2022 Commonwealth Games Previews: Can Anyone Upset Masse & McKeown in Women’s BK?

2022 COMMONWEALTH GAMES

  • Friday, July 29 – Wednesday, August 3, 2022
  • Birmingham, England
  • Sandwell Aquatic Center
  • Start Times
    • Prelims: 10:30 am local / 5:30 am ET
    • Finals: 7:00 pm local / 2:00 pm ET
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central
  • Event Schedule
  • Entry List
  • Entries (in seed order) – h/t to Troyy

At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, four women collected all of the individual backstroke medals: Kylie MasseEmily SeebohmTaylor Ruck, and Georgia Davies. Only Masse returns to compete in Birmingham this summer. But while we’ll have almost total podium turnover from 2018, the top steps will almost certainly be dominated by the familiar faces of Masse and Kaylee McKeown.

Women’s 50 Back

The top five women in the Commonwealth have all been under the championship record this season, so we’ll be on record watch here through the three rounds. Masse has been on fire in this event all season, and she leads the way with the 27.18 she hit at Canadian Trials for a new Canadian Record. She also won gold in Budapest in 27.31, which was actually her slowest 50 back of the meet. Armed with her record, Worlds gold, and consistently fast times, she’ll be the one to beat in Birmingham.

With Worlds finalist Ingrid Wilm racing at Canadian Championships, the only other Canadian in the race will be Maggie MacNeil. At Worlds, MacNeil only competed in relays to prioritize her mental health and recover from her elbow injury. Here, we’ll get a look at her form in an event where she’s the world record holder in the short course meters edition. MacNeil did not race backstroke in Budapest, but in Canet she swam a 29.67. Expect her to be faster here, but she’ll need a big drop to be in the medal hunt.

Another swimmer who didn’t race backstroke at Worlds is Australia’s Mollie O’Callaghan. In Budapest, she opted to focus on her freestyle events, a move which paid off as she came away from the competition with six medals (three of them gold). Now, we’ll get a chance to see what she can do with the backstrokes added to her schedule. At Australian Trials, she set a lifetime best 27.46, which would have finished fifth in Budapest. McKeown did tie for fifth at Worlds in 27.47–she’ll be one of the favorites in the 100 and 200 back, but the 50 isn’t usually where she shines. Still, she’s put up a competitive enough time to be in the medal conversation.

Wales’ Medi Harris and Australia’s Bronte Job also should be involved in the final. Harris swam a best of 27.56 to make the Worlds final. That’s the fourth fastest among Commonwealth swimmers racing in Birmingham, which puts her in a strong position. Job set her best of 27.62 this season too. With such big names ahead of them on the start list, both will likely need to drop again if they want to upset any of them for a medal.

Without backstroke ace Kathleen Dawson, Scotland’s lone entrant in the 50 back is Cassie Wild. Wild’s entered with her best of 27.85, which she set at last year’s European Championships. This season, she’s been as fast as 28.49; if she wants to mix it up with the main contenders, she’ll need to get back down to her best.

Place Name Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Kylie Masse Canada 27.18 27.18
2 Mollie O’Callaghan Australia 27.46 27.46
3 Kaylee McKeown Australia 27.47 27.16
4 Medi Harris Wales 27.56 27.56
5 Bronte Job Australia 27.62 27.62

Women’s 100 Back

  • 2018 Commonwealth Games Champion: Kylie Masse (CAN) – 58.63
  • Commonwealth Games Record: Kylie Masse (CAN) – 58.63 (2018)

They’ll be without the familiar presence of Regan Smith in the next lane, but Masse and McKeown are the heavy favorites in the 100 back. Masse got faster through each round of the 100 back in Budapest, ending up with the silver medal in 58.40. That’s well off her lifetime best 57.70, so we’ll see if she can keep getting faster in Birmingham. In 2018, Masse won the 100 and 200 back; now in 2022, she’s a huge threat for the sweep.

Standing in her way is McKeown, the world record holder. McKeown caused a stir at Worlds when she scratched this event to focus on the 200 IM. However, she’s still slated to race the event at Comm Games. With her world record and Olympic gold, McKeown’s record in the 100 back speaks for itself. Masse and McKeown are all but a lock for gold and silver; the only question is which medal goes to which swimmer. It seemed like Canada went more in on Worlds than Australia, which might give McKeown the edge.

While Masse and McKeown are in a tier by themselves, there’s another battle going on for bronze between O’Callaghan and Harris. O’Callaghan holds the edge with a 59.12, which she swam at Australian Trials. The 100 back is on the same schedule as the 50 free, which creates a double for O’Callaghan. She’ll have to deal with that conflict through all three rounds, and the 50 free comes before the 100 back. This isn’t a reason to count her off the podium, but is something to keep in mind. Harris set her lifetime best 59.24 in February. She was off that time at Worlds, coming as close as 59.61 in the semis. But if she can get back down to that time, she has a real shot at a medal.

Those are the only four women racing in Birmingham who have cracked 1:00 so far this season. Australia’s Minna Atherton leads the rest of the field, holding a 1:00.62 season best. Her lifetime best is two seconds faster, but it’s from 2019 Worlds. Based on the field, it doesn’t look like she needs to be at her best to be in the medal hunt, but she’ll certainly need to be under the 1:00 barrier.

