2022 U.S. Trials Previews: Smith’s Challengers Multiply in the 100 Backstroke


Women’s 100 Backstroke

  • World Record – Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 57.45 (2021)
  • American Record – Regan Smith, 57.57 (2019)
  • U.S. Open Record —Regan Smith, 57.92 (2021)
  • 2021 Olympic Trials Champion — Regan Smith, 58.35
  • FINA ‘A’ Cut- 1:00.59

As the American Record Holder and former World Record holder, Regan Smith is still the woman to beat for the United States in the 100 backstroke. Smith’s first season in the NCAA ended with an individual NCAA title in the 200 backstroke, a tie for 2nd in the 200 butterfly, as well as a 3rd-place finish in the 100 backstroke. Smith lost her American Record in the 100 yard backstroke at the NCAA Championships, which actually saw two women swim faster than Smith’s 2020 record, but more on them later.

Last summer, Smith raced in her first Olympic Games, winning an individual bronze in the 100 backstroke, an individual silver in the 200 butterfly, as well as a silver on the women’s 4 x 100 medley relay. At the 2021 U.S. Trials, Smith won the 100 backstroke, though she was faster in semifinals when she set the U.S. Open Record in 57.92. Smith is also the World Record holder in the 200 backstroke (long course), and the American Record holder in the 200 yard backstroke.

Smith won the 100 backstroke at the U.S. Open in December, posting a strong 58.69, currently the 3rd-fastest time in the world and the fastest time by an American performer this season.

Smith ought to be the favorite to win the 100 backstroke in Greensboro, but it probably won’t be a blow-out. In fact, the women’s 100 backstroke should be one of the best races of the meet.

The Other Olympians

Rhyan White placed 2nd to Smith at the 2021 U.S. Trials, edging out the 2016 Trials champion Olivia Smoliga. White also won the 200 backstroke in Omaha last summer and placed 4th in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes in Tokyo. At the 2021 short course world championships, White won the 200 backstroke and placed 5th in the 100. Smoliga is the 2018 short course world champion, and the American Record holder in the 50 meter backstroke in both long course and short course, as well as the 100 short course meter backstroke. Smoliga made the Olympic team in 2021, but by way of the 100 freestyle, not through backstroke. Smoliga placed 3rd in the 100 backstroke at the 2019 World Championships and won the 50 backstroke, but it’s worth noting that Smith did not swim the 100 backstroke individually in Gwangju, though broke the World Record leading off the women’s 4 x 100 medley relay.

Former World Record holder Kathleen Baker was Team USA’s best performer in the 100 backstroke in 2016, 2017, and 2018, though Baker failed to make the final in the 100 backstroke at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Baker hasn’t raced since November and the 2021 ISL semifinals, where she posted respectable short course times of 56.32 in the 100 backstroke and 2:01.77 in the 200 backstroke. Baker is not entered in next week’s International Team Trials, so her return to competition remains uncertain.

Phoebe Bacon, alongside White, upset Smith for a spot on the Olympic team in the 200 backstroke last summer in Omaha, and also placed 6th in the 100 backstroke. At NCAAs, Bacon placed 9th in the 100 backstroke (50.83) and 2nd in the 200 backstroke (1:49.29). In long course, Bacon posted a 1:01.17 in the 100 back in San Antonio, which is about 1.5 seconds off her best time from 2019.

There is a degree of intrigue surrounding teen phenom Claire Curzan, who posted a 58.72 in the 100 backstroke in San Antonio in early April. Curzan also blasted a 49.25 in yards at the North Carolina high school state championships. However, Curzan will have a busy schedule and she didn’t swim the backstroke at the 2021 U.S. Trials. If Curzan decides to pursue the 100 backstroke, she will be in the mix for a spot on the team in the event. Currently, she is entered in the 50 and 100 butterfly, the 50, 100, and 200 backstroke, and the 50 and 100 freestyle. The 100 backstroke is near the end of the meet, so it’s hard to say whether Curzan keeps it or not.

Erika Brown is best known as a freestyle and butterfly specialist, but she is also a very capable backstroker. Brown is entered in the 100 backstroke, holding down the 9th seed, as well as the 50 back, where she is seeded 7th. Brown didn’t swim the backstroke at Olympic Trials in 2021, giving preference to the 100 butterfly, where she placed 32nd. Brown is entered in 5 events for Greensboro, including the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, as well as the  50 and 100 backstrokes. Brown placed 2nd in the 100 freestyle at the 2021 Olympic Trials, as well as 8th in the 50 free. Brown is a true wild card in the backstroke, making this race even more fun.

Short Course Stars

Fresh off of wildly successful NCAA seasons, NC State’s Katharine Berkoff and Virginia’s Gretchen Walsh will are two more very exciting backstrokers to watch in Greensboro. At the NCAA Championships, both Berkoff and Walsh bested Smith in the 100 backstroke, clocking the two fastest performances ever with times of 48.74 and 49.00, respectively. At the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, Berkoff placed 4th in the 100 backstroke, while G. Walsh did not swim the race.

