2023 World Champs Previews: McKeown, Smith Set For Showdown In Women’s 100 Back

2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

BY THE NUMBERS: WOMEN’S 100 BACKSTROKE

The women’s 100 backstroke is set to be one of the most anticipated races of the 2023 World Championships. Featuring three of the last four world record holders, the field is stacked with talent.

The World Record Holders

In our picks for the top 10 most likely world records to be broken in the next week, the women’s 100 backstroke topped the list, thanks to Kaylee McKeown and Regan Smith.

A resurgent Regan Smith looks more like the teen who broke a surprise World Record in 2019 this year. (photo: Jack Spitser)

Back at the 2019 World Championships, Smith shocked the world when she smashed Missy Franklin’s long-standing world record in the 200 backstroke during the event’s semi-finals. She went on to win the gold medal in that race, earning a nod to swim the backstroke leg of the U.S. women’s 4×100 medley relay despite not qualifying to swim the 100 backstroke individually. Smith took advantage of the opportunity, demolishing Kathleen Baker’s 100 back world record of 58.00, clocking 57.57 to become the first woman to break the 58-second barrier.

Due to her performances in 2019, Smith appeared to be the clear gold medal favorite in both backstroke events going into the 2020 Olympic Games. However, with the one-year delay of the Games provoked by the coronavirus pandemic, Australian Kaylee McKeown made herself known as an additional threat.

Shortly after the end of the initial quarantine and the return to competition in Australia in late 2020, McKeown started throwing mind-boggling times in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. Her performances included an eye-popping 57.93 in the 100 backstroke, which was the second-fastest performance ever at the time, only behind Smith’s world record. Then, at the Australian Trials, she made her move, taking down Smith’s world record in a time of 57.45.

At the 2021 Olympic Games, the pair met for the first time on the international stage since 2019. Both easily moved through the prelims and semi-finals of the 100 backstroke, with Smith leading McKeown entering the final. However, McKeown found the top of the podium in the final, taking down Smith with a time of 57.47, a new Olympic Record and the second-fastest performance of all-time.

The pair did not race each other in this event at the 2022 World Championships as McKeown dropped the 100 backstroke to focus on the 200 IM, leaving Smith to take the gold medal in a time of 58.22, almost a full second slower than McKeown’s Olympic performance.

Since then, Smith has changed coaches, leaving Stanford to train at Arizona St. under Bob Bowman, where she has seen a resurgence in her performances, including swimming a 57.71 at U.S. Nationals last month. McKeown has remained as consistent as ever, dropping multiple 57-point performances this season, along with a blistering 57.50 at the Australian World Championship Trials.

No matter which swimmer ends up coming out of this race on top, one thing is certain: Smith and McKeown are bound to have an exciting match-up. Could there be a new world record to come out of this race? The odds are high, but only time will tell.

Filling Out the Final

With Smith and McKeown so far ahead of the field, the only medal that seems to be “up for grabs” in this event is the bronze medal, barring any injuries or illnesses. There’s still a large contingent of swimmers bound to pursue the podium.

Canadian Kylie Masse has been a stalwart in this event for several years, medaling at every World Championships since 2017. Like Smith and McKeown, Masse also held the world record in this event for a short period of time, swimming a 58.10 back in 2018. She is also one of the only women to have ever broken the 58-second barrier, swimming 57s at both the 2021 Olympic Trials and Games, winning silver over Smith. However, Masse’s form this year has been questionable: she hasn’t broken the 59-second mark yet this year and currently only ranks eighth in the world

American Katharine Berkoff finished second to Smith at Trials to earn her first World Championship berth in this event after finishing second in the 50 backstroke at the 2022 World Championships. At Trials, Berkoff nearly joined the sub-58 club, posting a best time of 58.01, ranking her 3rd in the world this season.

The Australians notably will be without Mollie O’Callaghan in this event, who originally finished second in this event at Australian Trials to qualify for Worlds. O’Callaghan sustained a knee injury earlier in the season, limiting her event schedule. She’ll instead be replaced by Madi Wilson, who enters the meet with a 59.80.

Despite focusing on freestyle in recent years, Wilson has been as fast as 58.75 in this event, done back in 2015.

Ingrid Wilm. Photo: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Canada also has Ingrid Wilm in this race, following her breakout season in 2022. Wilm enters the meet with the fifth-fastest entry time, 58.80. At last year’s meet, Wilm finished 4th in the 50 backstroke, missing the podium by .03 at her first world championships. She then medaled in the 100 backstroke at the 2022 Short Course World Championship, winning bronze. Given her breakthrough last year, Wilm may be a threat here.

Wang Xueer is a veteran from China, who has also dipped under the 59-second barrier this season. She holds a best time of 58.99 from the Chinese National Championships this year, giving herself the 6th-fastest entry time. Wang has plenty of experience, racing at multiple World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games, which could be a huge advantage for her. Wang’s teammate Letian Wan could also have an impact, coming into the meet ranked 8th with an entry time of 59.19.

Other veterans in this event are Kira Toussaint and Maaike de Waard, both of the Netherlands, Great Britain’s Medi Harris, and Italian Margherita Panziera, all of whom are established names on the international scene. Any of these swimmers could find themselves in the final, especially given the depth of the entire field.

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Kaylee McKeown AUS 57.50 57.45
2 Regan Smith USA 57.71 57.57
3 Katharine Berkoff USA 58.01 58.01
4 Kylie Masse CAN 59.00 57.70
5 Ingrid Wilm CAN 58.80 58.80
6 Wang Xueer CHN 58.99 58.99
7 Wan Letian CHN 59.19 59.19
8 Roos Vanotterdijk BEL 59.62 59.62

Dark Horse: Roos Vanotterdijk (BEL) – Vanotterdijk became the first Belgian sub-1:00 in February at 59.62, and at only 18 years of age, she’s got a lot of promise.

