2023 World Champs Previews: Ryan Murphy The Man To Beat In Men’s 200 Back

2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

BY THE NUMBERS — MEN’S 200 BACKSTROKE

  • World Record: Aaron Peirsol, United States — 1:51.92 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia — 1:55.14 (2017)
  • Championship Record: Aaron Peirsol, United States — 1:51.92 (2009)
  • 2022 World Champion: Ryan Murphy, United States — 1:54.52

The men’s 200 back had been a weak event internationally over the last few years, but this year, it has taken an even bigger hit. Russia’s Evgeny Rylov, the event’s fastest performer since 2015, is banned from World Aquatics-sanctioned competitions. Great Britain’s Luke Greenbank, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist and 2022 Worlds silver medalist, did not qualify for the 2023 Worlds. America’s Shaine Casas, the reigning Worlds bronze medalist, also did not qualify. With so many previous medal favorites out of contention, only one man remains as a favorite, and that’s America’s Ryan Murphy.

Last year, Murphy won the 200 back world title in a time of 1:54.52, which was the slowest World Championships winning time since 2005. However, considering that no swimmers have broken 1:55 in 2023, there’s a chance that this year’s winning time could be even slower. And with zero returning medalists behind Murphy, the race for second and third is wide open.

The United States Of Backstroke

Murphy, the defending World champion and favorite to go back-to-back, has been on the international scene since 2015. After taking second to Rylov from 2017 to 2021, he finally won gold in his absence last year, claiming his first individual World Championships title. Although he hasn’t been close to his best time of 1:53.57 which was set in 2018, his 1:54.52 from last year is still over a second clear of the entry times of everyone else in the field. If he can repeat that time and nobody else has a huge breakout, he should be able to win handily.

Coming into Worlds, Murphy holds a season-best time of 1:55.03 from U.S. Nationals. That time is similar to his 2022 season-best of 1:55.01 headed into Worlds. Based on how much he dropped last year, we should expect him to be in that 1:54-mid range once again.

Murphy has a history of making international teams in the 200 back with one of his Cal training partners, qualifying alongside Jacob Pebley in 2016 and Bryce Mefford in 2021. Joining him this year will be Destin Lasco, a rising senior at Cal. Lasco is currently the most dominant 200 backstroker on the college scene and holds a best time that is just 0.14 seconds off of Murphy’s NCAA record. Now, he’s going to be competing against Murphy on a long course international stage.

Lasco has improved tremendously this season in the 200 back. He entered 2023 with a personal best of 1:56.81 and dropped over a second at Nationals, going 1:55.63 to take second behind Murphy. He comes into Worlds as the second overall seed, and will certainly be a favorite to medal. However, our concern with Lasco (which is a concern we have with a lot of American men) is his relative inexperience on the international stage, as well the short three-week window between trials and Worlds. As stated for many other Americans—after dropping significant time at Nationals, how much more will Lasco have in him at Worlds? He has handled the Pac-12 to NCAAs transition very well before, but an international long course meet is a totally different situation (plus, let’s be real here, Cal doesn’t really taper for Pac-12s).

That being said, Lasco doesn’t need to drop that much time in order to contend for a medal—if he replicates his Nationals time, he should be around what it takes to make the podium. A 1:55.35 took bronze last year, and with a slower field this year, 1:55.63 seems like a safe bronze bet.

The 1:55 Club

Our pick for silver in this race is Hungary’s Hubert Kos, who just finished up his freshman season at Arizona State and trains under Bob Bowman. Kos has been a versatile swimmer on the international scene for quite some time now, but this year he’s a legitimate medal threat and will be racing the 200 back at a World Championship meet for the first time. This year, he clocked a time of 1:55.95 at April’s Westmont Pro Series, which was a near two-second drop from his previous best time of 1:57.64.

Given how other swimmers such as Leon Marchand and Regan Smith have developed at Arizona State, it’s only fair to expect Kos, who was already a European Champion prior to arriving in Tempe, to continue improving as well. We predict him to drop at least half a second to get into the 1:55-low range and potentially even go 1:54, which should put him in silver medal territory.

