2023 U.S. World Trials Previews: Will Ress ‘Rule’ In 50 Back? Not If Armstrong Has A Say


MEN’S 50 Backstroke — BY THE NUMBERS:

Note: Selection to Non-Olympic events (50s of stroke) is the fifth and last priority for team selection. Only the top finisher in each of these events will be added to the team (if there is space). The second spot at Worlds will be given to a swimmer already on the team who qualified in the corresponding 100 event, provided they have an A-cut in the 50.

Hunter Armstrong returns to the U.S. National Championships as the world record holder and reigning gold silver medalist. Justin Ress returns to this meet as the defending world champion. A week before this meet in 2022, we had Ress finishing first and Armstrong squeaking into the final in 8th place.

When the dust settled after the 2022 Trials, both Armstrong and Ress were under the American Record, with the former also breaking Kliment Kolesnikov’s world record. Ress, fortunately, made it onto the team in the 4×100 free relay and was able to swim this event in Budapest. The two flipped spots at Worlds, with Ress winning in a time (24.12) slower than what he swam at trials and in a very controversial finish.

Justin Ress wins gold in men’s 50m back
courtesy of Fabio Cetti

A little less than a year and a new rule later, we find ourselves looking at these two as the clear favorites again. Armstrong enters as the prohibitive favorite. He holds the world record and has the fastest time in the event this season, 24.30 from the Westmont stop of the Pro Swim Series. A time that has him in 3rd at the top of the world rankings, but might as well be 1st as the top two spots (24.12 and 24.28) are held by ineligible Russian swimmers.

The only other American in the top 25 is the aforementioned Ress. His season best is 24.49 from the Knoxville stop which slots him into 7th in the world. Also breaking the 25-second barrier is SwimAtlanta/UVA swimmer Jack Aikins. He put up a 24.97 earlier this month, just off his personal best of 24.81 which he swam at last year’s Trials.

The other ‘A’ finalists from last year include Shaine Casas (3rd, 24.00), Ryan Murphy (4th, 24.57), Adam Chaney (6th, 24.82), Aikins (7th, 25.04), and the now-retired Daniel Carr (8th, 25.10). Also in that final was Michael Andrew, who was at the end of a tough triple. He nabbed 2nd in the 100 fly (50.88), topped the podium in the 50 breast (26.52), then swam to a 5th-place finish in the 50 back (24.80).

Casas’s top time this season is 25.20, which while more than a second slower than his personal best is a good sign; entering last year’s meet his season best was just 25.89. Andrew’s season best is also 25.20 from his swim at the Acropolis Open in May. While he has competed at a lot of meets this season, he only swam the 50 back once. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Casas to opt out of this event given the 100 fly falls on the same day, but his 24.00 swim last year might make him want to take another crack at it given he could realistically win the world title. Chaney has not had a great long course season, swimming the 50 only once (26.48) but he may just be training thru the spring after a SCY season in which he was a part of three NCAA winning relays.

Some teenagers who may break into this top group are Daniel Diehl and Will Modglin. Diehl finished 8th in the 100 last year and his season best in the 50 is 25.28, from the Knoxville Pro Swim Series meet, finishing behind only Ress and Armstrong. A little less than .2 faster than Diehl is Modglin’s 25.11, which is actually from his relay split from the Speedo Sectionals Meet.

College stars Brendan Burns, Destin Lasco, and Jack Dolan could also be in the mix but have limited results this year in the 50. Burns’s only time this season is 26.84 from May and Lascos’ season best (25.83) is from January, which is right in the middle of college training. Of these three, only Dolan entered the event last year ultimately placing 19th (26.28). This year his season best is 25.60 and he currently has the 6th fastest 100 back among Americans.

While he placed 14th in the 100 back at NCAAs, Notre Dame’s Tommy Janton swam 25.25 (listed as exhibition in Meet Mobile) in May. However, Janton has been named to the 2023 World University Games team and it will overlap with the World Championships.

No backstroke preview would be complete without mentioning Ryan Murphy. While he has no official times in the 50 (long course) this season, he did sweep the backstrokes at Short Course Worlds (his 50 SCM time was 22.64). His best 50 lcm to the feet (25.48) is from his runner-up finish to Armstrong in the 100 back at the Westmont Pro Swim Series. These results or lack thereof might lead us to conclude, like Andrew that he might not swim the 50, thereby leaving his best and only chance of swimming this event in Fukuoka in winning the 100.

SwimSwam’s Top 8:

Rank Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Hunter Armstrong 24.30 23.71
2 Justin Ress 24.49 23.92
3 Shaine Casas 25.20 24.00
4 Adam Chaney 26.48 24.78
5 Jack Aikins 24.97 24.81
6 Will Modglin 25.11 25.11
7 Daniel Diehl 25.28 25.28
8 Jack Dolan 25.60 25.60

Dark Horse: Ryan Held – Held has a season and personal best of 25.25 that he swam at the Westmont stop of the Pro Swim Series finishing behind only Armstrong and Ress. His best time in this event is 24.59 from the 2018 Summer National Championships and while his 25.25 puts him in the top 8 of Americans this season, the fact that he did not enter this event at last year’s meet is a little suspicious. In fact, he has only swum it at five meets since 2018 which makes us wonder if he will enter it. 

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

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5 months ago

Held swam a 100BK time trial in Westmont specifically because he needed a qualifying time to be eligible for this 50BK.

5 months ago

Keep sleeping on the Lizard King.

Reply to  jimmydeanbreakfast
5 months ago

Isn’t Kyle Chalmers the Lizard King?


5 months ago

crossing the gold out like that is disrespectful lmao. ress beat him, get over y’all selves. this whole article and headline is peak glazing

Reply to  diii
5 months ago

Chronically online use of “glazing”

Reply to  diii
5 months ago

Ress didn’t beat him legally but somehow the DQ was overturned. No idea why. He should have been DQed in the heats, semis and finals. It was diabolical. I’m aware there is a new rule now, but that did not apply in June 2022.

5 months ago

Just not into any 50 races in the strokes. Maybe when they become an Olympic event.

Reply to  Wahooswimfan
5 months ago

Upvoted for not being into 50s of stroke downvoted for suggesting they should be an Olympic event

Reply to  DK99
5 months ago

Downvoting you for not being into 50s of stroke, upvoting for disagreeing with the suggestion of them becoming an Olympic event

5 months ago

Man I have no idea how to predict Armstrong at these trials. I feel like he takes this event. But for the 100 honestly think he could be anywhere from 51.5-52.5

Swim Alchemist
5 months ago

I don’t think Murphy will skip this race unless he somehow thinks he has a chance at top 2 in the 100 fly.

I originally thought Casas should skip this event entirely, but after reading above that he dropped 1.89 (!) seconds from his season best at last trials, he should probably give it a go…just don’t skip the 100 fly please…

1) Armstrong
2) Ress
3) Casas (if he swims)
4) Murphy

Reply to  Swim Alchemist
5 months ago

The M 100 FL? That’s depends on Caeleb Dressel: