2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
- July 23 – 30, 2023 (pool swimming)
- Fukuoka, Japan
- Marine Messe Fukuoka
- LCM (50m)
- Meet Central
- SwimSwam Preview Index
- Entry Book
BY THE NUMBERS — MEN’S 100 BACKSTROKE
- World Record: Thomas Ceccon, Italy – 51.60 (2022)
- World Junior Record: Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia – 52.53 (2018)
- Championship Record: Thomas Ceccon, Italy – 51.60 (2022)
- 2022 World Champion: Thomas Ceccon, Italy – 51.60
It’s a little bit strange that on Ryan Murphy‘s vast swimming resume, which includes Olympic golds, world records and numerous world titles, it doesn’t say “100 backstroke world champion” (long course, of course).
Murphy has consistently been among the best male backstrokers in the world, and at many times, he was clearly #1, but things never aligned for him to win the world title in the LC 100 back, which has seemingly been his best event for the majority of his career.
In 2015, Murphy wasn’t qualified to swim the event at the World Championships, but did lead off the U.S. mixed medley relay (in the prelims) in a time more than two-tenths faster than what won the individual final (52.18). After winning Olympic gold and breaking the world record in 2016, Murphy took bronze in 2017, fell to fourth in 2019, and then last year, despite breaking 52 seconds for the first time at the World Championships, he was a distant runner-up to the world record-shattering Thomas Ceccon.
However, Murphy did get over the hump by winning his first individual LC gold medal later in the meet in the 200 back, and he’s got a great chance to finally add that elusive 100-meter world title to his resume next week, though Ceccon and teammate Hunter Armstrong make it a tall order.
THE WORLD RECORD HOLDER
Ceccon was certainly on the shortlist of favorites entering the 2022 World Championships, but no one could have predicted he would obliterate the world record by a quarter of a second in 51.60.
The Italian made the 51.9 swims produced by Murphy and Armstrong look somewhat pedestrian in his decisive victory, and he backed it up by breaking 52 seconds for the second time leading off the 400 medley relay at the conclusion of the meet, guiding Italy to an upset win over the Americans.
Ceccon only sits seventh in the 2022-23 world rankings, but the 52.86 he produced at the Sette Colli Trophy in June is already faster than he was in the lead-up to the 2022 Worlds (52.99), so we’re likely in store for another seismic drop.
The 22-year-old has the chops to compete in the 50-meter events as a pure sprinter, and has been developing his 200 free over the last year, but the 100 back is his bread and butter. It’s hard to not pencil him in as the favorite to repeat.
Armstrong was the upset winner over Murphy in the 100 back at the 2022 U.S. Trials, and then became the sixth man in history under the 52-second barrier at the World Championships, winning bronze in 51.98.
Murphy clocked 51.97 in Budapest, his fourth time sub-52 and first in four years, and finished out 2022 with a dominant performance at Short Course Worlds, sweeping the men’s backstroke events en route to winning five gold medals.
A layer was added to the domestic rivalry between Murphy and Armstrong following the World Championships, as Armstrong followed his primary coach at Ohio State, Matt Bowe, to Cal, where he aligned with Murphy and the two became training partners.
The move has seemingly been paying off for both, and we’ve seen Armstrong thrive throughout the 2023 season, as he swept the 100 back at all four stops of the Pro Swim Series, breaking 53 seconds each time out.
Last month at U.S. Nationals, Armstrong got the better of Murphy by six one-hundredths, 52.33 to 52.39, as both men appear to be rounding into peak form for their World Championship rematch with Ceccon.
There’s really not much between them—not only were they just .01 apart in the 2022 World Championship final, but at this year’s Nationals, they had identical opening 50 splits before Armstrong closed six one-hundredths quicker.
Both men seem destined to be in the 51-high range, 52-low at worst, in Fukuoka, which should put them both back on the podium, though whether or not that lands one on the top step depends on the two previous champions, Ceccon and Xu Jiayu.
THE XU FACTOR
It really hasn’t been that long, but it feels like quite some time since we’ve seen Xu Jiayu at the top of his game on the international scene.
He won back-to-back world titles in this event in 2017 and 2019, and came within .01 of breaking Murphy’s world record back in 2017 in a time of 51.86. At the Tokyo Olympics, he wasn’t far off the podium in fifth, trailing the Russian duo of Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov along with Murphy and Ceccon.
It was last year when Xu really seemed to fall off the radar, missing the World Championship final (10th) while failing to break 53 seconds in a calendar year for the first time since 2013.
However, he has regained form in 2023, owning three of the seven fastest times we’ve seen thus far including a 52.26 scorcher in May, ranking him #1 in the world for the season.
After what we saw last year, it’s hard not to immediately think Ceccon, Murphy and Armstrong when the men’s 100 back comes to mind, but Xu is firmly in that mix as well.
With four of the six men in history sub-52 slated to collide, this will be a must-see race, and if Xu manages to pull it off, he could join Aaron Peirsol as just the second man to win three world titles in the 100 back.
THE NEXT WAVE
Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk was a finalist in this event as a 17-year-old last year, and at the end of the 2022 championships, snagged a bronze medal in the 50 back.
The now-18-year-old has five sub-53 swims on his resume, including doing so with the pressure on at last summer’s Worlds and earlier this year in Poland. He’s been as fast as 52.58, done in the Budapest semis, and could have a medal in his sights if his progression continues and he dips into 52-low territory.
Australian Isaac Cooper, who turned 19 in January, hasn’t lowered his PB of 53.43 from the Tokyo Olympics over the last two years, but came close last month (53.46) and is coming off a confidence-boosting performance at SC Worlds where he won five medals on home soil.
Two other youngsters who are on the come-up are Great Britain’s Oliver Morgan, who swam to a best of 53.77 in April, and Hungarian Hubert Kos, who is coming off a strong NCAA season at ASU and though he’s better in the 200, should not be discounted.
France’s Yohann Ndoye-Brouard and Greece’s Apostolos Christou are likely finalists after placing fourth and fifth last year, with Ndoye-Brouard having shown solid consistency over the last few years with eight 52-point swims on his resume. It’s also encouraging that his fastest swim came in the Budapest final, where he was fourth in 52.50.
Christou has been a little more hit-or-miss, but when he’s on, he’s dangerous. He was 52.09 in the 2022 semi-finals, and followed up by winning silver at Euros two months later in 52.24. The 26-year-old also went 52.99 at the Sette Colli Trophy in June, indicating he’s on good form.
Ryosuke Irie has stood the test of time and then some, and though he likely no longer has the high-end ability to challenge for a medal, he was still a finalist last year and went 52.83 at the age of 32. In January, he was sub-53 once again, four days before his 33rd birthday.
Frenchman Mewen Tomac was ninth last year, but broke 53 for the first time since Tokyo last month in 52.87, making him a contender to final as well.
Hugo Gonzalez has a wide-ranging skillset, as evidenced by his medley success both internationally and in the NCAA, but the 100 back has been one of his best events in long course having made the Olympic final in 2021. The Spaniard is coming off of swimming a PB and placing second at NCAAs in the 200 back, telling us he could be back in the 52s and in the hunt for a finals spot.
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Dark Horse: Kacper Stokowski, Poland – Stokowski joined the elite sub-44 club in the SCY 100 back in March, placing second at NCAAs, and after going five years between best times in the long course event, tied his PB in the prelims (53.82) before hitting a new lifetime best in the final (53.74) at the Polish Championships in April. Another drop could see him challenging for a lane in the final.