2017 Worlds Preview: Masse, Baker Rise To The Top In Women’s 100 Back


You can find links to all of our event-by-event previews and a compilation of our predicted medal-winners here.

The crown in the women’s 100 back has proved to be one of the most difficult to maintain. The last seven World Championships have garnered seven different winners, and there’s a good chance it reaches eight in Budapest.

Other than Americans Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin, no one has been able to stay on top for more than one year.

After the 2015 World Championships Australian Emily Seebohm was the clear favorite for gold in 2016. She looked unstoppable in winning both the 100 and 200 titles, but that wasn’t the case in Rio.

IM superstar Katinka Hosszu was the one who put it all together come the Olympic final, winning gold in 58.45. It wasn’t a massive surprise, given she had gone 58.78 in prelims in Kazan, but opted to scratch. That could very well happen again, as the 100 back semis and the 200 IM final are only separated by two heats of the men’s 200 free. Considering how close Siobhan-Marie O’Connor got to Hosszu in the IM final in Rio, and how stacked the lineup is in the 100 back, it wouldn’t be a surprise to her scratch. However, if she rolls the dice and swims both, she’s a real player for gold once again. She’s only ranked 15th in the world this year, but hasn’t had a reason to taper.

Hosszu won the gold last year by a clear margin, but behind her it was insanely close. 2nd through 5th place were separated by five one-hundredths, including a tie for the bronze medal.

The three other medalists, Kathleen BakerKylie Masse and Fu Yuanhui, have all been faster this year than they were in Rio, with Masse leading the way.

Heading into 2015 with a personal best of 1:02.7, the Canadian saw incredible improvement to go 59.9 and win gold at the FISU Games. Three 58-second swims in Rio cemented her as a legit top contender, and her rapid improvement hasn’t stopped. Her three fastest swims have come this year, including a 58.21 in April that stands up as the third fastest in history. She’s now the favorite, and has put the eight-year, super-suited world record of Gemma Spofforth in serious, serious jeopardy.

Speaking to the media from the Canadian training camp in Italy on Thursday, teammate Hilary Caldwell raved about Masse’s ability to shut out outside expectations and not get stressed prior to racing. She wasn’t overwhelmed in Rio, she won’t be in Kazan. The 58-second barrier could very well go.

After Coughlin and Franklin, Baker has picked up the mantle as the next great American backstroker. She got some experience on the big stage in 2015, making it into the World final, and then looked comfortable as ever on the biggest stage to win that silver in Rio. And like Masse, she keeps on improving.

An explosive NCAA performance saw her go 3-for-3 in individual events, and she carried that momentum to World Trials, winning both the 100 and 200 back, both PBs. That’s an another thing we’ve seen from both Baker and Masse. Their ability in the 200 has come a long way since Rio, and they’re now premier medal contenders in that event as well, not to mention the 50. The two will be going head-to-head for years to come, but at least in the 100, Masse has the edge this year.

China’s Fu went viral in Rio with her hilarious reaction of tying for bronze in the 100 back, initially believing she was 4th. She was 58.72 – 0.04 faster than Rio – at Chinese Nationals to sit 4th in the world. As the defending champion in the 50 back she’s got a ton of early speed, and will challenge to move up a step on the podium if she utilizes it.

Her countrywoman Chen Jie also figures to be in the final after three consecutive years under a minute. This year she’s been her fastest ever – 59.43 – sitting in a tie for 8th in the world.

Just outside of the medals in that 5th place position was Denmark’s Mie Nielsen, who has now been sub-59 five times in the last two years. However, the 2015 bronze medalist has dropped the World Championships, citing a lack of motivation since Rio and not mentally ready to compete at the highest level.

After going on an absolute tear in 2015, the 7th place finish in Rio was definitely a tough one for Emily Seebohm to swallow. She has said it’s made her more motivated, and she’s certainly capable of winning it all in Budapest. She sits 3rd in the world at 58.62, which to be fair is similar to where she was heading into Rio, but with a “hard lesson” learned there the defending champion should be on her game in a less pressure-packed environment.

Joining Baker for the Americans in this event is Olivia Smoliga, who was the sixth woman sub-59 in the Rio final in 58.95. Smoliga is known as a speedster, winning a pair of NCAA titles in the sprint freestyle events in 2016. However, Smoliga was actually the slowest of the eight finalists going out in Rio, and came back better than everyone other than Hosszu. The ex-Georgia Bulldog was 2nd to Baker at U.S. Trials in 59.17, and is poised to dip below the 59-second barrier once again in Budapest. If she can utilize a bit more speed opening up, she could sneak in for a medal.

The eighth finalist in Rio was Madison Wilson, who won silver behind fellow Aussie Seebohm in Kazan. However, she missed the team in this event, and the second Australian spot was taken by Holly Barratt. At 29, Barratt became the oldest rookie ever for the Australian team when she took 2nd to Seebohm at Aussie Trials in 59.66. She wasn’t far off that mark recently at the Sette Colli Trophy in 59.89, so she’ll be a threat to final at her first World Championships.

Veteran Georgia Davies failed to make the 100 back final last year in Rio, but impressively came back with the two fastest swims of her life to lead the British women into the final of the medley relay. She further improved that best by one one-hundredth down to 59.34 at British Trials, stating after the race: “I can’t retire when I still love what I do and I’m still improving”Though a medal seems out of reach, she’s on track to move up from last year and be a finalist.

Other potential finalists include Russians Anastasia Fesikova and Daria Ustinova, Great Britain’s Kathleen Dawson, and the Ukraine’s Daryna Zevina. All four were under a minute last year, but have yet to do it in 2017.


1 Kylie Masse Canada 58.21 58.0 WR
2 Kathleen Baker United States 58.57 58.3
3 Emily Seebohm Australia 58.62 58.5
4 Fu Yuanhui China 58.72 58.6
5 Olivia Smoliga United States 59.17 58.8
6 Georgia Davies Great Britain 59.34 59.2
7 Chen Jie China 59.43 59.5
8  Holly Barratt Australia 59.66 59.5

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3 years ago

We want a 57!!!!

3 years ago

Masse Is going under 58.

3 years ago

I want Fu on the podium, just so to watch her reaction !

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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