2018 Pan Pacs Previews: Clash of WR-Holders In Women’s Backstrokes


Kylie Masse spent a year and three days as owner of the 100 backstroke world record. Now, she gets to compete against her usurper to retake that throne.

Canada’s Masse went 58.10 at last summer’s World Championships, breaking a world record (58.12) that had stood since the fall of the super-suits in 2009. Masse has had a couple of solid 58-mid swims this year (including a win at Commonwealths), but hasn’t yet approached her own world record. That mark fell late last month when American Kathleen Baker went 58.00 in winning a thrilling U.S. National showdown.

We could very well see a fight for the first 57-second swim in history in this event – though we mentioned that we could also see an unofficial 57-second swim leading off a mixed medley relay, where a female backstroker could be pulled along by a male backstroker.

Emily Seebohm is the lone holdover from the 2014 medalists. To show how much the world of backstroke has changed, the big story of 2014 Pan Pacs was Seebohm and Belinda Hocking beating Missy Franklin, who was struggling with back spasms. Seebohm returns after taking Worlds bronze last summer (58.59) behind Masse and Baker. She was second to Masse by just .03 at Commonwealths in the 100.

Those three are the presumptive medal favorites in the 100, though there are a few threats from the outside. Olivia Smoliga has proven a true speedster in backstroke, and was second at U.S. Nationals in 58.75. 16-year-old Regan Smith was third while setting a world junior record (58.83), and should be in search of another one. (Those two are also still battling for the second U.S. entry at 2019 Worlds and have every reason in the world to be primed for prelims of this event). Canada’s Taylor Ruck is better at the 200 but is rising faster than perhaps anyone on the planet at present and riding high on an unprecedented 8 medals at Commonwealths. Australia has its own youngster in Kaylee McKeownwho just turned 17 and comes in with a 59.62 seed. Japan, too, has a pair of sub-minute finalist contenders in Anna Konishi (59.62) and Natsumi Sakai (59.77).

In the 200, the race gets tight enough to make pacing and race strategy the key element. Masse leads this year’s world ranks with a 2:05.98 from Commonwealths. But the 18-year-old Ruck was just a half-second back (2:06.42) in that race and is dropping fast. Last summer, Seebohm won Worlds in 2:05.68, but she’s only been 2:06.8 this year and lost Commonwealths to Masse and Ruck head-to-head-to-head.

Baker was last summer’s bronze medalist at Worlds in 2:06.48 – she cut a small margin and tied with the rising star Smith for the U.S. National title last month in 2:06.43.

Smith was 2:07.19 last summer and traded the world junior record back and forth with Australia’s McKeown. Smith broke it in semifinals at Worlds, but McKeown roared back to go 2:06.76 while taking 4th in the Worlds final. Smith faded to 8th in 2:07.42.

That essentially sets up a six-way shootout for the win, with two swimmers each from Canada (Masse/Ruck), Australia (Seebohm/McKeown) and the U.S. (Baker/Smith) coming in with lifetime-bests under 2:07 and season-bests under 2:08.

Japan’s duo of Sayaka Akase and Sakai will need big swims just to make the final: Akase has only been 2:09.38 and the 17-year-old Sakai just 2:10.61 this season, though she was 2:09.34 while taking bronze at World Juniors in 2017. (Smith was the winner of that event).


100 Back

Medal Name Nation Season-best Lifetime-best
Gold Kathleen Baker USA 58.00 58.00
Silver Kylie Masse Canada 58.54 58.10
Bronze Emily Seebohm Australia 58.66 58.23

200 Back

Medal Name Nation Season-best Lifetime-best
Gold Kylie Masse Canada 2:05.98 2:05.97
Silver Kathleen Baker USA 2:06.38 2:06.38
Bronze Taylor Ruck Canada 2:06.36 2:06.36

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3 years ago

Think you could be underestimating Seebohm. Anyway, we shall see.

Reply to  Jared Anderson
3 years ago

Everyone in the field is going to break the WR. How can you not see this Jared

Reply to  Pvdh
3 years ago

PVDH – I think it’s a given that they’re all breaking the world record. The deeper analysis needed here is that they’re all going to win the race. Not in a tie, each individually, faster than everyone else.

3 years ago

“Olivia Smolga”….

3 years ago

Baker took it out fast and opened a gap on Smith and Smoliga, and that was the difference in the race.

Masse is really good in the last 25 meters.

It’s going to be a pack of whirling arms coming down the stretch with 5 or more girls in the 58s or better.

Reply to  marklewis
3 years ago

Masse is gonna need to speed to challenge Baker. Baker was out .9 under Masses world record pace in Irvine

3 years ago

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I’m not sure if baker will be able to better her swims from nationals. It’s definitely possible and I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me like she peaked for nationals knowing how deep American backstroke was and that she’d have to fight for her spot. I still expect her to put up good times, but just not quite as incredible. I’ve been wrong before though.

Reply to  Bob
3 years ago

Baker added at Worlds last year. Smith cut at worlds and again in 100 Back at Jr Worlds. Same thing this year. Smith will challenge very strongly for podium in both backstrokes. It’ll be CLOSE.

Reply to  Bob
3 years ago

I think she has a lot of room for technical improvements from her Nationals swim though. She hugged the lane line on the first 50 and said she almost smacked her head on it on the turn. Even if she’s not quite at peak physical form, being indoors will likely help her swim straighter and just as fast if not faster.

Double Arm Freestyle
3 years ago

It seems crazy but I feel like Regan Smith could really win the 200; she’s been swimming so well this year and last summer she showed a very good progression from Nationals to Worlds to Jr Worlds.

3 years ago

I see no sub 59 seconds at the Europeans- so the Pan Pacs are the big thing this year.
As for the 200m, I was impressed with Seebohms great tactical races to win the last 2 world Championships (when she wasn’t the favorite either time)…should be great racing.

Just sayin
Reply to  torchbearer
3 years ago

No women from euros would’ve made the US team in the 100 Back with the times they swam there. It was a bit of a disappointment

Reply to  torchbearer
3 years ago

Top 6 in the world for the 100 and Top 5 for the 200 at Pan Pacs.

3 years ago

As someone who used to have swim meets against Masse in university; she is so mentally strong its unbelievable. She just puts her head down and gets done what needs to get done. I completely understand Baker’s support, but I think Masse will be pushed faster due to the increased competition.

3 years ago

I really want Seebohm to win that 200 to let everyone know she’s still the one to beat. She’s tough as nails.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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