IRVINE, Calif. — For the last year, the number 58.10 flashed on Kathleen Baker‘s phone as a regular reminder. She will now change that to 57.99.
Baker, the Olympic and world 100m backstroke silver medalist, broke the world record in the event at the U.S. Swimming Championships on Saturday night.
The 21-year-old clocked 58.00 seconds, taking one tenth off Canadian Kylie Masse‘s world record. Masse set the mark at the 2017 Worlds, relegating Baker to second place. Baker immediately set a reminder on her phone with the time, 58.10, and last saw it at 8 p.m. on Friday.
“I watched a lot of Shark Week, so I was channeling my inner shark,” Baker, who wore her trademark sparkly blue Uggs on the pool deck, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “Definitely unexpected.”
Well, not completely unexpected.
Baker and her coach, David Marsh, were together at the warm-up pool when Katie Ledecky was under world-record pace halfway through her 400m freestyle earlier Saturday night. Ledecky fell off the pace and still easily won, but Marsh sensed a hush in the crowd at the outdoor venue.
“When she didn’t break it, it sort of calmed back down,” he said. “I said, Kathleen, I think what the crowd needs tonight is a world record. She goes, yeah.”
Baker and the 100m back world record have a long history.
In 2008, an 11-year-old Baker was a grumpy spectator at the Olympic Trials, wishing she could be competing there. The memory of the women’s 100m back final in Omaha remains with her because she lost a tooth during the event.
As Natalie Coughlin broke the world record, Baker stood there, awestruck, with blood streaming down her chin.
Two years later, Baker was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which still affects her training.
“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 program has recently included more 200m backstroke-focused training. Baker said that and her Panera You Pick Two® lunch helped her down the stretch of Saturday’s race. Still, she knows she can improve. She nearly smacked her face on the lane rope making the turn at 50 meters.
The rising University of California senior powered home to beat Olivia Smoliga by .75, while 16-year-old Regan Smith broke the world junior record with a 58.83. Baker touched the wall and, after a brief pause, flung her left arm in the air.
“I was looking to see if I won first, and then I realized I went 58,” Baker said. “I was literally shook.”
The U.S. now owns all the Olympic backstroke event world records. Missy Franklin has the 200m back mark, while Ryan Murphy (100m back) and Aaron Peirsol (200m back) are the fastest men of all time.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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