldwell, 26, said she didn’t see Masse gaining ground on her during the race.
“I couldn’t see her at all in the last 50 metres,” she said. “I need to work on my peripheral vision apparently.
“I’m really pleased with the time. It’s the best I’ve ever been at this time of year. I wanted to be a few hundredths faster but I can’t be too mad.”
Both women qualified for world championships, which are set for Budapest, Hungary in July. To qualify for the worlds, swimmers must finish in the top-two in their race and also clock a time under the FINA qualifying standard.
“The women’s 200 backstroke saw world-class performances from both Kylie and Hilary tonight. It’s great to see them push each other in that event.” said John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director.
In the women’s 200-m heat earlier in the event, Caldwell had the fastest time, and she is also just over a month removed from clocking what at the time was the fastest 200-m backstroke time in the world so far this year. In early March, at the second event of the Arena Pro Swim Series circuit in Indianapolis, Caldwell won gold and set the fastest 200-m time of the year, clocking a time of 2:08.68.
In the 100-m finals, which were held Thursday night, Caldwell finished in a second-place tie with Dominique Bouchard, with each swimmer finishing in 1.00.25. Masse won the race, in 58.21 seconds.
With an Olympic medal on her resume, Caldwell will head to Budapest as one of the most accomplished swimmers in the backstroke, and said after her gold medal in Indianapolis that her Olympic experience last summer has given her plenty of confidence this year.
“It was a dream come true for me to win the Olympic medal,” she said.
“It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and it was a great experience to race against those amazing women backstrokers.”
Caldwell has had her share of success at worlds, too. At the 2013 event in Barcelona – a year after making her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London – Caldwell won bronze in the 200-m, setting a Canadian record in the process.
Caldwell wasn’t the only swimmer from the Semiahmoo Peninsula at Canada Trials last week, as South Surrey-raised Richard Weinberger – who now lives in Vancouver – placed ninth in the men’s 1,500-m race.
The 26-year-old is more accustomed to swimming outdoors rather than in a pool – he is among Canada’s top open-water marathon swimmers, and won an Olympic bronze in 2012. Weinberger finished the 1,500 in 15:47.94.
The winner, Eric Hedlin of Victoria, finished in 15:08.35.