2018 U.S. Nationals Previews: Murderer’s Row Remains In Men’s 100 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

The men’s 100 back has arguably been the most competitive event domestically for the United States over the past decade.

Ten years ago, 2007 World Championship silver medalist Ryan Lochte swam the fastest time of his career at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, but failed to make the team in finishing 3rd. In 2010, reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Aaron Peirsol won the Pan Pac title, but was only able to because Lochte scratched out of the final (only two swimmers from each country can swim the A-final, and Peirsol was 3rd fastest in prelims).

At the 2012 Trials, David Plummer swam 52.98 in the final, a time that ended up being just .01 shy of the bronze medal winning time at the Olympics, but he was 3rd. In 2014, Plummer swims a 53.19 from the B-final at Pan Pacs and bumps up-and-coming star Ryan Murphy off the 2015 World Championship team (in the event) by .02. And then, in a clash of three titans, defending Olympic champion Matt Grevers missed the 2016 team by taking 3rd to Murphy and Plummer at the Trials.

The race has been one of triumph and heartbreak for Americans in recent years, and even with the retirements of Peirsol, Plummer and 2012 silver medalist Nick Thoman, the event has not lost any of its edge. Now, Murphy and Grevers are joined by elite company in Justin Ress and Jacob Pebley.

At the Santa Clara Pro Swim in June, Murphy spoke about how he accomplished all of his childhood dreams in 2016. He always wanted to go to the Olympics, win a gold medal and break a world record. After accomplishing all three, he didn’t immediately know what his goals were moving forward. “I was swimming for a couple months not really knowing what my goals are, and it’s hard to swim, and give 100%, when you don’t know what your goals are”.

By the time he figured out his goals and “locked in”, it was almost time for World Trials and then shortly thereafter the World Championships.

There, after winning both events at the Olympics the year prior, he fell to bronze in the 100 and silver in the 200 back in Budapest. “I definitely don’t want to get beat again. I don’t like that feeling, and that’s pushed me a lot this year”.

“Not getting beat” certainly will be more important at Pan Pacs than at Nationals, but Murphy certainly wants to get back on top in the country after Grevers beat him at World Trials and Worlds, and thus got the finals spots on the men’s and mixed 400 medley relays. 2016 is the only time Murphy has been faster than the 53.24 he’s been this year in-season, so I think a big swim is coming at Nationals, 52-mid or better.

Grevers has been amongst the best in the world for ten years now, but doesn’t look to be slowing down with a pair of 53.7s under his belt this year. I don’t think anyone expected him to be as fast as he was in 2017 after his Olympic disappointment (three swims under 52.5), and he should be back in the 52s again in Irvine.

NC State’s Ress really broke out last year, beating Grevers and Murphy head-to-head at Trials in the 50 back, and then placing 6th in the event at the World Championships. He also established himself as the #3 guy in the 100 behind Murphy and Grevers with Plummer gone, taking 3rd at Trials before winning gold at the World University Games in Taipei. He was under 53.5 six times during the year, and nearly popped a lifetime best at the Columbus Pro Series in early July in 53.30. He’s a very talented all-around swimmer, hardly touching backstroke during a very successful NCAA campaign, and looks like he’s ready to join the ranks of Americans who have gone 52.

Pebley, however, has already been 52, something people forget about. In that crazy Olympic Trials race two years ago, the now 24-year-old took 4th in 52.95, flying under the radar while Murphy, Plummer and Grevers grabbed the headlines. His speed was a bit off last summer in Indy, but he’s already been within two tenths of his 2017 best this season (53.93), and will likely challenge Ress in the battle for 3rd (though with a top-2 spot all but locked up in the 200 back, he could realistically save a bit of his taper for Pan Pacs).

Those are the perennial top-4. They’re the four Americans sub-54 this year, and only one other swimmer is under 55: Ryan Lochte.

The 33-year-old really hasn’t seriously pursued this event since whiffing on the Olympic team in 2008, but was his fastest in three years in June at 54.75, and won’t have any other events on his schedule on day 4. However, I think the most likely scenario is he takes the day off in preparation for the 200 IM on day 5.

Behind the top-5, there are 15 men who have been 55-something this season.


