2022 World Champs Previews: Magic Man Takes Center Stage In Men’s 50 Back

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

By The Numbers:

  • World Record: 23.71, Hunter Armstrong (USA), 2022 U.S. International Team Trials
  • World Junior Record: 24.00, Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS), 2018 European Championships
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: N/A
  • 2019 World Champion: Zane Waddell (RSA), 24.43

If you’re a magician, you best be wowing your audience with something unexpected every now and then to live up to that moniker. And Hunter Armstrong did just that at the U.S. International Team Trials in late April.

Armstrong, dubbed the “Magic Man” by his ever-growing fanbase, produced a jaw-dropping world record in the men’s 50 backstroke at the Trials, clocking 23.71 to crack the previous mark of 23.80 held by Russian Kliment Kolesnikov.

Armstrong’s performances in Greensboro were certainly better than anticipated, though it wasn’t a surprise to see him make the U.S. World Championship team. The Ohio State University product broke out to make the Olympic team last summer, ultimately tying for ninth in the 100 back in Tokyo, and had a strong collegiate season for the Buckeyes before having an explosive showing at World Trials.

In addition to the 50 back record, Armstrong also upended Ryan Murphy to win the 100 back, and qualified to swim on the U.S. 400 free relay as well.

AMERICANS LEAD THE WAY

The men’s 50 back in Greensboro was historic, not only because Armstrong broke the world record, but it also saw Justin Ress become just the third man in history under 24 seconds, clocking 23.92. On top of that, third-place finisher Shaine Casas swam a time of 24.00, ranking him fourth all-time. Up until 13 months ago, 24.00 stood as the world record.

If you watch that 50 back race, Armstrong and Ress are relatively even with about 10 meters left, and then Armstrong just pours on the stroke rate without slipping in his stroke at all, pulling away from Ress for the victory.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Armstrong trains for the 100, and we can’t forget he also produced a 24.01 in the prelims at the meet, which at the time was a new American Record and ranked him #2 all-time.

Ress is more of a pure sprinter than Armstrong, having generally found more success in the 50 than the 100 back. Ress represented the U.S. in the 50 at the 2017 World Championships, placing sixth, and tied for gold with Zane Waddell, who would go on to win the world title a few weeks later, at the 2019 World University Games.

Armstrong and Ress are the clear 1-2 heading into Budapest. Kolesnikov ranks third in the world, .01 back of Ress in 23.93, but he won’t be in attendance to the Russian ban. Casas is fourth with his 24-flat, but obviously he’s out since we’ve already got two Americans in the fold.

The next-fastest swimmer this year? More than a half-second back of Ress, which is a massive gap in a 50-meter race.

On top of that, none of the 2019 medalists will be in action, with Waddell retiring in December 2020, while Kolesnikov and fellow Russian Evgeny Rylov rounded out the podium in Gwangju.

An American hasn’t won the World Championship title in the men’s 50 back since the inaugural racing of the event in 2001, when Randall Bal claimed the gold, and it seems like a lock that it will happen again in 2022. The only question is if it will be Armstrong or Ress. Right now, it’s hard to bet against the Magic Man.

EUROPEAN CONTINGENT

Trailing Armstrong and Ress, the third-fastest swimmer in terms of best times expected to be competing in Budapest is Romanian Robert Glinta, who had a cup of coffee in the NCAA with USC (2017-18) before heading back to Europe to train full-time as a professional.

Robert Glinta. Photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Glinta put up a blazing time of 24.12 in the 2018 European Championship semi-finals, but hasn’t been sub-24.4 since. The 25-year-old has been a consistent presence in this event, winning silver at both the 2018 and 2021 Euros behind Kolesnikov, and was also a finalist at the 2019 Worlds (seventh).

This season, Glinta ranks fourth among Worlds entrants with a time of 24.49 from the Swim Open Stockholm in April, good for the third-fastest of his career.

In addition to Glinta, some other Europeans who will be in the mix for a medal include some lesser-known names, such as Germany’s Ole Braunschweig and Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk, along with some established swimmers like Apostolos Christou and Hugo Gonzalez.