Both Berkoff and Walsh will be huge challengers to Smith. Berkoff won bronze in the 100 backstroke at the 2021 short course FINA World Championships in Abu Dhabi in December, clocking a time of 55.40, making her the 9th-fastest performer all-time and the 2nd-fastest American all-time in the race, behind Smoliga who holds the American Record at 55.04 from the 2020 ISL Final.

Not to be outdone by the ACC, the Pac-12 answers with another world-class talent in Isabelle Stadden. Stadden, like Smith, is from the greater Minneapolis area and grew up swimming for the Aquajets swim club, which also produced Rachel Bootsma, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 3-time NCAA champion in the 100 yard backstroke. Stadden placed 5th in the 100 backstroke at the Olympic Trials last summer, and has international experience from the 2019 Pan American Games where she won silver in the 200 back behind A. Walsh. More recently at the 2021 World Championships, Stadden won bronze in the 200 backstroke. Stadden was also 7th in the 100 back (50.81) and 4th in the 200 back (1:49.45) at the NCAA Championships. Though the 200 is her better event, she should be a lock for the final in the 100 as well.

Beata Nelson is one of the greatest short course yards competitors in American history, and has also made her mark on the history books in short course meters over the course of 3 ISL seasons. Nelson has been unable to make the transition to long course. For example, Nelson’s best yards time in the 100 backstroke is a 49.18, making her the 4th-fastest all-time in that race. In long course, however, Nelson’s lifetime best is a 1:00.92 from 2018.

Gabby DeLoof comes in as the 6th-seed with a best time of 1:00.44 from 2021. DeLoof should be in contention for a second swim, potentially slipping into the ‘A’ final, but with a field this loaded, she’s probably going to have to get that best time under a minute to secure a spot among the top-8.

More Teenagers

In 2022, Regan Smith is the one with the target on her back. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, however, Smith was a teen phenom quickly chasing down the best backstrokers of all time. Smith is by no means old, she is only 20, and yet a new stable of young teenagers has risen, putting some of her National Age Group Records to the test.

At the 2021 NCSA Spring Championship, Levenia Sim broke Smith’s 13-14 NAG Record in the 100 yard backstroke, blasting a 51.03 to take down Smith’s 51.09 from 2016. Sim hasn’t broken 51 in the yards race yet, but she has brought her 200 yard backstroke down to a 1:53.53, posted at NCSAs in March. Sim hasn’t raced in long course yet this season, and her best time is a 1:00.94. If she can crack the 1-minute barrier, she’ll probably get a lane in the championship final.

15-year-olf Teagan O’Dell, 14-year-old Charlotte Crush, and 17-year-olds Berit Berglund and Jo Jo Ramey are more teenagers to watch. USA Swimming is not sending a team to the 2022 World Junior Championships, but if it were, some combination of these swimmers would likely be on it.

The United States has the greatest backstroke legacy of any federation in the world, and by the looks of things, will continue to produce the world’s best backstrokers for at least a another quad or two.

SwimSwam’s Top-8 Picks

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Regan Smith 58.69 57.57
2 Katharine Berkoff N/A (48.74 SCY) 58.62
3 Claire Curzan 58.73 (49.52 SCY) 58.73
4 Gretchen Walsh N/A (49.00 SCY) 1:00.26
5 Olivia Smoliga 59.53 58.31
6 Rhyan White 1:00.05 58.43
7 Phoebe Bacon 1:01.17 58.63
8 Isabelle Stadden N/A (50.81 SCY) 58.99

Dark Horses: NCAA standouts Reilly Tiltmann and Olivia Bray could make things interesting in Greensboro. Tiltman put up a 50.42 in the 100 yard backstroke at the ACC Championships in February, and Bray a 50.69 at NCAAs in March. Titlmann also posted a 1:49.63 in the 200 yard backstroke at NCAA, while Bray put up a 1:51.09 in the event at the Big 12 Championships. Given these times, we should expect both Tiltmann and Bray to have the closing speed necessary to challenge the 1-minute barrier, though neither has been particularly close to it yet. At present, Tiltmann’s best time in long course is a 1:01.94 and Bray’s a 1:01.27.

Women’s 50 Backstroke

  • World Record – Liu Xiang (CHN), 26.98 (2018)
  • American Record – Olivia Smoliga, 27.33 (2019)
  • U.S. Open Record — Olivia Smoliga, 27.43 (2018)
  • 2021 Olympic Trials Champion — N/A
  • FINA ‘A’ Cut- 28.22

The 50 backstroke, like all the 50s of stroke, is a little bit of an oddball race. Being non-Olympic events, some swimmers ignore the 50s of fly, back, and breast, which sometimes opens the door for new berths to the World Championships team. This is usually the case for Regan Smith, who has never paid the 50 back very much attention, though she will certainly contend for a place among the top-2 in the race in Greensboro. However, the 50 backstroke falls on the same day as the 100 butterfly, an event she has always taken much more seriously.

