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MELBOURNE, Australia – Finlay Knox of the High Performance Centre – Ontario decided he’s had too many close calls.
Tuesday at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) it was time to put an end to that.
The 21-year-old rising star from Okotoks, Alta., swam the short-course 200-m individual medley of his life – so far – finishing in 1:51.04 to take more than a second off his Canadian record and earn a bronze medal.
South Africa’s Matthew Sates won in an African record 1:50.15, followed by Carson Foster of Team USA in 1:50.96. It’s the first individual medal for Knox at a major senior international championships, one of two for Canada Tuesday as the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay also earned bronze.
“It feels nice, but to see how close I was to second and to see how big the gap was with first I’ve still got work to do. That’s behind me and I’m just at the beginning,” Knox said.
To say Knox has experienced some bad beats is an understatement. Last year at this meet, Knox set a Canadian record in the 100 medley but he finished 9th in the 200 to miss the final and was the only team member to leave without a medal.
“Coming into world short course last year, it was like 12 weeks post (hand) surgery. In the back of my head, I knew what I was capable of, I just didn’t execute in the morning. I came ninth and that stung a lot,” Knox said.
Knox has also had a pair of heartbreaker results in long course, just missing semis with 17th-place finishes at last year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and this summer’s long-course FINA World Championships.
The near misses “for sure lit a fire in my stomach and coming into this worlds I just didn’t want to let that happen again, so I made sure to get the job done in the morning and then show up tonight,” said Knox, who breezed through prelims in third at 1:52.50 and held off multiple international medallists Shaine Casas of Team USA (1:51.31) and Daiya Seto of Japan (1:51.39) in the final to reach the podium.
“Finals is the easy part. You know you just go in there and race as hard as you can. That’s why I love racing. That’s why I wake up every morning and push myself. Because at the very end of the day when you step up on those blocks, you just go and you have fun. That’s what I did tonight and came away with a bronze medal.”
The women’s 4×100-m freestyle relay added a second bronze later in the night. The team of Rebecca Smith, Taylor Ruck, Maggie Mac Neil and Katerine Savard combined for a Canadian record of 3:28.06. That was faster than Canada’s gold medal time from last year, as Australia won in a world record 3:25.43, followed by Team USA in 3:26.29.
Smith led off in 52.68 for her second personal best of the day, followed by Ruck in 51.49, and Mac Neil in a blazing 51.11, with the veteran Savard anchoring in 52.78 to get the job done.
“The crowd was going crazy,” said Ruck. “It was just so good to see our teammates out there doing what they do best.”
The men’s 4×100 free relay followed up with a Canadian record of their own from Lane 1. Ruslan Gaziev, Yuri Kisil, Javier Acevedo and Ilya Kharun combined for a time of 3:07.10, taking down a 13-year-old record Brent Hayden, Joel Greenshields, Blake Worsley and Hassaan Abdel-Khalik set at the end of the super suit era. Italy won in a world record 3:02.75.
“It’s always a treat racing with this good group of guys. It’s always so much fun and I’m proud of them,” Kisil said. “That’s all I can really ask for.”
Acevedo, who was disappointed in his morning swims after not advancing in 100-m backstroke or 200-m IM, took Knox’s spot in the final and bounced back with a blazing 46.18 split.
“You’ve just got to reset and move on and when you have three other guys with you – and including Finlay (who swam) in the morning – you just feed off that,” said
Mac Neil got Canada’s night started right in the 50-m butterfly, leading all semifinalists with a time of 24.78, just 0.03 off her national record set at the World Cup in Toronto in October. The London, Ont., native is looking to be even faster in Wednesday’s final.
“It was better than this morning but still not quite spot on where I want to be so that’s definitely what I’m going to look forward to tomorrow,” Mac Neil said.
Savard of finished 16th in 25.81. It’s the second-fastest time ever for the 29-year-old three-time Olympian from Montreal’s CAMO club after a personal best 25.50 in her morning heat.
Knox wasn’t the only Canadian to lower an individual Canadian record Tuesday. Kharun set Canadian and world junior records for the second time in a day in his 50-m fly semi. Kharun went 22.28 to shave a further .04 seconds off the mark he set in his morning heat, to tie for eighth with Daniel Zaitsev of Estonia.
Kharun, a Montreal native making his national team debut, came into the meet with the national record, and had the world junior mark on his mind.
“I feel pretty good. I’ve been focusing on the records and it feels great, but I’ve got to keep going,” Kharun said.
Kharun and Zaitsev will have a swim-off for the last spot in Wednesday’s final just before the scheduled preliminary session.
Sydney Pickrem faced a tall task to repeat as 200-m individual medley champion. She came in fifth at 2:05.22 in a race that saw Kate Douglass of Team USA win in a continental record 2:02.12, followed by fellow American Alex Walsh in 2:03.37. Australian Kaylee McKeown grabbed bronze in an Oceania record 2:03.57, followed by Marrit Steenbergen of the Netherlands (2:04.94) then Pickrem.
“I knew it was going to be a deep field from the morning and I’m just grateful I got to race and get a second swim,” Pickrem said. “I knew it was going to be a stacked event so I just wanted to have fun with it and enjoy it. I’ts better than the morning so that’s all I’m really looking at right now. It’s a long meet, there’s still 10 more sessions to go, so I’m happy with it and just glad to be racing.”
Meanwhile, Canada will have two women in Wednesday’s 100-m backstroke final after Ingrid Wilm (2nd, 55.92) and Kylie Masse (5th, 56.13) both advanced.