2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
- June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
- Budapest, Hungary
- Duna Arena
- LCM (50-meter format)
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By The Numbers:
- World Record: Liu Xiang, China – 26.98 (2018)
- Championship Record: Zhao Jing, China – 27.06 (2009)
- 2019 World Champion: Olivia Smoliga, United States – 27.33
- FINA ‘A’ Cut – 28.22
Even with world record holder Liu Xiang being absent from the World Championships, the race in the women’s 50 back is going to be one for the ages.
First off, there are currently three swimmers this year who are faster than the 27.33 Olivia Smoliga went to win the 2019 World title, and 16 swimmers faster than the 27.79 it took to final at that same meet.
In the women’s 100 back preview, we talked about the trio of Regan Smith, Kaylee McKeown, and Kylie Masse that would dominate the race and most likely claim the three medals. The 50 back would have been the same story, with Smith, McKeown and Masse being heavy favorites, until it was Katharine Berkoff who soared to the top of the world rankings this year to spoil the party.
That means that this time around, we are going to have not three but four women contending for gold in the ever-growing field of women’s backstroke.
The Big Four
Let’s delve into the top four swimmers in this event: Berkoff, Smith, McKeown and Masse. Their best times are only separated by 0.13 seconds, meaning that they all have a good chance of coming out on top.
Berkoff first raised the idea that she was a serious threat when she destroyed Smith’s 100-yard back NCAA, US Open, and American record in a time of 48.74, becoming the first woman under the 49-second barrier. One month later, at U.S. trials, she went on to break the American record in the 50 back, clocking a time of 27.12 to claim the #1 rank in the world and become the fifth-fastest performer of all time.
The NC State swimmer is one of the fastest-rising backstrokers in the world this year. However, can she maintain her momentum on the biggest international stage?
The person who finished behind Berkoff at U.S. trials was Smith, who swam a time of 27.25 that is not only ranked fourth in the world, but also under Olivia Smoliga’s previous American record of 27.33.
Smith is the world record holder in the 200 back and a former world record holder in the 100 back, but we don’t see her swim the 50 back all that often. In fact, this is the first time she’s swum the event at a major international meet, making her relatively inexperienced in this event compared to the rest of the field.
However, given how good Smith is in the 100 back (she opened her former world record swim in 27.74), she’s likely to have a lot of untapped potential in the 50 back. In addition, the fact that she’s been missing international teams in the 200 back but has been dropping sub-58 swims in the 100 back has shown that her strength lies more in the sprints, which bodes well for an event like the 50.
Then we’ve got McKeown, who didn’t swim this event at Australian trials but is set to race it at Worlds. Her season-best time of 27.61 is ranked eighth in the world, but she set a best of 27.16 last year, which makes her the seventh-fastest performer of all time. The 50 back is McKeown’s third individual event on her very crowded schedule. However, the finals of the event fall on a day when she has no other races in the morning or evening session, allowing her to be fresh coming into this race.
But what might give McKeown leverage over the rest of her competitors is that according to her former head coach, Chris Mooney, she has broken the 50 back world record not once but multiple times in practice before.
“Unofficially, we did a couple of pace suited 50s, and she [went] 26.6, 26.7, which is actually under the world record,” Mooney told SwimSwam’s Coleman Hodges in a podcast interview last September.
If McKeown actually broke the world record in practice and it wasn’t just a result of a fast watch, we could be in for something special here. She is the world record holder in the 100 back, and with an official PB that’s just 0.18 away from the 50 back world record, why can’t she take a shot at it in Budapest?
The last person we have to mention in our top four is Masse. She wasn’t really in the medal conversation for the 50 back as much as she was in the 100/200 back, as her best time before this year was a 27.64. At Canadian trials this year, she got it down to a 27.18 to break a National Record and briefly, an Americas Record (until Berkoff broke it a few weeks later). That proves that she is just as capable in the 50 as she is in the other backstroke events.
