2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: A Game Of Thrones In Women’s 200 Back




  • Top 1-4 to 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
  • Top 2-6 juniors to 2018 Junior Pan Pacs
  • Top 1-2 (from Nationals + Pan Pacs) to 2019 World Championships
  • 1-2 more to 2019 World University Games
  • 1-2 more to 2019 Pan American Games

For all of you Game of Thrones enthusiasts out there, there is a famous Daenerys Targaryen quote that accurately sums up the women’s 200 backstroke competition in the United States over the last several years:

“…they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top and that one’s on top and on and on it spins…We’re not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”

Translation: there is a lot of domestic competition in the women’s 200 back. Since mainstay performers like Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel eased their stranglehold off of the top 2 American spots in this event, there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency, year-after-year, at the top.

The question now is: can anybody challenge Kathleen Baker (the current queen, if you will) to break that wheel? Fortunately for the U.S., there are a slew of sub-2:10 backstrokers who, on any given day, are more than capable of challenging for the throne.

Kathleen Baker 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Baker is the obvious choice to win in Irvine. After all, she is the defending U.S. National Champion (2:06.38) and bronze medalist from last summer’s World Championships in Budapest (2:06.48). With Franklin still working to get back to top form and Maya DiRado retiring after stunning the world for Olympic gold in 2016, Baker has been the fastest and most consistent American backstroker – across any distance. The 21 year-old has already been 2:07.02 this summer (Mare Nostrum, Monaco) – her fastest in-season time by a long shot and over a full second faster than the next fastest American.

Don’t write off a Baker victory just yet, though. The next challenger to the throne is undoubtedly Regan Smith. The 16 year-old exploded onto the scene in 2017 by finishing 2nd to Baker in the 200 back at U.S. Nationals (then 15 years old) with a 2:08.55 – punching her ticket to Budapest for the World Championships. That was a best time for Smith by over a full second. So, it would have been safe to assume the 15 year-old – competing in her first major international competition – would have some jitters at Worlds and maybe just be there for experience. Nope. She qualified 4th out of prelims (2:08.13 – lifetime best), 5th out of semifinals (2:07.19 – smashing her lifetime best), and 8th in the final (2:07.42). Smith then followed up that performance with a title at the World Junior Championships in August (2:07.45). Needless to say, she isn’t afraid of heavy competition and you can count on her to contend for a title in Irvine.

After that, there is a large cluster of ladies in the 2:08-2:09 range including Asia Seidt of Kentucky, Texas A&M postgrad Lisa Bratton, and 16 year-old Isabelle Stadden.

Asia Seidt 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

All three of the aforementioned women are viable challengers for different reasons. Seidt finished in 3rd place behind Baker and Smith at last summer’s U.S. Nationals and just recently popped off a lifetime best of 2:08.91 at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Columbus. Bratton, the 3rd place finisher from the 2016 Olympic Trials, has a wealth of experience after wrapping up her NCAA eligibility in College Station. She has been putting up sub-2:10 performances in championship meets consistently since 2015, so she could be on the cusp of a breakout meet. She also made her first senior international team in 2014 at the last Pan Pac Championships.

Following Bratton is the newcomer Stadden, who went from a best of 2:13.79 last summer to a monster 2:08.37 in June at the Mel Zajac Jr. International Swim Meet. What is even more impressive about that performance for the 16 year-old is that it broke her previous best time of 2:10.39 set earlier that day in prelims. So, she might not have the experience on the big stage, but she clearly has the firepower.

The next group is a trio of ladies in the 2:09 range with Bridgette Alexander, Ali Galyerand Alex Sumner. Alexander, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, qualified for last summer’s World University Games team by way of a 4th place finish at U.S. Nationals. She has consistently been floating around the 2:10 range for the last 3 years so she, like Bratton, could be poised for her breakout meet in Irvine.

Bridgette Alexander 2017 USA Swimming Winter nationals (photo: Mike Lewis)

Alexander will have to fight off her Kentucky training parter Galyer first, though. About a month ago, the rising junior at Kentucky would have been on the outside looking in. However, she fired off a pair of back-to-back lifetime bests at the Columbus Pro Swim Series with a 2:10.77 in prelims and 2:09.93 in finals. Like others in this field, she isn’t necessarily the most experienced, but it is hard to discount the hot hand.

