2017 Worlds Preview: Lacourt Hunts For Three-Peat In Men’s 50 Back


Men’s 50m Backstroke

The 50m stroke events are full of parity, but there have been exceptions. Sarah Sjostrom is indestructible in the women’s 50 fly, and Adam Peaty is just getting started on his reign of dominance in the men’s 50 breast. Camille Lacourt may not quite be on their level in the men’s 50 back, but he has had an impressive run.

The 32-year-old Frenchman broke out on the scene in 2010, coming within 0.03 of Liam Tancock’s super-suited world record at the European Championships. He then nearly dethroned Tancock at the 2011 World Championships winning silver, and preceded to take over after that with back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2015. His title defence in Kazan was particularly impressive, topping silver medalist Matt Grevers by nearly four tenths of a second.

He’s now at the tail end of his career, as Budapest will be his final competition. A three-peat to close things out is certainly within his grasp, but he’s just one of a handful of guys with a gold medal in their sights.

Upstart American Justin Ress, the guy who claimed he swam distance as recently as last year, surprisingly finds himself as the top seed. He broke out to stun the last two 100m Olympic champions, Grevers and Ryan Murphy, in the 50 at U.S. Trials. This will be his first major international competition, and we’ll have to see how he handles himself on the big stage. Based on his ability to hold his nerve facing off against the big guns at Trials, he should be just fine.

China’s Xu Jiayu may well be the biggest obstacle in Lacourt’s path to gold. He’s ranked #2 this year, one one-hundredth behind Ress, but really stunned everyone when he came within one one-hundredth of Murphy’s 100 back world record at Chinese Nationals. A potential upset over Murphy (if you can call it that) in the 100 early in the meet would put his confidence through the roof, giving him an edge in the 50. However, he’s one of the few contenders who will likely deal with three rounds of 200 back.

The other two are Australia’s Mitch Larkin and Russia’s Evgeny Rylov, the Olympic silver and bronze medalists in the 200 last summer.

Larkin lit it up at the 2015 Championships, winning gold in the 100 and 200, and just missing a third medal in the 50 placing 4th. Relatively, he wasn’t as good in 2016, winning an Olympic silver when it looked like he was well on his way to two golds after Kazan. He took a bit of a break post-Rio, and hasn’t looked like a surefire medalist yet this year. He was average by his standards at Aussie Trials, but he didn’t need to fully taper to win there, so it’s unclear where his form is right now. Either way he’s a bit of a longshot to medal in the 50, as the 100 and 200 are more in his wheelhouse.

Rylov’s emergence in this event is a bit of a surprise given his ability, specifically in the back half, of the 200. In 2015 he was the 13th fastest Russian in the 50 back at 25.84. 2016, up to 16th in the world at 25.06. This year he’s had another big drop down down to 24.52, good for 3rd in the world. That swim proves he’s for real in this race, but unlike most of the contenders, the 50 will be his lowest priority.

Japan’s Junya Koga came out of nowhere to win the 100 back world title in 2009, and added a silver in the 50 back. Those remain the only two LC World Championship medals for the now 30-year-old, but he’s been hanging around all these years, putting an emphasis on the 50 specifically. That focus has led to him missing some major teams, including both the 2013 & 2015 World Championships, but he did compete at his first Olympics last summer, and is in prime position to contend for a medal in Budapest once again.

Despite not competing in Kazan, Koga threw down a time of 24.36 at U.S. Nationals in a time trial, just a tenth behind Lacourt’s winning time and well clear of silver. He’s continued to be consistent, clocking 24.71 in 2016, 24.53 this year, and collecting gold at the 2016 Short Course World Championships. Along with Lacourt and Ress, this will be his only individual event of the meet, potentially giving the three of them a slight advantage.

That 6 foot 8 inch reach could come in handy for Grevers, who has won back-to-back silver medals in this race. The 32-year-old had a big win at Trials in the 100 back over Murphy, and will always be a threat in the 50 with so much power. He wasn’t thrilled with his showing of 24.67 in Indianapolis, and should be able to be a little faster in Budapest to put him in the running for a third straight medal.

With only four men qualified for the French team, the pressure will be on Lacourt and Jérémy Stravius to deliver in this event as it’s the only one where they have two entries. Stravius was the 2013 silver medalist behind Lacourt, but has expanded out to events such as the 200 free and 100 fly over the years and may not have the raw speed to go much better than the 24.73 he’s been this year.

There are a few others who have been sub-25 this season and will push for a berth in the final, but likely won’t figure into the medal picture. That includes Poland’s Tomasz Polewka, Brazil’s Guilherme Guido, Belarus’ Pavel Sankovich, and Germany’s Marek Ulrich.


1 Junya Koga Japan 24.53 24.2
2 Camille Lacourt France 24.60 24.3
3 Justin Ress United States 24.41 24.4
4 Xu Jiayu China 24.42 24.5
5 Matt Grevers United States 24.67 24.5
6 Evgeny Rylov Russia 24.52 24.6
7 Jérémy Stravius France 24.73 24.7
8  Mitch Larkin Australia 25.08 24.8

Darkhorse: Hungarian Richard Bohus is coming off a successful senior year at ASU, and though he has yet to get under 25 this year, he was 24.8 at the Euro’s last year to win the silver medal. With the home crowd behind him he could sneak into the final over some of the established names.

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7 years ago

Just crossed my mind: is there a better active swimmer without an Olympic medal than Lacourt? With the exception of the young guys of course that haven’t had their chance yet.

7 years ago

why is murphy not swimming this instead of grevers?

Reply to  backitup
7 years ago

USA Swimming selection procedures have the winner of the men’s 50 back and the winner of the men’s 100 back at Trials (provided they want to swim it) as the 2 men in the event. Since Grevers won the 100 back over Murphy at Trials and Ress won the 50 back, Murphy isn’t one of the 2 men in the event.

Reply to  Lauren Neidigh
7 years ago

Thanks Lauren!

Gator fan
7 years ago

Still waiting for a 23 in this :/

7 years ago

Koga 24.20
Xu 24.28
Lacourt 24.40
Ress 24.48
Grevers 24.55
Rylov 24.59
Stravius 24.60
Bohus 24.68

Ex Quaker
7 years ago

Seems very realistic.

7 years ago

I would like to see some old guys share the podium.
Lacourt gold,
Koga silver,
Grevers and Stravius ties for bronze.

duh duh
7 years ago

50 back? Thought this was worlds not summer league champs. Then again, anyone that says US will medal without Michael Andrew swimming it is wrong. Nobody can replace MA

Sir Swimsalot
Reply to  duh duh
7 years ago

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About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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