Masse is constantly looked over in people’s backstroke predictions because she doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as a swimmer like Smith, Berkoff, or McKeown. However, she’s known to be more consistent than all three of them, so if any of them are having an “off” meet, this is her time to step up.
Toussaint: Is She Back In Old Form?
You might be wondering why we left Dutch swimmer Kira Toussaint out of the “top” category. She does have a best time of 27.10, which she swam at the Eindhoven qualification meet last April, which is faster than McKeown, Masse, Smith, or Berkoff. However, she hasn’t really been as strong as the rest of her competitors recently.
Toussaint didn’t have the greatest international performance at Europeans and the Olympics, adding a significant amount of time from Eindhoven in both meets. In addition, despite being the former world record holder in the short course 50 back, she failed to make the finals in the event at Short Course Worlds. Her season-best time of 27.71 this year is a far cry from the top, and recently moving across oceans from the Netherlands to train in Tennessee means that she’s had to make many adjustments in a short amount of time. That doesn’t exactly bode well for such a high-level meet like worlds, but we shall see shortly if Toussaint is back in her April 2021 shape or not.
Outside Looking In
There’s still a handful of 27-mid swimmers entered in this event that we haven’t mentioned yet.
Frenchwoman Analia Pigree went 27.41 at the French Winter Championships in December 2021, and then later clocked a 27.72 at the spring version of the meet. She finished fourth in the 50 back at Short Course worlds last year, and looks to translate her success into the big pool. 16-year-old Mary Moluh, who beat Pigree in a time of 27.70 at the French Spring Championships, will not be swimming at worlds.
Another swimmer who has seen a lot of short course success is Ingrid Wilm. She’s constantly fallen short of opportunities to race at major international meets, as first she finished third in the 100 back at the Canadian Trials to miss the Olympic team, and then was not named to Canada’s short course worlds roster despite holding the national record in the SCM 100 back. This year, Wilm was named onto her first Worlds team after finishing second in the 50 back at trials, and her 27.63 is ranked 10th in the world this year and seventh out of all the women competing. This meet could be Wilm’s chance to finally break out at a big meet.
Italy’s Silvia Scalia swam her fastest time in two years at the 2022 Italian Sprint Championships, clocking a best time of 27.66 to rank 11th in the world. If she replicates a similar time at Worlds, look to see her in the mix to final as well. The same goes for Maaike De Waard, who went 27.75 to finish 0.04 behind her Dutch teammate Toussaint at the Heidelberg Q! Cup this April. We will go with De Waard to final because she has experience racing swimmers like Toussaint, and has historically performed better than Scalia at major international meets.
Alongside Toussaint and McKeown, Austria’s Caroline Pilhatsch is one of the only swimmers entered that competed in the 50 back finals at the 2019 Worlds. She finished seventh at that meet in 27.78, and set a best time of 27.77 in the semifinals. Her season-best time this year is only 28.30, so she’s going to have to be a lot faster to get a finals berth this time around.
Some notable swimmers missing from this field include Olivia Smoliga, Etiene Medeiros, and Daria Vaskina, the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from 2019. Smoliga didn’t qualify for the U.S. Worlds team, Medeiros missed Brazil’s Worlds qualifying meet due to a torn ACL, and Vaskina’s country of Russia is banned from participating at Worlds. 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan, who swam a time of 27.46 at Australian trials, will not be swimming this event at Worlds.
SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks
|Rank||Swimmer||Country||Season Best||Lifetime Best|
|2||Katharine Berkoff||United States||27.12||27.12|
|4||Regan Smith||United States||27.25||27.25|
|8||Maaike De Waard||Netherlands||27.75||27.69|
Dark Horse: Theodora Drakou, Greece – The 30-year-old veteran dipped under the 28-second barrier this March, clocking a time of 27.96 to set a new best time. That was her first PB in the event since 2016, where she swam a 28.00. She finished 21st at 2019 Worlds in a time of 28.48, and looks to make a huge jump from that ranking this year.