2024 Olympic Previews: Welcome To The McKeown And Smith Show


Women’s 200 Backstroke- By The Numbers:

  • World Record: 2:03.14- Kaylee McKeown, AUS (2023)
  • World Junior Record: 2:03.35- Regan Smith, USA (2019)
  • Olympic Record: 2:04.06- Missy Franklin, USA (2012)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: 2:04.68- Kaylee McKeown, AUS

The women’s 200 backstroke has been “The Regan and Kaylee Show” in recent years. With Regan Smith missing the US Olympic Team in the event in 2020(1), we finally will have the showdown in the event at the Olympics. With both swimmers’ dominance, the biggest battle looks to be for bronze.

The event as a whole is a lot different than the field in the 100 backstroke. The 100 backstroke field is a lot tighter with five swimmers under the 58-second mark, the podium still has the potential for some shake ups. The 200 looks much different with McKeown and Smith leading the way by a wide margin.

The Two At The Top

Australia’s Kaylee McKeown enters the event after posting the top time in the World this season swimming a 2:03.30 at Australian Olympic Trials. McKeown has had the edge over Smith in the event recently after breaking Smith’s World Record last year swimming a 2:03.14. McKeown won the battle between the two last summer at the 2023 World Championships swimming to a 2:03.85, ahead of Smith’s 2:04.94.

Smith has already been faster this season than she was at 2023 Worlds, swimming a 2:03.99 at the Westmont Pro Series stop before booking her ticket to the Olympics in the event with a 2:05.16 at US Olympic Trials. Despite being off both her season and personal best times in the event at US Trials, Smith made waves in the 100 backstroke, breaking McKeown’s World Record as Smith swam to a 57.13 in the 100 backstroke. Although we picked Smith to win the 100 backstroke, McKeown’s consistency and deeper focus on longer “semi-on” events seems to give her the leg up in the 200. McKeown also competes in the 200/400 IM while Smith’s other primary focuses are on the 100/200 fly.

The two swimmers are the only women to have been under the 2:05 mark this season. Claire Curzan of the USA holds the 3rd fastest time this year as she swam a 2:05.77 en route to gold at the 2024 World Championships. Despite holding the 3rd fastest time in the World this season, Curzan missed qualifying for the US roster with a 3rd place finish at US Trials. This means that Smith and McKeown are instead the only athletes who will be in Paris who have been under the 2:06 mark this season, allowing both swimmers to enter the race as heavy gold and silver medal favorites, the order in which is what is harder to pick.

Biggest Bronze Medal Contenders

Leading the 2:06+ group of backstrokers is Canada’s Kylie Masse. Masse arrives in Paris with plenty of international and Olympic experience. Masse has been on the podium in backstroke at the last two Olympics, first winning bronze in the 100 back in 2016 (but did not swim the 200 back in Rio) and then silver in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes in 2020(1). Masse’s consistency at the international level in the backstroke scene makes her one of the favorites to stand at bronze on the podium but she will not be uncontested.

Following Masse this year is Pheobe Bacon of the US. Bacon rebounded to qualify for Paris after missing the Worlds team last summer. This will be her 2nd Olympics as she swam the 200 backstroke in Tokyo, swimming to a 5th place finish in the event with a 2:06.40, a personal best at the time. Bacon had a successful short course yards and NCAA season with Wisconsin, swimming to her 2nd NCAA title, winning the 200 back in 2021, the same year as she made her first Games, and now in 2024. She swam a season best of a 2:06.27 to qualify for the US team and looks to continue her success from the winter, posing as a threat to the podium as well. Her success this past winter being at (and surpassing) her success from 2021 bodes well for Paris. Bacon also seems to be a “clutch performer” posting her best times when it matters.

After a gold and bronze finish in the 200 backstroke in Tokyo, Australia’s Jaclyn Barclay looks to repeat history and fill the gap left by Emily Seebohmwho won bronze in Tokyo. Barclay enters with a season (and personal) best of a 2:07.03 that she swam for silver at the 2024 World Championships this past February. Barclay clinched her spot on the Australian roster after a 2:07.88 at Australian Trials last month. She has been on a massive improvement curve, dropping from a 2:14 two years ago, to a 2:11 last season, and now dipping into the 2:07 mark on numerous occasions.

Peng Xuwei of China won bronze last summer at 2023 Worlds in the event with a 2:06.74. Her season best sits at a 2:07.28 from the 2023 Asian Games last September. With the looks of the field right now, it seems that it will take more in the 2:05-2:06 range to earn bronze so another best time will be key for her success. The same can be said for Barclay.

2:08 Club

There are numerous swimmers who have been in the 2:08 range this season. Honey Osrin of Great Britain swam to a best time of a 2:08.37 at the British Championships. Liu Yaxin of China posted a 2:08.41 at Chinese Nationals while Emma Terebo (France) posted a 2:08.45 at the Mare Nostrum series.