2018 NCAA Finalists

Coleman Stewart, NC State, 100 back winner – 2018 Men’s NCAA DI Championships (courtesy of Tim Binning)

  • Ress’ Wolfpack teammate Coleman Stewart went sub-45 four times during the NCAA season, culminating in a national title in just his sophomore year. In the big pool, he lowered his personal by nearly three tenths in June down to 55.38, and looks like a good bet to hit 54 in Irvine.
  • John Shebat of the Texas Longhorns now has four consecutive runner-up finishes in backstroke events at NCAAs, including losing out to Stewart by .01 in March. He was 6th at the 2016 Olympic Trials in his PB of 54.20, and has already equalled his fastest LC swim of 2017 this year in 55.41. After being absent from many competitions early in the college season, he’s rounding into form nicely.
  • Prior to joining the Longhorns, Austin Katz hadn’t cracked 47 in the SCY 100 back. At the end of his first season in Austin, he broke 45 and finished 4th at NCAAs. The 200 will be his bread and butter, but with the progression he’s made recently he looks like he’ll definitely be clocking in the 54s in the 100. His all-time best is 55.41 from 2016, and has already been 55.61 this season.
  • Louisville’s Nicolas Albiero, also coming off his freshman year, finished 6th in the final at NCAAs. He’s been as fast as 55.04 from last year’s World Juniors, but has the twelve fastest in-seasons swims of his career this year, including a 55.18 from June which ranks 8th among Americans. He also looks to have a 54 coming based on his swims the past few months.
  • Daniel Carr seamlessly took over for Murphy in leading off Cal’s medley relays at NCAAs, and had individual success as well by making a pair of consolation finals. He was 8th at last summer’s World Trials, hitting 54.8 twice, and his 55.33 this year signals a drop is coming.


  • Nick Alexander and Joey Reilman have both been lifetime bests of 55.1 this year, ranking them 6th and 7th in the country and making them instant contenders for the final.
  • Drew Kibler: 54.97 last year.
  • Paul LeBryce Mefford and Clark Beach: all under 55.5 last year, in the vicinity of that in 2018.
  • Michael Taylor was 5th at the 2016 Olympic Trials, and Taylor Dale was 5th at last summer’s World Trials, but neither looks like they’ll be competing in Irvine. Dale hasn’t raced since January, and Taylor hasn’t done any long course this year after his freshman year in Florida.


Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Ryan Murphy 51.85 53.24
2 Justin Ress 53.27 53.30
3 Matt Grevers 52.08 53.73
4 Jacob Pebley 52.95 53.93
5 John Shebat 54.20 55.41
6 Austin Katz 55.41 55.61
7 Daniel Carr 54.80 55.33
8 Coleman Stewart 55.38 55.38

Darkhorse: 16-year-old Carson Foster really exploded at the end of last year in the 200 back, and looks poised to dip below his 100 best of 55.61 at Nationals.

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4 years ago

What exactly happened to Michael Taylor to caused him to stop swimming?

Reply to  CIARLA
4 years ago

He hasn’t stopped swimming. He just finished his first year at Florida (swam at NCAAs) and probably wants to focus on school since it’s a hard adjustment period freshman year.

Tea rex
4 years ago

Let’s not forget Conger was 53-point like 5 years ago, but he dropped the event – 53 is good enough for an A final at best in the USA.

Sean S
Reply to  Tea rex
4 years ago

He’s said before that he’s done swimming the 100 backstroke seriously.

Tammy Touchpad Error
4 years ago

Lochte isn’t one to take days off… he will be in this final and good for a 53 something

4 years ago

Justin Ress could break through to the top 2 this year.

The 100 LCM back is always a thrilling race to watch. The last 25 meters especially.

bobo gigi
Reply to  marklewis
4 years ago

Ress can break the 50 back world record in my opinion. He’s not at the same level in the 100 yet. But definitely a contender to make the US team for worlds next year in the 100 too.

4 years ago

Ryan Murphy is one of my favorite swimmers whose talent deserves more media attention. If not to count Lochty he is the only active USA swimmer who holds world record. He has multiple Olympic and World gold medals but surprisingly only one Pan Pac bronze medal. I wish him best this season in Tokyo.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Ummm… Ledecky?

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Lilly King

Andrew Mering
Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Cullen Jones has a relay world record. He’s still active.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago


Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Correlation: I meant American male swimmer who holds individual world record. I thought it was evident since the article was about men’s competition.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago


4 years ago

When are you going to update the tracker?

4 years ago

I don’t think Shebat will make the final here, over the last couple of years he has moved away from 100 back in LC

Reply to  BSD
4 years ago


samuel huntington
Reply to  BSD
4 years ago

what evidence do you have to support this claim?

Reply to  samuel huntington
4 years ago

mainly last year at trials, he was better in his fly and 200IM than his backstroke. He may have just had a bad swim but he hasn’t shown himself as a major contender in LCM yet

4 years ago

Murphy and Grevers.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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