2023 U.S. Trials Previews: It’s Regan Smith’s Show In Women’s 100 Back

2023 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S 100 BACK — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record – Kaylee McKeown, 57.45 (2022)
  • American Record –Regan Smith,  57.57 (2019)
  • U.S. Open Record — Regan Smith, 57.76  (2022)
  • 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Champion- Regan Smith, 57.76
  • World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut- 1:00.59

Like the men’s backstroke events, the women’s 100 and 200 backstroke have both been some of the most crowded events for the U.S. in recent years with a mix of youth and veterans challenging for World Championship spots.

The Favorite

After several years of domestic dominance from Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga, a changing of the guard began to percolate in the women’s 100 back in 2019, as Regan Smith made waves at the World Championships with her world record performance in the event. Smith, only 17 at the time, wasn’t even selected to race the 100 backstroke individually at the meet, with Baker and Smoliga having solidified their spots the previous summer.

Despite this, Smith earned the right to lead off the women’s 4×100 medley relay after her stunning 200 backstroke world record earlier in the meet (her opening 100 split in the semi-finals of the 200 was actually faster than what Baker went in the 100 back final). Taking advantage of her opportunity, Smith demolished Baker’s world record of 58.00, dropping a 57.57 on the lead-off leg to become the first woman under 58 seconds in the event.

Since her breakout performance, Smith has become a staple in this event on U.S. rosters, winning gold at the 2022 World Championships and earning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

Although her relay lead-off from 2019 is still Smith’s personal best, she now has 11 swims under 58 seconds, four of which have been produced this season.

Despite having a few ‘off’ performances in the 200 back, missing the Olympic and World Championship team in the event in back-to-back years, Smith has remained atop the heap in the 100. Since moving to Arizona State to swim under Bob Bowman, she’s been absolutely on fire, ranking second in the world this season in both the 100 (57.83) and 200 back (2:04.76) behind Australian Kaylee McKeown.

No American ranks within a second of Smith this season in the 100 back, making her the clear-cut #1 heading into Indianapolis.

The Veterans

The second representative in this event at last year’s World Championships was Claire Curzan. Traditionally a butterfly specialist, Curzan has expanded her range in recent years into the backstroke and sprint freestyle events, making her a threat across a wide array of disciplines. She won the bronze medal in the 100 back at the 2022 World Championships, finishing about a half-second behind Smith with her time of 58.67.

Curzan recently completed her first NCAA season at Stanford, where she was the national champion in the 200 backstroke in a time of 1:47.64. She also finished third in the 100 back, dropping a time of 50.08 in another strong performance. Coming off her NCAA showing, Curzan competed in the 100 back at the Mission Viejo stop of the Pro Swim Series last month, producing a time of 59.00, less than a half-second shy of her time from Worlds. With no conflicts between this event and any of her other potential races, Curzan will be in a good spot to try to make the World Championships in this event for the second year in a row.

Another NCAA swimmer, NC State’s Katharine Berkoff currently holds the second-fastest time in the country this season with her 58.83 from the Westmont Pro Swim Series. Berkoff, the daughter of U.S. Olympian David Berkoff, qualified for her first World Championships last summer in the 50 back. She ultimately won the silver medal in the event, finishing .08 back of world champion Kylie Masse, and at U.S. Trials, placed fourth in the 100 back in a PB of 58.61.

Katherine Berkoff (photo: Jack Spitser)

Berkoff is also coming off a strong NCAA season, which saw her place second in the 100 back after two consecutive years as the champion. Despite the majority of her major success coming in the short course pool, Berkoff’s swims last summer proved that she could throw down some speed in the long course pool. She’ll be right in the mix for a spot at this year’s meet.

Another NCAA swimmer, Isabelle Stadden is also in the conversation. The Cal star holds a season-best of 59.38 and a lifetime best of 58.99. Stadden broke out on the international stage by winning gold in the 200 back at the 2018 Junior Pan Pacs, and has since gone on to win medals for the U.S. at the Pan American Games in 2019 and the Short Course World Championships in 2021. She might not have the pure speed required to earn a top-two finish if everyone is at their best, but she’ll be coming on strong over the final 50 and will challenge for a top finish.

