POOLSIDE: Taylor McKeown at the University of Sunshine Coast.
POOLSIDE: Taylor McKeown at the University of Sunshine Coast. Patrick Woods

Reigning champ's eager to keep her special mantle

SWIMMING: University of the Sunshine Coast's Taylor McKeown is determined to mount a strong title defence attempt in an event that means so much to her, at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

She burst on to the international scene in the 200m breaststroke four years ago, when she produced a surprise performance to clinch gold as a 19-year-old.

McKeown's since claimed relay medals at two world championships and at the Rio Olympics but Glasgow 2014 represented her initial breakthrough and it was an individual accolade to savour.

So it's a race she holds close to her heart.

"It does mean a lot to me," she told the Daily, following the selection trials last month.

"Because of the last Commonwealth Games, that win is very important to me."

McKeown heads into the 2018 edition with the second-fastest time this year (2:23.50).

She won the national title in 2:23.87, just ahead of fellow Sunshine Coaster, Tessa Wallace, who will also compete at the Gold Coast.

The selection trials were held at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, the same venue for the Commonwealth Games.

"Being behind the curtain we could hear the crowd and it (the stadium) was only a quarter full for what they're expecting at the Comm Games so I can only imagine the atmosphere...is going to be significantly multiplied and I really look forward to walking out and hearing the crowd cheer for Australia," she said.

She will be able to compete in front of family, friends and compatriots.

"I know it's going to be 90 per cent Australians. It's always a good feeling to have someone in the crowd who cares about you," she said.

"But the fact it's a home Games means the whole nation is going to care about us."

Taylor's younger sister Kaylee, will also compete at the Gold Coast.

"I'm really excited that I get to share Kaylee's first Games experience," she said.

"In my first Commonwealth Games I was guided by Melanie Schlanger (Wright). She was someone I always looked up to and she was really great to have as a mentor and I really think it will benefit Kaylee having myself there so that I can give her that same sort of guidance and mentoring if she needs it.

A rising star of the sport, Kaylee, 16, was fourth in the 200m backstroke at the world championships in Hungary last year.

"She is pretty experienced internationally now so I doubt she'll need it and she's probably strong enough mentally to do her own thing and cope but I'm there if she needs it and I think we've got a great support group, having nine USC Spartans there. She can reach out to any of us."

Taylor's set to compete in the 200m individual medley as well, although it's not the priority.

"I've never raced the 200IM competitively internationally, so I'm really excited by that opportunity."

McKeown was second in the final at the national selection trials, clocking 2:13.55, behind Blair Evans.

McKeown's campaign gets under way on Saturday, when the 200m breaststroke heats will be held.



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