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

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2018 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

SIMPLIFIED SELECTION CRITERIA – MOST OLYMPIC EVENTS

  • 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.

TOP 8 PICKS

PLACE SWIMMER LIFETIME BEST SEASON BEST
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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Tammy Touchpad Error

Are we sure Missy will even compete at Nationals? She doesnt look ready… If I’m the coach I say wait another training cycle to taper. Mental health should be priority, lets get this girl some confidence built back up first.

tallswimmer

The problem with that though is no international meet until the Olympics for her (Maybe SC worlds wild card, but that’s not a huge meet). Even if she swims not great and qualifies for Pan Ams, it’s a better stepping stone IMO back to the big stage.

Swimjon

Gwangju 2019?

ERVINFORTHEWIN

for 2019 World Champs , she has to participate at these 2018 Trials to be on the Team for 2018 / 2019 .

Swimjon

Thanks for the info. Sorry, I am not from the US. Didn’t know the selection criteria are so strict… so there are no world champs trials next year that she could qualify in?

SwimSwam2020

If she waits another training cycle she won’t be on the USA international team for 2 years. Her next chance will be for the 2020 Olympics. She needs to at least try because getting back on that team will give her confidence and she will be able to feel comfortable again.

Hswimmer

Who really knows what she’s doing. She seems like a nice person, but tbh she seems to lie a lot to her fans!

ALEXANDER POP-OFF

How does she lie to her fans?

Hswimmer

She lied about how she was ready for the Olympics when she had issues she already knew about and wasn’t really public with them until after…

Cate

She thought she was ready for the Olympics. She was having issues with depression. When or if to make that public is her business. When I see comments like this I can understand why people keep their mental health a secret.

Ervin

I wouldn’t say she lies…but she does always try to put on a happy face even when things are obviously not going well. I did see an interview where she said shes done with that sorta thing…it’d be funny if she turned into Lily King and was just like “yeah that race sucked”

Swammerjammer

Missy Franklin won multiple Olympic Gold medals. She earned the medals the old fashioned way…massive training effort and dedication to her sport. Not a “liar.” She is a rare human being in that so few humans become Olympians. It is lonely at the top, obviously. She also survived verbally abusive coach so I give her props for this strength too.

Yozhik

One week left and there’s no news from Missy Franklin. I will rephrase your statement: she looks ready to not compete…

USA

She just posted on her instagram story that she “feels blessed going into nationals” with a pic of all the gear speedo gave her.

She actually said “for her trip.” The obvious assumption would be Nationals, but given the way things have been the last couple of years, I wouldn’t guarantee that (or that it was a trip to race).

Random123

maybe it changed but it says “feeling sooooo spoiled going into nationals”

swimcoach

“Feeling so spoiled going into Nationals” Sounds like she’ll be there ready to race.

Oh ok you’re right, I was looking at her saved stories not her regular one.

taa

She had a taper reference on her IG over the weekend…she gonna be there.

ERVINFORTHEWIN

As if u were caring for her state of affairs ….come on Man , u are a joker sometimes .

Yozhik

I don’t care for her state of affairs. But I AM interested how the competition at W200BK will look like. What events is she planning to compete at and where does she have some chances? Why is it a secret? Based on what we saw in Mare Nostrum meets recently it definitely won’t be backstroke events. 200 free? Very little chances to be #4. It would be much more interesting to follow another real comebacker Allison Schmitt if she makes 1:55. My prediction is that Franklin either won’t compete at Nationals or will make it a farewell party or will start another round of promises to be ready for Tokyo but not this year because her recovery process has just… Read more »

Jump

Baker and Franklin are fun to watch. Everyone obviously tries hard, but it is really clear with these two.

ERVINFORTHEWIN

did u know that there is no try at Trials ? – its a full on Meet for everyone …..

Hswimmer

Wow. Didn’t realize Stadden went from 2:13 then 2:10 prelims and a whole 2 seconds faster at finals. If she can just drop 2 more at nationals that would be crazy. Wonder if she will be able to hold off Seidt and Bratton and get third.

Hannah

I think her 2:13 was her best time at the beginning of the season. I remember she went 2:11 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series Austin.

CIARLA

I think she has even a chance to get second ahead of Smith but it is hard to project that kind of progression

Hswimmer

Idk about second. Third would be more doable as of now unless one of them just has a bad swim.

CIARLA

I think it is more doable than people think. If Stadden can drop another second (which isn’t out of the question) that would put her at 2:07.3 and then the question is can Smith top that?

NEWTOSWIMSWAM

It wouldn’t surprise me. Stadden’s in season best time 2:08.37 is faster than Smith’s 2:08.64. Watching these two young ladies compete in Minnesota since they were little girls makes me believe anything could happen.

Allie

Not apples to apples. Stadden swam that “in season” time at her first Team USA international competition. She WAS rested and eager. Smith hasn’t swam a remotely rested meet this year. She repeatedly went 2:07’s last year when it mattered. She’s definitely faster now. Stadden is great. But I don’t agree with that comparison of times. There’s a lot more to it.

NEWTOSWIMSWAM

Wrong. Her first international competition was in Ireland and did very well. It’s true Smith has an impressive performance history while Stadden doesn’t have any yet. That’s what makes this exciting – teenagers are unpredictable.

Allie

Ireland was the reward meet for the NCSA Jr Meet winners. Her FIRST TEAM USA meet was not Ireland. It was Mel Zajak. There is a big difference.

Can we get @Gorb in here to educate us about what counts as a Team USA meet and what doesn’t, please?

NEWTOSWIMSWAM

You sound like a know-it-all. Here is what I know: she went to Vancouver without a single day of LCM training and performed beautifully; her stroke is not as smooth as Smith’s but more powerful; she is visibly taller and stronger than Regan; she is coached by one of the best backstroke coaches (Kate Lundsten) in the country; I as a lifelong minnesotan am very proud of both young ladies; finally I’m a little biased with Isabelle because we’re good friends with the staddens for years.

Allie

Clearly I’ve hurt your feelings. I’m sorry. You’re biased and admitted it. That’s fine. Swimming needs fans. Good luck to Isabelle in Irvine. Hope she swims well.

NEWTOSWIMSWAM

No hard feelings at all. You are entitled to your opinion, good, baseless or biased, just like everyone else. Competition is good for our sport. I’m happy for and proud of our Minnesota swimmers competing on the world stage.

swimcoach

Regan Smith seems poised to take this one. Baker will be right there with her. I hate to put predictions on an upcoming teenager because there are so many variables, but I think Smith is going to be in the 2 04s come Tokyo.

Hswimmer

Or better!

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