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saltie
8 months ago

Tough pick. Kaylee has shown herself time and again. And she is WR holder. But I think Regan’s ASU training will hit harder than people are expecting. She was wasting potential at Stanford but those days are over. We saw a glimpse at Sun Devil open but I think she will really pop off at Worlds, even more so than 2019.

Y’all better watch out.

Smith is about to go crazy.

Lisa
Reply to  saltie
8 months ago

Well strange things has happened before like Rebecca Soni surprised win in 200 breast against Leisel Jones in 2008 where she’s the strong favorite to win and Jones also had a world record in both 100 and 200 breast back then.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Lisa
8 months ago

Or like Le Clos surprised win against Phelps in 200 fly in 2012 when Phelps was the WR holder and defending Olympic champion

Lisa

Yeah like in this case it s the American against the Australian and if I remember correctly Jones is also the world record holder on both breast back in 2008 just like McKeown a right now on back.

The point is that the favorite in 100 or 200 m races sometime lose and another example I can think of more recent but not like the above is when Dirado won against Hosszu also in 200 back at Rio 2016 and Hosszu is also the favorite to win both as she looks unbeatable after winning both medley events and 100 back.

Last edited 8 months ago by Lisa
Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Lisa
8 months ago

Just like how Jon Sieben beat the absolute heavy favorite Michael Gross in 200 fly in 1984 LA Olympics

Lisa

You might as well name every upset in history and that was almost forty years ago and also 2008 and 2016 is on the last two decades.

Last edited 8 months ago by Lisa
Swimfan
8 months ago

Wow swimswam think the American women will only win 3 individual (Olympic events) and one relay

worst performance since Rome when then won 2 golds (Olympic events and 1 silver out off the relays so I won 100 breast and Kukors won 200IM)
and Kazan when they won 3 olympic events and 1 relay (the 1500 wasn’t part of Olympic lineup yet ledecky won 200-400 and 800 and American won 800 free relay)

Last edited 8 months ago by Swimfan
Jimmyswim
Reply to  Swimfan
8 months ago

Ledecky 800/1500 free and King 100/200 breast. Plus Berkoff’s non-olympic win.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Swimfan
8 months ago

Someone skipped math classes in primary school.

Swimfan

Um no I did it before they came out with their prediction on the 100 breast because by the was swimswam was making predictions like they did with the 200IM where they had 2 clear front runners for gold/medals they left Walsh off the podium all together before the news of Macintosh dropping the event

Personal Best
Reply to  Swimfan
8 months ago

So… you posted your original comment knowingly BEFORE swimswam completed their predictions… and yet in your comment you still framed their partial predictions as absolute and complete. Somehow that doesn’t make your argument any stronger. In fact, it makes it worse.

Lisa
Reply to  Swimfan
8 months ago

Its funny when you mentioned Kukors cause I wouldn’t count out 200IM.

Robbos
Reply to  Swimfan
8 months ago

The funny thing about predictions is that, that is what it is, it’s a bit of fun, you as an American may predict American women to win every event & me as an Aussie can predict Aussie women win every event apart from the Breaststroke. It’s a bit of fun, don’t take it so seriously. Predictions are only based on people’s opinions.

Chris
8 months ago

i can’t come to any conclusion as to who will take this. If one of them is slightly off and the other isn’t, that’s all the difference

Skip
8 months ago

Kaylee to win the double

Hooked on Chlorine
Reply to  Skip
8 months ago

Agreed and upvoted.

Incidentally, nice to see Swimswam, just for the hell of it, used a pic of her in which she’s not spitting water out of her mouth.

Sub13
Reply to  Hooked on Chlorine
8 months ago

They’ve already used that pic on two separate articles this week lol. They needed another.

Personal Best
Reply to  Sub13
8 months ago

I think they’re trolling some commenters. Haha 🙂
I thought they’d do it for every article this cycle.

Last edited 8 months ago by Personal Best
saltie
Reply to  Skip
8 months ago

I think Kaylee for 100 back, Regan for the 200.

Aus Swimmer 92
Reply to  saltie
8 months ago

I think the opposite.

Kaylee runs her down in the 200 (2.02.xx)

Ragan to quick in the 100 57.2

Fraser Thorpe
8 months ago

As with the 200 bk, it’s just impossible to offer any justification for Smith over Kaylee if you’re using the data available: Kaylee has a faster PB, faster SB and has the proven track record of taking out the big titles.

That said, this feels like a total coin flip. And with less margin for error it feels like the bk that Regan is most likely to take out.

Teddy
8 months ago

Get your downvotes ready

I’m taking Regan at 57.0

It’s Regan 2.0

Last edited 8 months ago by Teddy
LBSWIM
Reply to  Teddy
8 months ago

If I downvoted you, it would be because the presumptuous way you wrote your post, not for thinking Regan can win.

Teddy
Reply to  LBSWIM
8 months ago

Cool

Octavio Gupta
8 months ago

First prelim session live recap comment section Saturday night bout to be lit

Sub13
Reply to  Octavio Gupta
8 months ago

That session doesn’t feature this event? But yes it will be haha

oxyswim
8 months ago

I think Smith sets the world record in semis and McKeown is a hair slower to win gold in finals. Regan is clearly much happier now, but there’s still a ton of pressure in an individual world championship final and she has a tendency to press a bit. Even easier to do when you’re out first and you see someone inching up in your periphery. As an American I’d love to be proven wrong.

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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