Also in the 2:08 club is Israel’s Anastasia Gorbenko who posted a national record of a 2:08.54 at Mare Nostrum. Despite being known primarily for her IM events, Gorbenko still poses as a threat to the final in the event if she chooses to swim it in Paris.

Spain’s Carmen Weiler (2:08.89) and Portugal’s Camila Rebelo (2:08.95) round out the 2:08 group and both swam to new National Records in June. Weiler swam her time at the Spanish Championships while Rebelo swam to Portugal’s first gold medal ever at the European Championships.

The Verdict

McKeown and Smith finally will be able to battle it out in the Olympics after Smith’s miss in the event in 2020(1) despite being the World Record holder at the time. Since then, McKeown has been the dominant force in the event with Smith following right behind. It seems that Smith has been hitting her stride recently, propelled by her 100 back World Record, but the difference in the events seems to give McKeown the win here as she is followed by Smith. The two are the fastest in the event in the World this year by over two seconds compared to any of their competitors in Paris and the biggest race seems to be for bronze. Masse has the international podium history while Bacon had a huge senior season and already swam faster than she did in 2021 this season. Still a teenager, Barclay of Australia has been improving rapidly the last few years and with another second or so drop, she also could stand on the podium.

Bacon’s senior season seems to stand out the most and she has the international experience she needs to know what it will take. Missing out on the podium in Tokyo is fuel the fire as she was 2nd coming out of semifinals. The fact that Bacon has a personal best of a 2:05.08 and has been in the 2:06 range on numerous occasions is what gives her a leg up on Peng and Barclay but Masse looks to be another big challenger for bronze.

SwimSwam’s Picks

1 Kaylee McKeown (AUS) 2:03.14 2:03.30
2 Regan Smith (USA) 2:03.35 2:03.99
3 Pheobe Bacon (USA) 2:05.08 2:06.27
4 Kylie Masse (CAN) 2:05.42 2:06.24
5 Peng Xuwei (CHN) 2:06.74 2:07.28
6 Jaclyn Barclay (AUS) 2:07.03 2:07.03
7 Honey Osrin (GBR) 2:08.37 2:08.37
8 Carmen Weiler (SPN) 2:08.89 2:08.89

Dark Horse: Camila Rebelo, Portugal, Still a teenager, Rebelo already made history for Portugal at the 2024 European Championships winning the country’s first-ever European title. She has been dropping the last few seasons and had not even been under the 2:10 mark before March 2023. As mentioned above, Rebelo now is in the 2:08 range swimming a 2:08.95 in June.

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6 days ago

Rebelo is 21. The results and improvement she has in this event are baffling given the dedication she needs to muster for med school. In Portugal there is no such thing as college sports so you either have to choose between having any career or swimming.

7 days ago

My predictions:

China will win gold medal in:-
1. Men and Women 100m breastroke
2. Men 100m freestyle
3. Men 200m IM
4. Men 200m breastroke
5. Women 100m and 200m butterfly
6. Men 100m backstroke
7. Men 4x100m freestyle relay
8. Men 4x100m medley relay
9. Women 4x100m medley relay
10. Mixed 4x100m medley relay

U turn
Reply to  zaj
6 days ago

China definitely have plenty of chances but this seems too optimistic. Yufei not favourite in any event. 400 men’s relay is usa easy. Women’s medley very unlikely so is 200im

7 days ago

Seems a bit biased towards Bacon, given that Masse has been an Olympic medalist 3x, a world champion and a world record holder while Bacon’s biggest achievement has been making an Olympic final. Also, how can a swimmer be considered “clutch” when they failed to make an international team?

Reply to  SwimNerd67
7 days ago

It always amuses me how people use the word “biased” to mean so many things, like “having a simple difference of opinion”.

Reply to  Braden Keith
7 days ago

I don’t think this article is biased. But also a “difference of opinion” is basically the #1 place you would expect bias to be reflected. Saying something is a difference of opinion isn’t some silver bullet that makes it not biased

Reply to  Rafael
7 days ago

I am biased towards only reading comments on these preview articles

7 days ago

Smith are the best!!! McKlown

Reply to  Stenn
7 days ago

You is the wrong!!!

7 days ago

McIntosh and Smith are going to wipe McKlown

Reply to  Facts
7 days ago

Most eloquently stated !!! However, may one politely enquire as to its actual relevance to THIS specific event given it’s beleived McIntosh isn’t actually swimming it ?

We await your elucidation.

7 days ago

If you break down the US vs Australia rivalry in events where both teams actually has legit gold medal contenders, it comes down to:

Strongly leans Australia:
Women’s 4x100free relay
Women’s 4x200free relay
Women’s 100free
Women’s 200free
Women’s 400free

Strongly leans US:
Men’s 4x100free relay
Women’s 4x100medley relay
Women’s 800free

Men’s 50free
Men’s 100free
Men’s 800free
Men’s 1500free
Women’s 100back
Women’s 200back
Women’s 200IM

I’m omitting the 5+ events where the US has strong gold medal contenders where Aus doesnt have a chance, and the men’s 400free where the US doesn’t have a real shot at gold.