Rounding out the field is Alex Sumner. The 17 year-old Cal commit made her name on the national stage last summer with a 5th place finish at U.S. Nationals and followed it up by finishing runner-up to Smith in the 200 back at the World Junior Championships with a 2:09.04 (lifetime best). She hasn’t been faster than 2:12 yet this season, but will be hard to ignore in the coming weeks.


1 Kathleen Baker 2:06.38 2:07.02
2 Regan Smith 2:07.19 2:08.64
3 Asia Seidt 2:08.91 2:08.91
4 Lisa Bratton 2:08.20 2:09.86
5 Isabelle Stadden 2:08.37 2:08.37
6 Bridgette Alexander 2:09.81 2:11.52
7 Ali Galyer 2:09.93 2:09.93
8 Alex Sumner 2:09.04 2:12.13

WILDCARD: Missy Franklin

It’s hard to call the current World Record holder (2:04.06) and 2012 Olympic Champion a wildcard, but this is where we are right now. After a disappointing Rio Olympics – failing to qualify for the final – and a double shoulder surgery in 2017, Franklin is finally on the comeback trail. She has only competed in this race 3 times since Rio – all at last month’s Mare Nostrum Tour where she went 2:13, 2:13, and 2:15. Can she put it together in Irvine? Time will tell. The plot twist here is that she may not even swim it. The 200 free is on the same day at Nationals and that arguably gives Franklin a better chance at qualifying for Pan Pacs.

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4 years ago

All of this squabbling when Regan Smith and Baker are gonna blow the field away

4 years ago

Good job with the title of the article! I happen to like all the contenders in this race.

4 years ago

Regan Smith is the one I will be watching. Her backstroke looks technically perfect to me.

Regan’s won some races this summer against the best in the world.

Reply to  marklewis
4 years ago

I think that’s an important point. She swam tough fly/back doubles on 15 minutes rest in both Austin and Santa Clara and beat, head to head, Masse, Ruck, Smoliga, Stadden, etc. in both the100/200 backs. She also did really well in 100/200 Fly. In Irvine, I assume and hope she’ll do one event per day with these four total events and look great. This is nothing against Stadden or anyone else. Certainly the depth in this race is impressive. But how is this person not supremely confident and for good reason? She’ll be rested and ready. If she doesn’t make top 3, good for Team USA because it means the ones that beat her are beasts. Can’t wait!

4 years ago

I really like Seidt’s trajectory right now. I think Smith will win it though. Missy won’t swim this event for anything other than pride. Based on her swims this summer, the 200 free is her only viable shot at a travel team.

Reply to  Aquajosh
4 years ago

Yeah, 2012 was fantastic, but that was then..

4 years ago

If Baker didn’t go so fast in season this year I’d take Smith, it’s a tossup for me now… a Tussup if you will, a littke chaotic

Just sayin
4 years ago

No mention of Bacon or Berkoff. Seems like they could very well be in the mix

Just sayin
Reply to  Maclin Simpson
4 years ago

Dang the US would have one monster of an 4x200bk relay

Reply to  Just sayin
4 years ago

Indeed and 2 Teams of 800 free relays if they wanted as well

Reply to  Just sayin
4 years ago

Berkoff will be in the A final. She went 2:10.5 at Mel Zajac with no rest. She even split a 2:15.6 at 5500 feet in a crap pool last weekend.

4 years ago

i really hope missy can pull something off here

Reply to  Cole
4 years ago

Missy will likely focus on 200 free ( best chance to be on the relay – though its gonna be complicated with so much talent in Usa right now and the 200 back – best chance so far )

4 years ago

The 200mW across the world has really moved the last 6 years or so….wasn’t so long ago and a sub 2.00 got onto the relay, and then it was sub 1.59, 1.58, 1.57…. need a 1.56.XX these days just for a relay spot! Crazy stuff.

4 years ago

It would be great to see two Minnesota girls finish in top 3. Stadden, who just turned 16 (last week?), is having a great season with insane times in many other events including 100BK (1:00.63), 100BR (1:11.75) and 200IM (2:18.61). She is younger, bigger and likely stronger than Smith. Smith of course is also very versatile and strong in BK, FL and FR.

4 years ago


Reply to  Hswimmer
4 years ago

Agree to disagree. Time will tell. Know both girls and their families very well. You??

4 years ago

My second cousin three times removed has a friend who recently drove through Minnesota. She says Smith will dominate.