Since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the world has seen an American at the top of the men’s 200 backstroke podium at every Games. Brad Bridgewater (1996), Lenny Krayzelburg (2000), Aaron Piersol (2004), and current U.S. National Team members Ryan Lochte (2008) and Tyler Clary (2012) have led the red, white, and blue to 200 back victory. Heading into the Rio Olympics, the U.S. will have their hands full in this event. The men will have to battle it out in Omaha to determine who the Americans will send up against a stacked international field that includes Mitch Larkin, Ryosuke Irie, and Evgeny Rylov.
For the past 2 seasons, Ryan Murphy has started to build his presence on the international stage for Team USA. He swam in his first long course World Championships last summer, racing in the 200 back, the mixed 400 medley relay, and the men’s 400 medley relay. Individually, Murphy made his first world championship final appearance in the 200 back, winding up 5th in a personal best 1:55.00. He had an explosive NCAA season, breaking the American records in both the 100 (43.49) and 200 yard backstrokes (1:35.73). To follow that, he’s already gone a best time in the 200 meter back this year, posting a 1:54.94 at the Canadian Olympic Trials in April. Murphy’s momentum and his experience as an Olympic Trials finalist in 2012 set him up well for Omaha.
Swimming alongside Murphy in the 2015 World Championships was veteran Tyler Clary, the defending Olympic gold medalist in this event. In 2012, Clary qualified for his first Olympic team, which led to his statement performance in London, where he swam a 1:53.41 to win the 200 back. This Olympic cycle, Clary has a bronze in the 200 back from 2013 Worlds (1:54.64) and a gold from 2014 Pan Pacs (1:54.91). He fell off the pace last summer, placing 7th in Kazan with a 1:56.26.
Ryan Lochte, the 2008 gold medalist in this event, has a big decision to make about whether or not he will swim it in Omaha. It’s possible that Lochte may not swim the 200 back because it clashes with the 200 IM at trials. Lochte, now 32, has welcomed the challenge of that tough double in the past, but the recovery time between events has become a bigger issue with age. Lochte was the favorite to win this event in London before Clary pulled off the upset, and ended up with the bronze behind Irie. He bounced back the next year, winning 2013 Worlds in 1:53.79. In 2014, he was 3rd in the event at Nationals with a 1:56.47, but opted out of the event at Pan Pacs, and didn’t swim it at 2015 Worlds. If he chooses to race the 200 back at trials he could make a 3rd Olympic appearance in the event.
Matt Grevers, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 back, hasn’t traditionally swum the 200 back at major meets, but it also worth mentioning. At 2012 Trials, he qualified 3rd after prelims, but scratched out of the race before semifinals. He swam a textile best this season to win U.S. Winter Nationals in December, clocking a 1:57.24.
Jacob Pebley, Murphy’s teammate at Cal, won U.S. Nationals in this event last summer. He also swam a new best time to win the 2015 World University Games, posting a 1:56.29. This year, he swam a new best time to place 2nd behind Murphy at NCAAs in the 200 yard back in 1:38.50. Shortly after, he came close to a best time with a 1:56.40 at Canadian Olympic trials. Pebley will return to Omaha after finishing 7th in the final at 2012 Trials.
Sean Lehane, a Tennessee senior who raced Murphy and Pebley at NCAAs, made his first U.S. National team last year. He represented Team USA at 2015 Pan Ams, where dropped almost 2 seconds to set a new meet record in prelims at 1:57.11, and won gold in the final. Lehane will look to make his first Olympic Trials final after placing 26th in this event in 2012.
Patrick Mulcare will make his first Trials appearance with strong momentum from his performance at 2015 U.S. Winter Nationals. Mulcare dropped over 2 seconds from his best time, clocking a 1:57.34 to finish 2nd to Grevers by just a tenth. He enters Omaha as the 3rd fastest American so far this season.
Virginia Tech’s Robert Owen blasted a new personal best 1:57.96 in a long course time trial the day after NCAAs. That time makes him the 5th fastest American this year. Owen was a scorer in the yards version of this event at the 2016 NCAA Championships, where he posted a 1:40.60.
Dynamo Swim Club’s Michael Taylor represented the U.S. in this event at the 2015 Junior World Championships. Taylor posted a personal best 1:58.10 at Nationals to make the team before going on to take silver at Junior Worlds. At 17 years old, Taylor will travel to Omaha for his first Olympic Trials, and has a shot at making the final.
Texas’ Jonathan Roberts swam his first sub-2:00 since 2014 to win the 200 back at the Longhorn Elite Invite. Roberts clocked a 1:58.74 to beat Grevers at that meet, matching his personal best from 2014 Nationals. That time makes Roberts the 10th fastest American this year, and puts him in the conversation as a potential finalist in Omaha.
Top 8 Predictions:
|Place||Name||Best Since London||Predicted Time||Training Base|
|1||Ryan Murphy||1:54.94||1:54.1||University of California, Berkeley|
|2||Jacob Pebley||1:56.29||1:55.5||University of California, Berkeley|
|3||Ryan Lochte||1:53.79||1:55.5||SwimMAC Carolina, Charlotte|
|4||Tyler Clary||1:54.64||1:55.8||SwimMAC Carolina, Charlotte|
|5||Sean Lehane||1:57.11||1:56.6||University of Tennessee, Knoxville|
|6||Patrick Mulcare||1:57.34||1:56.8||University of Southern California, Los Angeles|
|7||Robert Owen||1:57.96||1:57.3||Virginia Tech, Blacksburg|
|8||Michael Taylor||1:58.10||1:57.5||Dynamo Swim Club, Atlanta|
Darkhorse: BYU’s Jake Taylor has made huge improvements in the 200 meter back over the last 2 years. In 2014, he lowered his best from a 2:10.13 to a 2:05.32. He then dropped another 5 seconds in 2015 to post a 2:00.74 at U.S. Nationals. Taylor, who was out of the water for 2 years to serve as a missionary after his freshman season, may not have shown us all he’s capable of yet.