Place Name Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Kaylee McKeown Australia 58.31 57.45
2 Kylie Masse Canada 58.39 57.70
3 Mollie O’Callaghan Australia 59.12 58.86
4 Medi Harris Wales 59.24 59.24
5 Minna Atherton Australia 1:00.62 58.60

Women’s 200 Back

  • 2018 Commonwealth Games Champion: Kylie Masse (CAN) – 2:05.98
  • Commonwealth Games Record: Kylie Masse (CAN) – 2:05.98 (2018)

There are only 16 entries for the 200 back. Plus, three of the top eight in the Commonwealth–O’Callaghan, Taylor Ruck, and Mary Sophie Harvey–aren’t racing. That opens the door for some new faces to make an appearance in the final.

Once again though, McKeown and Masse are the big favorites. At the Victoria Open in February, McKeown threw down a 2:04.64, which was faster than she swam for Olympic gold. She wasn’t quite that fast at Worlds, but still clocked 2:05.08 to out-touch Phoebe Bacon for the world title.

It’s a tossup between McKeown and Masse in the 100 back, but in the 200, McKeown clearly holds the edge. Her season best is three seconds faster than Masse’s best. Masse swam her season best 2:07.66 at the Mare Nostrum tour. Unable to match or improve the mark at Worlds, she finished sixth in 2:08.00. She may be off her usual form in this event, but barring an unexpected collapse, she’s sitting comfortably in the silver medal slot.

Even more so than in the 100, Atherton is floating in no man’s land on the entry list. She’s three seconds behind Masse, so it seems unlikely that she’ll be in the top 2, but she’s about a second ahead of the next fastest in the field, Katie Shanahan. If she has more in the tank, Atherton could breakaway even further from the field. Shanahan’s season best is 2:11.25, but her lifetime best is 2:09.90. She’ll need to be closer than that to challenge Atherton.

There are two other Scots to keep an eye on: Wild and Holly McGill. It seems Wild is focusing on the 50 and 100 back this year, as she didn’t swim the 200 at British Championships or the Edinburgh International Meet and was 2:16.60 at Glasgow International. She’s entered with her lifetime best 2:07.74 and should be much closer to that in Birmingham.

At 17-years-old, this is McGill is coming off European Juniors for her debut Commonwealth Games. McGill’s made huge strides in this event over the last year. In March 2021, she set a lifetime best of 2:16.88. In just over a year, she’s shed just over five seconds, swimming 2:11.84 to make the team in April. That time gives her a slight advantage over Wales’ Charlotte Evans, who’s seeded with a 2:12.18.

Place Name Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Kaylee McKeown Australia 2:04.64 2:04.28
2 Kylie Masse Canada 2:07.66 2:05.42
3 Minna Atherton Australia 2:10.60 2:06.82
4 Katie Shanahan Scotland 2:11.25 2:09.90
5 Cassie Wild Scotland 2:16.60 2:07.74

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Kev
2 months ago

What a formidable women’s swim team Australia have with the inclusion of Titmus Emma and Jack back from injury . Easily a class above any other country. Its a shame Canada are not fielding the best team you just wonder is there a deeper issue within Canada swimming ? You just got to think Emma and Arianne with the competitive juices flowing they must be busting their swim suites to get out and race . Mollie will be no mug in the backstroke events will surprise everyone gaining a extra leg so to speak with her dead’s at worlds to draw upon. Cant see Mollie blowing out she has youth on her side and a very level head

Last edited 2 months ago by Kev
flicker
2 months ago

O’Callaghan’s 100 back PB is actually 58.86 from 2021 Trials when Kaylee set the world record and its the only event she didn’t PB in at trials this year so I’m really curious to see what time she’ll go

Troyy
Reply to  flicker
2 months ago

She still has an ugly 100 back and 200 free double at Commies but this time the 100 back is first. Hopefully swimming the 100 back final doesn’t cause her to have a blowout in the 4×200 free relay 2 events later.

Last edited 2 months ago by Troyy
flicker
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

yeah it would be unfortunate if thats a key factor that costs them the WR but they should still win regardless

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

That may’ve been a legitimate concern were they facing a full strength CAN relay but other than McIntosh; I suspect they’ll be battling to see too many of them splitting below 1.57. In short, AUS don’t need to be going gangbusters to win by …… a very long way.

Troyy
Reply to  commonwombat
2 months ago

Yes, but a blowout would ruin any chance of a WR.

Robbos
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

Interesting to see what MOC brings to the Commonwealth games, I think she might be one of the few that focused on the WCs for Australia.
But a firing Titmus & MOC will see Australia go close to a WR, as a matter of fact if they all swim to their best ability they will smash it.

flicker
Reply to  Robbos
2 months ago

I think the main focus for most of the team was worlds, I feel like its only really the group that won individual medals in Tokyo that had more focus on Comm Games

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

TBH, we may not see any relay WRs “going down” in Birmingham. Were we seeing a full-strength CAN women’s team and GBR as one team rather than diluted down to smaller entities; then my view may be different.

Not saying it won’t happen but for a WR in one of the women’s free relays; it would essentially need to be a ‘team time trial’ given the lack of real race stimulus. The abovementioned dilution of GBR rules out any realistic shot in any of the men’s relays and MMR.

If a WR is potentially going down, the most likely candidate that I can see would be MFR.

commonwombat
2 months ago

Unless they’re both inexplicably off the game; quite simply …. NO. MOC could be competitive over the shorter distances. Would be nice if Atherton could, somehow, regain her 2019 mojo but not really expecting it.

Matthew
2 months ago

Lack of English female back stroker will surely cost England the mixed medley relay to Australia?

Sub13
Reply to  Matthew
2 months ago

Yes that’s what I’m expecting

Dee
Reply to  Matthew
2 months ago

Yeah. Half expect MMFF from England.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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