WOMEN’S 200 BACKSTROKE
- 2015 World Champion: Emily Seebohm (AUS), 2:05.81
- 2016 Olympic Champion: Maya Dirado (USA), 2:05.99
- World Record Holder: Missy Franklin (USA), 2:04.06
What Maya Dirado did last summer was not expected. Katinka Hosszu had already raced her way to two gold medals in the IM’s and a gold in the 100 back, and was looking dangerous for a huge swim in the 200 back. Missy Franklin had missed the final, as had Australian Emily Seebohm. It was a wacky final, but up until the last turn, Hosszu looked to have her fourth gold in the bag. Dirado, in her last swim on the big stage, commanded the world’s attention, going a lifetime best 2:05.99 capitalized by a wild finish at the wall. She had sunk the Iron Lady.
Dirado has since retired, and Franklin didn’t even swim the U.S. Trials, as she’s taking indefinite time off from the sport competitively. While Hosszu does look like a favorite for gold, she’ll be kept on her toes by another American: Kathleen Baker. Baker was the silver medalist in the 100 back last summer, and after her performances at the 2017 NCAA Championships and the 2017 U.S. Trials, she has claimed the U.S. backstroke throne for her own. Her 2:06.38 from Indy leads all competitors in the 2017 world rankings, and it marks a huge best time for her. She’s proven that her endurance is there, and she’s someone who will take out the race hard, which will be new for Hosszu.
Both women will have to watch out for Seebohm, though. We can’t forget how good she was at the 2015 World Championships (58.2/2:05.8), and while she certainly underperformed in Rio, she has looked fantastic this year. Her 2:06.66 from Canet is the only sub-2:07 done this year besides Baker’s, and a strategic swim from Seebohm could have her pulling a Dirado on Hosszu and Baker.
The podium is definitely not set in stone, however. Canadians Kylie Masse and Hilary Caldwell, along with Russian Daria Ustinova, are all on the brink of crashing through the 2:07 barrier. Masse, like Baker, is known better for her 100 speed, while Caldwell and Ustinova are stronger in the 200. Masse, though, has been on fire this year, swimming very fast again last weekend, and should be right up with them if not challenging for a medal.
Germany’s Lisa Graf is the last two woman under 2:08 this year. Graf was one of just four women selected to represent Germany, making it through their very stringent qualification procedure. Graf was 13th in Rio last year, missing out on the final, but her 2:07.63 is almost two seconds better than what she went last summer– she should have a great top 8 shot in Budapest.
Another Hungarian, Katalin Burian, will be racing for a top 8 spot in Budapest. Depending on how the home team swims later this month, Burian could ride the momentum and really impress. She’s been 2:08.38 this year, done at the 2017 Budapest Open, and the 22-year-old is ranked 7th in the world this year, right ahead of Regan Smith. Smith is a newcomer to a major senior international summer championships– Burian swam the 200 back in Kazan at 2015 Worlds. Both are riding lifetime bests into Budapest, but Smith might have the most upside. Still just 15 years old, her improvement curve is wildly unpredictable, and we could see her anywhere from contending for a minor medal to missing out on the final altogether.
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Dark horse: Kaylee McKeown of Australia. Like Smith, she’s very young, and hard to predict. Her 2:08.98 from Aussie Trials earned her a spot to compete in Budapest, and she’ll be working to uphold her country’s strong tradition in women’s backstroke.