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2018 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Wednesday, July 25 – Sunday, July 29, 2018
- William Woollett Aquatics Center, Irvine, CA
- Prelims 9 AM / Finals 6 PM (U.S. Pacific Time)
- Meet website
- Meet information
- Event Order
- Full selection procedures
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.
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.
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 Galyer, and 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.
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
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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.