Although Australia’s Joshua Edwards-Smith, the world’s #2 ranked swimmer, missed the World Championships team by 0.05 seconds, his teammate Bradley Woodward is entered as the third overall seed alongside Kos. Woodward was last year’s Commonwealth Games silver medalist in a time of 1:56.41, which was just 0.01 off the winning time. Since then, he has improved to a best time of 1:55.95, which was set at Australian trials. After not qualifying for Worlds last year or the Tokyo Olympics, Woodward will be swimming at a major international meet for the first time since 2019, and this time as a top contender.

Overall, there are only four different men with entry times under 1:56, which shows just how thin this 200 back field is. There are two 1:55-point swimmers (aside from Edwards-Smith) who are not competing at Worlds though, as 2022 European Champion Yohann Ndoye-Brouard (1:55.62 PB) finished third at French Nationals this year, and 2023 European Junior Champion Oleksandr Zheltyakov (1:55.73 PB) isn’t on the entries list for Worlds despite breaking the Ukrainian Record earlier this month.

Everyone Else

courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Kos may be new to the 200 back on an international stage, but his teammate, Benedek Kovacs, is not. Kovacs was a finalist at Worlds last year, having finished eighth overall. In the semi-finals at Worlds, he had set a best time of 1:57.12,  but then added over a second in the finals. However, he had a better performance at European Championships, dropping down to a time of 1:56.03 to get silver. This April, he then neared his personal best to go a season-best time of 1:56.11. With more experience under his belt, Kovacs should be better at swimming his best during finals this time around.

With Greenbank gone, Brodie Williams has taken over as Great Britain’s fastest 200 backstroker. Last year, he was one step away from the podium, finishing fourth overall with a personal best time of 1:56.16. He later went on to take gold at the Commonwealth Games in a similar time of 1:56.40. Although Williams is more decorated and has a faster personal best, it’s worth noting that he did get beaten by rookie Oliver Morgan this year by 0.01 of a second. Morgan had a breakout 200 back swim at British Nationals, dropping from a 2:00.20 to a 1:57.17 to take victory and qualify for his first senior international meet. At Worlds, it will be interesting to see if he can continue his momentum and beat the more experienced Williams once again.

Switzerland’s Roman Mityukov has been racing the 200 back on a senior international stage since 2019, but he didn’t make a final until last year, when he finished seventh. Like Kovacs, he was considerably faster at Euros than at Worlds last year, going 1:57.45 in the Worlds final before setting a best time of 1:56.22 at Euros. Considering that he’s the seventh seed, he would repeat his finish from last year if races were decided by psych sheets. But if he manages to replicate his seed time while others add, he could move up a few places.

courtesy of Fabio Cetti

France’s Mewen Tomac and Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk are better in the 100 back than they are in the 200 back, but will both be contenders in the latter race. Tomac was fifth overall last year in a time of 1:56.35 and is the eighth overall seed in this field. He had a strong French Nationals this year, being 0.01 off his 100 back best (52.87) and 0.1 off his 200-back best (1:56.45). Last year, he was right around his Nationals bests at Worlds, so if history repeats itself this year, he should be in a good position to final.

Masiuk, meanwhile, went his best time of 1:56.62 at European Juniors last year after not swimming in the event at Worlds. He’s currently seeded ninth as the outsider looking in, but at just 18 years old and a Worlds bronze medalist in the 50 back, the sky is the limit for him despite the 200 back not being his focus race.