Braunschweig was a German Olympian last year in the 100 back, and had a strong 2021 short course season that included making a pair of finals in both sprint backstroke events at SC Euros in November. At April’s Berlin Open, the 24-year-old made big strides in the long course 50 back, notching the first two sub-25 swims of his career, including a 24.67 to rank ninth in the world this season (and fifth among World Championship entrants).

Ksawery Masiuk. Photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Masiuk, just 17, recently set a new Polish Record in the event with a time of 24.68 in early May, and was also the gold medalist in the 100 and 200 back (silver in the 50) at the 2021 European Juniors.

Gonzalez won bronze at the 2021 Euros with a Spanish Record of 24.47, just ahead of Christou (24.59), who was 24.49 for a new Greek Record in the semis. Gonzalez remains a pretty big question mark in this event given his wide array of talents and whether or not he’ll opt to focus more in the medley events.

Italians Michele Lamberti (24.95) and Thomas Ceccon (24.99) snuck under 25 seconds at the Italian Championships in April, but will likely need to be about half a second quicker in Budapest to have a shot at a medal.

Lamberti has proven to be dynamite in the short course pool, but loses a bit of steam without the underwaters in long course. His LC PB sits at 24.75 from last year.

YOUNG CONTENDERS

With the field being relatively wide open behind the two Americans, Australian Isaac Cooper put himself into podium contention in late May at the country’s selection meet in South Australia, setting a new National Record in a time of 24.44.

Cooper, just 18, had previously been 24.59 in December, and made his Olympic debut last summer in Tokyo, advancing through to the semis of the 100 back where he finished 12th in 53.43.

Another youngster on the come-up is South African Pieter Coetze, also 18, who was 24th in that 100 back last summer.

Coetze swam a personal best time of 24.74 at the South African Nationals in April, ranking 12th in the world and seventh among Worlds contenders, and then last month on the Mare Nostrum Tour, he broke 25 seconds four more times. That level of consistency should pay dividends through the three rounds at Worlds.

New Zealand’s Andrew Jeffcoat has been on career-best form of late, highlighted by his Kiwi Record of 24.83 in the event back in February. Set to make his LC World Championship debut, the 22-year-old sits tied for 15th in the world with the ageless Japanese wonder, Ryosuke Irie.

Irie, 32, swam his fastest 50 back since 2009 (!) in March, and while he’s never stood on a major international podium in this event, it would be tough to bet against him missing the final eight.

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

Place Name Nation Season-Best Lifetime Best
1 Hunter Armstrong USA 23.71 23.71
2 Justin Ress USA 23.92 23.92
3 Isaac Cooper AUS 24.44 24.44
4 Robert Glinta ROU 24.49 24.12
5 Pieter Coetze RSA 24.74 24.74
6 Apostolos Christou GRE 24.97 24.49
7 Ryosuke Irie JPN 24.83 24.79
8 Ole Braunschweig GER 24.67 24.67

Darkhorse: Yohann Ndoye-Brouard (FRA) – The Frenchman is better in the 100 and 200 back, but he’s a rising talent who has been 24.9 at least once in each of the last four years. Most recently a PB of 24.91 in January, Ndoye-Brouard should have the ability to join the 24-mid crowd and fight for a medal if everything clicks in Budapest. He has flipped in 25-point something eight times in the 100 back as well.

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12 plus gold in budapest
18 days ago

Armstrong-Ress 1-2

commonwombat
18 days ago

US 1-2, hold a raffle to decide bronze.

DCSwim
18 days ago
Stephen
18 days ago

Magic Man…whata…LOL

turboturtle
Reply to  Stephen
18 days ago

It’s because he does magic tricks bud

Sub13
18 days ago

Cooper’s 100 back at trials was pretty poor despite breaking the national record in the 50. I’m not sure if that means he will drop time in both? Or has his 100 suffered from 50 focus? Or was it just a bad swim?

Pleasantly surprised to see Cooper as a podium prediction. Really hoping he does well, along with JES in the 200, because Aus really needs a replacement for Larkin who is past his prime and likely not going to be around too much longer.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
18 days ago

Maybe he’s gonna be one of those athletes with a fast 50 that struggles to stretch consistently up to the 100 (like Hodges in breast). I hope not.

