2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Youth to Threaten Smoliga & Baker in 50BK

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Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker have been at the forefront of American backstroke sprinting since Rio, and the two have both been 27.4’s in their lifetime — 27.43 for Smoliga, the American record holder, and 27.48 for Baker, the 5th place finisher in this event at the 2017 World Championships. The recently retired Hannah Stevens narrowly defeated Baker last year in this event at Nationals, 27.63 to 27.69, but based on lifetime bests and their recent forms, and considering Stevens is out, it’s going to be Smoliga and Baker primarily vying for a title.

USA Swimming constantly has young swimmers cropping up to take place of seasoned stars, and that couldn’t be more true in women’s backstroke, as we’ve seen profound teenage excellence from Missy Franklin, Elizabeth Beisel, Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma, and so many more. As is true in the 100 and 200 back, too, the 50 back has the potential for a teenager to surprise the field. And there are quite a few kids looking very dangerous right now.

Regan Smith, 16, dropped a 27.85 in this event at the Austin PSS in January, and she’s the biggest threat to steal a crown. She has been on a tear the last several years through the Age Group rankings, and she’s fast enough now to contend for international medals. Smith is the only American woman, besides Smoliga, to have been under 28 seconds this year. Isabelle Stadden, who also hails from Minnesota, has shown marked improvement this year as well, including a 28.17 which ties her with Ali Deloof (27.82 PR) for 3rd among Americans this year. Deloof, like Smoliga, is 23, making them the oldest of the top American backstrokers right now, showcasing just how young the talent is now.

Caitlin Brooks, 17, hit a 28.23 at the Irish Open this spring, slotting her at 6th in the country this season. She’s just ahead of another 17-year-old, Katharine Berkoff, who sits 7th in the nation at 28.38 (a season and lifetime best). 18-year-old Grace Countie went 28.56 at the Charlotte UltraSwim last month to leave her in 9th, and then there’s 15-year-old Phoebe Bacon, who competed at 2016 Trials as a 13-year-old; Bacon has been 29.12 this year.

Meanwhile, we saw a great NCAAs out of NC State’s Elise Haan. She was 50.42 in the 100 back to take 4th, just over two tenths behind Baker (50.18) and a few more tenths behind a surging Beata Nelson (49.92) and champion Ally Howe (49.70). Haan’s 28.22 is 5th in the country right now, though, and Nelson and Howe have had their struggles in LCM. Nelson has been 29.30 this year, and Howe has not swum this event in LCM.

Cal teammates Keaton Blovad and Amy Bilquist should be in the mix here, as Blovad’s been 28.42 and Bilquist 28.71 this year.

PLACE SWIMMER LIFETIME BEST SEASON BEST
1 Olivia Smoliga 27.43 27.43
2 Regan Smith 27.85 27.85
3 Kathleen Baker 27.48 28.56
4 Ali Deloof 27.82 28.17
5 Elise Haan 28.22 28.22
6 Isabelle Stadden 28.17 28.17
7 Amy Bilquist 28.25 28.71
8 Katharine Berkoff 28.38 28.38

Dark horse: Grace Ariola. The Illinois native and future Texas Longhorn edged Regan Smith last summer at World Juniors for a bronze medal in the 50 back with a time of 28.11. Ariola is a tough racer, and she has everything it takes to make a top 8 final in this event.

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Yawn

50s….

Jimbo

Let’s make 400s of each stroke we have 50s now let’s do 400s

Ex Quaker

25’s! Mile breaststroke! 4×800 medley relay!!

Go Bearcats

The United States would dominate a 4×800 medley relay. Imagine 2009 Piersol, Shanteau, Phelps, and then I guess maybe Lochte. LEGENDARY

Yeah! I’ve always said that swimming really needs a pool 10k to jazz up interest in the sport!

Becky D

Livestream Andy can do commentary.

ERVINFORTHEWIN

Andy is the Man !!!!

I would watch Livestream Andy commentate on a pot of water boiling.

Becky D

That’s pretty close to what a pool 10k would be like.

Maelstrom

Who would do 400 fly?

USA

Mary T Meagher did a 10,000 fly before

Andy

I saw a girl do that at a high school meet. It was insane. She was #2 in the state and would get bored racing everyone else. She eventually quit because she was bored of swimming and started drinking a lot.

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo

Me, cause my coach would sign me up for it every event. I’m a sprinter, and I’ve swam the mile/800 and every meet this season ☠

Jimbo

People have actually done the mile fly in a meet

Andy

I don’t know. This really seems like a toss up. Maybe Regan, maybe Baker?

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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