Also be on the looking out for 18-year-old Greek swimmer Apostolos Siskos, who dropped nearly two seconds in 2023 alone. He came into the year with a best time of 1:58.66 from the European Championships, but then improved to a personal best of 1:56.79 this February. He most recently competed at European Juniors three weeks ago, where he was third in a time of 1:58.37—this could either mean that he is off-form or saving his best performance for Worlds.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Ranking Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Ryan Murphy United States 1:55.03 1:53.57
2 Hubert Kos Hungary 1:55.95 1:55.95
3 Destin Lasco United States 1:55.63 1:55.63
4 Benedek Kovacs Hungary 1:56.11 1:56.03
5 Bradley Woodward Australia 1:55.95 1:55.95
6 Mewen Tomac France 1:56.45 1:56.35
7 Ksawery Masiuk Poland 1:57.83 1:56.62
8 Brodie Williams United Kingdom 1:57.19 1:56.16

Dark Horse: Andrew Jeffcoat, New Zealand— Jeffcoat is better known for being the 2022 Commonwealth Games champion in the 50 back, but he had a huge swim in the 200 back this April. At the New Zealand championships, he dropped nearly two seconds from his best time of 1:59.11 to go 1:57.26, which ranks him as the 16th overall seed. However, it did only take 1:57.12 to ‘A’ final last year, so it’s certainly not out of the question for him to final in his first senior international 200 back race.

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chip
10 months ago

Xu Jiayu is a dark horse. Last Asian Games year, he went 1:53.99.

Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
10 months ago

Murphy’s to lose. Shame this event has regressed so badly.

Dirtswimmer
10 months ago

Hoping a young talent comes up soon and pushes this event forward like a Milak or Popovici have done in their events. Right now an 18 year old Peirsol or Phelps from 20 years ago would be in the hunt to win this thing

Devil
10 months ago

Kos going to shock everyone, bob bowman is the best coach in the world. Asu on top of the podium

snailSpace
Reply to  Devil
10 months ago

Would love to see it. But I don’t think Murphy loses this.

Jay Ryan
10 months ago

Let’s be clear. The banning of Russian Athletes is not simply a political consequence of Putin’s invasion of UKR. It is a logical consequence of Putin’s avowed national program to enable the subversion of WADA efforts to control doping among Russian Athletes.

The efforts were almost inadvertently exposed in the documentary Icarus, available on Netflix. Trailer as below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXoRdSTrR-4

Just sayin. Go Murph, Go Destin. Your efforts will not be cheapened by asterisks.

Troyy
Reply to  Jay Ryan
10 months ago

Actually the ban has nothing to do with dop1ng.

Sawdust
Reply to  Jay Ryan
10 months ago

They should have been banned for doping, but i think they definitely would have been allowed to compete if not for the war. Someone like Bach is probably banging his head against the wall because he couldn’t find a justification for allowing them to compete.

Andrew
Reply to  Jay Ryan
10 months ago

Delusional cal fan spotted^^

As long as Rylov isn’t in the field (whether justified or not), this event will always have an asterisk due to a laughably poor competition

Fetterman
10 months ago
Breezeway
10 months ago

Murphy’s dry snitching of Rylov didn’t work but he’s banned anyway. He should get the gold but we’ll see if someone else surprises the field.

Last edited 10 months ago by Breezeway
snailSpace
Reply to  Breezeway
10 months ago

It would be difficult to find a person to whom the phrase “sour grapes” could be more aptly attributed than Murphy. “I can’t seem to beat him so he must be doping.” But luck comes to those who are salty (or so it seems).

Sawdust
10 months ago

Did Larkin retire? I think he could have won a lot of easy medals if he would have focused on the 200 back in recent years. Also looks like a wasted chance for guys like Tomac, Mityukov, Ndoye-Brouard, Masiuk, Greenbank, Coetze, Irie or Xu. I don’t understand why guys like Tomac, Ndoye-Brouard or Irie don’t focus on this event. Noone can convince me that Irie doesn’t have at least 1:55 mid in him.

Last edited 10 months ago by Sawdust
Andy
Reply to  Sawdust
10 months ago

I always struggle to understand what happened to his backstroke

After he won double WC gold in Kazan, he was destroying the World Cup circuit at the end of 2015, including a 52.11 and 1:53:17 in Dubai.

As you said, the 200m back seems to be the event to milk major players international medals at

loveryosukeirie
Reply to  Sawdust
10 months ago

Irie officially announced that he will swim 200BK again from the next season. I am hoping he will be medaled with 200BK event at Paris.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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