March Madness might refer to basketball, but Australian swimmer Kaylee McKeown got in the spirit Friday with her world record-breaking swim in the 200-meter backstroke. 

The Olympic gold medalist broke the world record in a time of 2 minutes, 3.14 seconds, at the New South Wales State Open Championships in her home country. The previous record was set by Regan Smith with a time of 2:03.35 at the 2019 World Championships.

McKeown had a career-best time of 2:04.28 entering the meet. And, according to McKeown’s older sister Taylor McKeown, the backstroker “was not even rested” for the swim.

While McKeown found it difficult to stay motivated after her successful Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where she won gold in the 100 backstroke, the 200 backstroke and the 4×100 medley relay. But she has “found a new love for the sport,” she said after the race.

“After the Olympics I found it hard to get up behind the blocks again,” McKeown told The Advertiser. “… I found a new love for the sport and it just goes to show that a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer. I haven’t necessarily changed anything in my program or training wise. It’s just that I’m happier.”

That shined through even though she didn’t have her typical level of preparation.

“The race was actually swum 20 minutes earlier than it was scheduled on the time line – I was so rushed,” McKeown said. “I actually like sitting in marshaling and kind of gathering my thoughts before my race, but I had no time for that… So I just pulled up my straps and went for it really.”

Australian swimmer Kaylee McKeown broke the 100m backstroke world record in her country’s Olympic Trials on Sunday.

McKeown bested American Regan Smith’s previously held record by 12 hundredths of a second, clocking a time of 57.45 seconds.

The swim was an emotional one for McKeown, who lost her father 10 months ago to brain cancer. “With COVID and the passing of my dad in August last year, it has been a huge, huge build-up to these trials,” said McKeown adding that her father’s passing served as motivation for her race.

McKeown’s record-breaking swim sets up an anticipated matchup between her and Smith at the Tokyo Olympics.