Last edited 18 days ago by Troyy
Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
18 days ago

I don’t think that’s the issue. A 53.4 as a 17 year old is pretty impressive. You would expect him to keep improving for at least a few years on that. So I guess it just depends if he does.

Stephen
Reply to  Troyy
18 days ago

Yeah Hodges was so slow in that Medley final in Tokyo..i know what you mean

Troyy
Reply to  Stephen
18 days ago

Consistently …

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
18 days ago

I can’t get excited about 50m form stroke events. There’s a place for them but not at major competitions. I know there are many who love them. Sorry. Swimming already has enough events to the point where the vey best like Dressel and McKeown have to pick and choose very carefully the events in which they’ll compete. Everyone knows a medal in the 50m backstroke is not nearly as prestigious as a medal in the 100/200BK, so why have it?

Snarky
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
18 days ago

Over 60 comment. Similar people were saying the same thing about the 50 free 30 years ago.

Last edited 18 days ago by Snarky
oxyswim
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
18 days ago

Don’t we all just want to see who can get across the pool the fastest?

swimswamer
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
18 days ago

the mixed medley relay sucks tho imo… specially in the olympics cause it screws the rankings medal count.
how many more medals could phelps won for example? 5? Later when we compare phelps and dressel etc medal count will be unfair because dressel had an extra relay race.

Troyy
Reply to  swimswamer
18 days ago

If the views on YouTube are anything to go by the MMR was the most popular event among regular viewers in Tokyo so there’s basically zero chance of it going away.

Sub13
Reply to  swimswamer
18 days ago

In the 100 years of the Olympics, do you know how often the event lineup changed? It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. 50 free wasn’t an event at the Olympics til 1988, so all sprinters before that potentially missed multiple golds.

Arguing against adding events because of Phelps seems pretty silly.

Also, Dressel is never, ever catching up to Phelps in Olympic golds, which is way more important. It’s also pretty unlikely he’ll catch up in Worlds golds but I guess it’s possible.

swimswamer
Reply to  Sub13
18 days ago

used phelps only as an example,it can be anyone else. I mentioned it because we use medal count (other factors also but still) to compare swimmers. If one swimmer has acess to more races than another one he obv has more oportunitties to medal. All im saying is that i wish the variables would remain the same to have the fairest discussion possible about all things related to swimming when discussing different times. The rubber suits are a good example of something that either should have never been allowed or should ve continued to be allowed. Same with the line up, it should always be the same imo. People in charge should think about this things and to not like… Read more »

Sub13
Reply to  swimswamer
18 days ago

If you have that attitude then the sport would never develop. Butterfly wasn’t an Olympic stroke until 1956. If people in that era had the same attitude as you, then butterfly, medley relays and individual medleys wouldn’t exist. Do you think that would be a good outcome for the sport?

swimswamer
Reply to  Sub13
18 days ago

I don´t oppose change for the better, but if it´s just for just the sake of change…
Adding a mixed medley relay made the sport better? imo no.
Made it more exciting? imo no.

Sub13
Reply to  swimswamer
18 days ago

The fact that it was the most watched swimming event of all of them suggests it actually is good for the sport actually. More interest means more money and more opportunity for swimmers

torchbearer
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
18 days ago

I think they have the balance right, at the SWIMMING WCs they have all the swimming events available. At the Olympics the program is slightly tightened so that swimming is not disproportionally represented in the Games.

PFA
18 days ago

I’m still waiting for the 100 back to come out but I do think the magician pulls what might be his heaviest rabbit ever and guides him to a new world record of 23.5

Notanyswimmer
18 days ago

Feel like Armstrong’s finishes are always a bit long and it looks almost like he submerges his whole body. Could he drop another tenth just by taking another stroke?

Taa
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
18 days ago

I don’t know but I hope the coaches don’t overcoach him on this. Let him do his magic,

Swammer
Reply to  Taa
17 days ago

Same here. It’s just a 50 they should let him do his thing and not make changes in hopes of clipping a tenth off the wr

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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