The American and U.S. Open Records belong to Olivia Smoliga, who is also the 2019 World Champion in the event. In terms of raw speed though, none are faster than Katharine Berkoff and Gretchen Walsh, who posted 50 yard backstroke relay splits of 22.76 and 22.81, respectively, at the NCAA Championships, representing the two fastest swims of all time. Claire Curzan is another young sprint specialist with ridiculous speed and some of the best underwaters in the world.

Beata Nelson, Rhyan White, Gabby DeLoofOlivia Bray, and Reilly Tiltmann are some others who could throw down a fast time and possibly make the team in this event.

The women’s 50 backstroke will be a heated battle between Smith, Smoliga, Berkoff, Walsh, and Curzan. Throw in Nelson and White and the women’s 50 back is now an extremely exciting 27-second slug fest. One thing that could work against Smith in this scenario is that the 100 fly and 50 back fall on the same day. Still, she managed the much more difficult 200 back/200 fly double at NCAAs, earning 1st- and 2nd-place finishes in each, respectively.

SwimSwam’s Top-8 Picks

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Katharine Berkoff N/A (22.76 SCY) 28.13
2 Gretchen Walsh N/A (22.81 SCY) 28.60
3 Regan Smith 28.44* (23.18 SCY) 27.85
4 Olivia Smoliga 28.89* 27.33
5 Claire Curzan 29.05* 28.58
6 Rhyan White 29.44* 28.46
7 Beata Nelson 30.49* 28.46
8 Phoebe Bacon 30.03* 28.02

*First 50 splits of the swimmer’s season best 100 LCM backstroke.

Keep up to date with all of SwimSwam’s previews for the meet with our official preview index here.

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Bobo Gigi
9 months ago

Amazing depth in that event in USA. As usual. With many of the best backstrokers among the top 10 at the international level. But the last gold medal won by a US woman in the 100 back at worlds/olympics was in 2013 with Missy Franklin in Barcelona! Since then only silver or bronze medals in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021. It sounds weird but that’s a fact.

Negative Nora (they/them)
9 months ago

Berkoff and Smith go 1-2 in some order and qualify for Worlds. Hopefully/wishful thinking 1-2 57s.

Last edited 9 months ago by Negative Nora (they/them)
Reply to  Negative Nora (they/them)
9 months ago

People are underestimating the toughness to break 58.
58.00 was a world record just three years ago. The fact that three women broke it last year doesn’t mean anyone can do it easily now.

Reply to  olivy
9 months ago

Berkoff isn’t just anyone though. I acknowledge that SCY and LCM are worlds apart but 48.74 is insane enough that I would not bet against her being able to break 58. She’s dropped a full second in the SCY version in the past year and is “just” 0.62 away from 58.00 in LCM

Reply to  jeff
9 months ago

50.72 = 59.76 in 2019
49.74 = 58.62 in 2021
48.74 = 57.62 in 2022?

Last edited 9 months ago by Snarky
9 months ago

Isabelle Stadden did not “grow up swimming for the Aquajets club.” She grew up swimming for the Fastjets club, during which time she swam a 1:01 LCM 100 back as a 14-year old. She was already one of the top junior backstrokers in the country when she switched to Aquajets as a 15-year old.

Paste Me Back
Reply to  Ferb
9 months ago

I always felt sorry for Stadden because she was the same age as Regan and therefore always in her shadow as an age-grouper.

Reply to  Paste Me Back
9 months ago

I doubt she fees sorry for herself.

Reply to  Ferb
9 months ago

It is never acknowledged that Reagan Smith started at Storm either. I understand writers not knowing intimate historical information but it bothers me when Smith never acknowledges Storm.

Reply to  Dotty
9 months ago

Did she dress up as Storm for Halloween?

9 months ago

Maybe I have something for people with Yard times but I have smith then berkoff for this

Reply to  PFA
9 months ago

Berkoff outSWAM Regan at NCAAs. Watch the video.

casas 50.7 fly
9 months ago

lmao you have walsh beating white in the 100 back. This is the big pool remember

9 months ago

Honestly, any of these top 8 can get one-two and I wouldn’t be surprised. Yeah everyone is saying Regan is the favorite, but that’s what everyone said going into the 200 Back at trials, and the 100 at NCAA’s. The point is, that this sport and especially this event can be very unpredictable and anything can happen. Berkoff has looked really sharp this season, and I think she definitely has the chance to get into the mix for a spot in either/or the 50/100 Back.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
9 months ago

Regan flipped in 27.74 in her former WR swim of 57.57

9 months ago

Swimswam very high on the UVA ladies. We now have G Walsh beating Smoliga and White, among others.

9 months ago

Yeah. That is not going to happen.

9 months ago

I see it more as a recent results bias. They speak equally as highly of Curzan and Berkoff. I see the 50 as a battle between Smoliga, G Walsh, Curzan and Berkoff.

9 months ago

Picking a close race between Smoliga, G Walsh, Curzan and Berkoff.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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