But the point of this post… Read more »

Reply to  John26
7 days ago

That brings up a funny point – never considered a rivalry between Short and Finke. Maybe it’s because there are several other competitors in those events (vs Smith/McKeown standing out in theirs), and Short and Finke really only match up in the 800?

Reply to  iLikePsych
7 days ago

Short is still pretty new to the scene, I think 2023 WC was the first time he made a final at that level. So they’ve only raced each other twice in total

Reply to  John26
7 days ago

Sorry but in what universe does USA have a “legit gold contender” in the women’s 200 free? Your fastest entrant has a PB THREE SECONDS slower than Australian trials lol.

Lizzie Dekkers and Matt Temple are much more likely to win gold medals in their events than USA is in the 200 free but you didn’t include them. You also missed men’s 200 breast.

Reply to  Rafael
7 days ago

Sorry you’re right about the 200free. I was on a roll with the categories and thinking about Mollie and Ariarne. Overall points still stand.

I thought about adding 200breast to the battleground section, but figured the key players were Qin and Marchand. The overall narrative I was trying to craft was that a lot leans on Short and McKeown being at their best, Which is true.

Reply to  John26
7 days ago

I agree with the overall point for sure. If Kaylee wins the triple, Titmus wins the triple and Short wins the double you can basically guarantee that Australia are topping the medal table. If combined they convert 4/8 or less, Australia has basically no chance.

7 days ago

Jeez I forgot how long these 2 have been going at it. Since 2017 is a crazy and high level rivalry

On the men’s side the biggest rivalry is Washed Shun vs WADA doping testers

8 days ago

Does anyone have the stats on their head to head in each event? It might be recency bias but I feel like kaylee must come out on top on those stats, and that’s why I struggle to put smith as favourite (even with the WR in the 100).

Reply to  Swimmer
8 days ago

Smith won the 200 back in 2019.

McKeown won the 100 and 200 back in 2021 (Smith didn’t qualify in 200).

Smith won the 100 back in 2022 (but Kaylee scratched) and McKeown won the 200 (but Smith didn’t qualify). They tied 5th in the 50 back.

McKeown won the triple in 2023.

So pure head to head where both racers actually swam the event is 4-1 all time (and one tie) to Kaylee. If you include times where the other scratched or didn’t qualify, it’s 6-2.

Reply to  Rafael
7 days ago

Did Regan go faster than Kaylee in all the medley relay finals? I can’t remember exactly. It’s not individual so not quite the same but the Americans often mention it. Having said all that I still think Kaylee will win both backstrokes. It’ll be tough though.

Reply to  Swimmer
7 days ago

not bothering with the 50 back but unless I missed a race and if we’re going back to their first senior teams its:

2017 worlds 200 back – Kaylee 4th 2:06.76, Regan 8th 2:07.42
2018 pan pacs 100 back – Regan 4th 58.95, Kaylee 5th 59.25
2018 pan pacs 200 back – Regan 3rd 2:06.46, Kaylee 5th 2:07.01
2019 worlds 200 back – Regan 1st 2:03.69, Kaylee 2nd 2:06.26
2021 olympics 100 back – Kaylee 1st 57.47, Regan 3rd 58.05
2021 olympics medley relay – Kaylee 58.01, Regan 58.05
2022 worlds medley relay – Regan 58.40, Kaylee 58.77
2023 worlds 100 back – Kaylee 1st 57.53, Regan 2nd 57.78
2023 worlds 200… Read more »

Reply to  flicker
7 days ago

I only went back to 2019 when they both kind of launched. I forgot they were even at Pan Pacs lol

Reply to  flicker
6 days ago

You shouldn’t really have bothered with relay splits either…

Reply to  Swimmer
7 days ago

The McKeown/Smith rivalry reminds me of an old rivalry involving an Australian and an American, the Rice/Hoff rivalry.

Reply to  Swimmer
7 days ago

Smith is a different swimmer than in years past. Past head to head means nothing imo.

Reply to  usaswimerror
6 days ago

lol – for the past three years SwimSwam & many commentating have predicted Regan beats Kaylee.

If Kaylee wins both backs in Paris (and the 200IM) – and set WRs in all three, S/S predictors next year would be saying Regan is gold medal favourite for something lol

Reply to  Oceanian
6 days ago

Haven’t S/S picked Kaylee to win 2 of her 3 events?

This is how we know y’all are just salty.

About Anya Pelshaw

Anya Pelshaw

Anya has been with SwimSwam since June 2021 as both a writer and social media coordinator. She was in attendance at the 2022 and 2023 Women's NCAA Championships writing and doing social media for SwimSwam. Currently, Anya is pursuing her B.A. in Economics and a minor in Government & Law at …

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