Rhyan White finished third at last year’s World Championship Trials in this event, out-touching Berhoff in 58.61. White, who represented the U.S. at the 2021 Olympic Games and 2022 World Championships in the 200 back, has been struggling this season, however, only finishing eighth at NCAAs in the 100 back and missing the ‘A’ final of the 200 back. That came after she was third in the 200 and fourth in the 100 the season prior.

White has only been 1:00.58 so far in-season in LC, and has recently undergone a big career change, joining to NC State’s pro group last month, completely altering her training plan just months from the World Championships. With such a competitive field, White will need to find something big to replicate her previous times and earn a spot on the World Championship Team.

Two more swimmers to watch are Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon and Virginia’s Gretchen Walsh.

Bacon, the former U.S. Open record holder and last year’s silver medalist at the World Championships in the 200 back, has traditionally been better in the longer event. However, she holds a personal best of 58.63 in the 100 back from 2019, keeping her right in the conversation for a spot in this event.

Walsh, likewise, is better known for her freestyle prowess. However, she was the NCAA champion in this event this year with her NCAA record-breaking swim of 48.26. In addition, she posted a time of 59.80 at the 2022 U.S. National Championship to set a new personal best in the event just weeks after missing the World Championships team. Walsh is going to have a busy event schedule, but she’s certainly a threat if she opts to swim this race.

The aforementioned Smoliga was one of the U.S. representatives in this race at the 2016 Olympics, 2017 World Championships, 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and 2019 World Championships. Though she hasn’t hit that same degree of success internationally since then, she still holds a best of 58.31 from 2021. Like Smith, Smoliga made the move to train at ASU under Bowman. Given the success of the program over the last year, Smoliga is certainly not someone to sleep on.

The Newcomers

Leah Shackley made headlines earlier this season when she dropped a blistering lifetime best of 59.55 in the 100 back, moving up to #5 all-time in the 15-16 age group. At only 16, Shackley seems primed for another big performance at U.S. Trials, especially considering that she dropped over a second off of her best time in less than a month, with similar drops coming in the 200 back as well.

Another age grouper to watch is Erika Pelaez, who won the junior final at last year’s U.S. Trials and currently ranks eighth in the country with her 1:00.12 from the Pro Swim Series stop in Fort Lauderdale.

Josephine Fuller from the University of Tennessee could also be a factor. She ranks just ahead of Pelaez nationally with her 1:00.00 from the U.S. Open back in December. Though she hasn’t been quite as fast since then, the Tennessee women had a strong NCAA season, with Fuller leading the team with ‘A’ final appearances in both the 100 backstroke and 200 back.

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

RANK SWIMMER SEASON BEST LIFETIME BEST
1 Regan Smith 57.83 57.57
2 Claire Curzan 59.00 58.39
3 Katharine Berkoff 58.83 58.61
4 Phoebe Bacon 1:00.19 58.63
5 Isabelle Stadden 59.38 58.99
6 Olivia Smoliga 59.71 58.31
7 Rhyan White 1:00.58 58.43
8 Leah Shackley 59.55 59.55

Dark Horse: Teagan O’Dell: Over the past few months, the 16-year-old O’Dell has been on a tear in the short course pool, setting a new National High School Record in the 200 IM. O’Dell certainly isn’t a stranger to international competition, representing the U.S. at last year’s Junior Pan Pacific Championships, where she finished fourth in the 200 IM and won the consolation final of the 100 backstroke. She currently holds a season-best of 1:00.23 in the 100 back, ranking 10th in the country. Though she may elect to put the majority of her focus on a very crowded 200 IM field, O’Dell should still be considered a threat here, especially with spots on the roster for the LEN U23 Championships on the line.

See all of our selections for the 2023 U.S. Nationals with the SwimSwam Preview Index here.

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Paul
9 months ago

1. Smith
2. G.Walsh

phelpsfan
9 months ago

I’m going out on a limb here, and saying Smoliga will take second behind Smith.

Lap Counter
Reply to  phelpsfan
9 months ago

I went out on a limb and picked Olivia to make the relay but my confidence in her 100 back this year isn’t quite as positive.

Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

1.) Regan
2.) Smith
3.) But a Walsh sister might swim this and crack the Top 2.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

comment image

Jeepers
9 months ago

Does anyone else think some countries have trials way to early-Canada and some way too late-US?

Sub13
Reply to  Jeepers
9 months ago

I think countries have been experimenting a bit. USA have always had late trials but these seem later than usual. Australia used to have very early trials but having later trials seems to be showing improved results. I guess we’ll see how Worlds goes to see if Canada’s early trials were a good thing or not.

Admin
Reply to  Sub13
9 months ago

Yeah, and some of that will take time to learn. There’s an “institutional knowledge” that coaches have to feel to understand how to handle it.

I wish we kind of could isolate the variable on Australia. They have had a lot of success since the change – but that success also coincided with a lot of cultural improvements in Australian swimming, so it’s hard to know which contributed more. But more data points might make it clearer, I guess.

Pete
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

Separate from the timing of trials but related to Australia’s performance on the world stage: I have wondered if one variable (and not the only variable) is racing in clean water. In the US, it’s frequently a dog fight among numerous competitors who finish very close together. As such, they have to swim through choppy water and their times are influenced by this. When I watch Australian trials, there is often (certainly not always) one competitor who is the clear favorite and who gets to race in open, clean water. The advantage of racing in open, clean water goes away at Worlds or the Olympics, which is just enough to cause these swimmers to add small increments of time–devastating at… Read more »

Sub13
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

Yeah this is true. Hard to pinpoint something.

Australia had a team of generational talents in 1999-2008 where they had early trials, and arguably have another one now. So it may be the case that we would have got similar results regardless of trials timing. But regardless, things do seem to be trending in a good direction.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Jeepers
9 months ago

If you consider the 2023 Phillips 66 National Championships late, a week too late.

Last edited 9 months ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Hiswimcoach
9 months ago

Smoliga will pop off somewhere. Not sure if this is the race she does it

Sub13
Reply to  Hiswimcoach
9 months ago

I have Smoliga in the 4×100 free. I don’t really know why. I heard her interviewed on a podcast and she seemed pretty determined.

Meow
Reply to  Hiswimcoach
9 months ago

I really like Smoliga, but I wonder why people think she’ll do something amazing here when she hasn’t made a long course international team in the 100 back since 2016.

CanSwim 13
Reply to  Meow
9 months ago

She represented the US in the LC 100m back at the 2017 and 2019 World championships (which she got bronze in the latter) and the 2018 Pan Pacs

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Hiswimcoach
9 months ago

….. too an early vacation.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

*to

(also i stand by my previous statement)

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

But does the Bacon sizzle?

Swimfan
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

But remember according to you phoebe bacon won the 200 back last year at worlds

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Swimfan
9 months ago

Non sequitur.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

I would hardly consider Claire Curzan or Katharine Berkoff a “veteran” unlike a Kathleen Baker or Olivia Smoliga.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

holy hell, you made four comments in a row, all equally awful.

i’m in awe. dunno how you do it but you come through every time.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

What? According to previous SwimSwam predictions, Regan Smith was suppose to be done with the backstroke since Regan Smith can’t focus on the butterfly and the backstroke. Meanwhile, Rhyan White was designated the new “backstroke queen”. Make up your minds!

Admin
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

Weird that you wouldn’t expect peoples’ opinions to change as more information becomes available.

snailSpace
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

Shhh, don’t try to reason with him!

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  snailSpace
9 months ago

Some individuals can’t admit they were wrong.

snailSpace
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

Ok that is also true. Oh well.

Yikes
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

Lol it’s like you’re looking in a mirror when you say that

Emerson
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

Understandable that peoples’ opinions change, but the more a person’s opinion changes, the less others can trust it. After all isn’t everyone who expresses opinions on future performances of swimmers trying to show that they have indepth knowledge and superior analytical skills which they don’t if their opinions don’t subsequently turn to facts.

swimapologist
Reply to  Emerson
9 months ago

Oh okay so you’re actually dumb? Not just like internet dumb but like real dum dum?

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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