2024 Olympic Trials Previews: Will Ryan Murphy Stay Atop the 200 Back Field?



  • World Record: 1:51.92, Aaron Piersol (USA) – 2009 World Championships
  • American Record: 1:51.92, Aaron Piersol – 2009 World Championships
  • U.S. Open Record: 1:53.08, Aaron Piersol – 2009 U.S. Nationals
  • World Junior Record: 1:55.14, Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) – 2017 World Championships
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: 1:53.27, Evgeny Rylov (RUS)
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: 1:54.20, Ryan Murphy
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 2:01.69
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time (‘A’ Cut): 1:57.50

Going into the Tokyo Games, the American men had not lost an Olympic backstroke event since 1992. That streak was firmly snapped, as defending champion Ryan Murphy finished 3rd and 2nd in the 100 and 200 events respectively.

The field in the 200 this season looks uncharacteristically thin, belying the U.S.’s traditional strength in the stroke. No swimmer cracks the top eight in the world, and only one ranks within the top 20. (Granted, there are three Russian athletes in the top eight who will not be competing in Paris.)

However we’ve seen most of this field swim much faster and can expect them to bring their A game when Olympic roster spots are on the line.

2023-24 U.S. Rankings, Men’s 200 Backstroke (LCM)

  1. Jack Aikins, 1:56.21 – 2024 World Championships
  2. Ryan Murphy, 1:56.64 – 2024 Southern California Invitational
  3. Keaton Jones, 1:56.79 – 2024 Fran Crippen SMOC
  4. Ian Grum, 1:57.19 – 2023 Pan American Games
  5. Kieran Smith, 1:57.51 – 2023 U.S. Open
  6. Brandon Miller/Hunter Tapp, 1:58.52 – 2023 Art Adamson Invitational/2024 PSS – San Antonio
  7. Daniel Diehl, 1:58.93 – 2023 World Junior Championships
  8. Carson Foster, 1:59.01 – 2023 Kevin Perry Invitational
  9. Gavin Keogh, 1:59.19 – 2024 PSS – San Antonio

Murphy and the Cal Contingent

Ryan Murphy has been a mainstay on the international stage since bagging double backstroke gold in his Olympic debut in 2016. Since then, specifically in the 200 back, he’s added three World silvers, one World gold, and an Olympic silver to his arsenal.

His season best time of 1:56.64 ranks him #2 in the U.S. and in a tie for 21st in the world, but his consistency in this event for nearly a decade makes him a lock for the final. Murphy’s best time stands at 1:53.57 from 2018 Pan Pacs, so we can expect to see a big drop from him in Indianapolis.

For all but one team trials meet since 2016, Murphy has led a 1-2 Cal sweep of the 200 backstroke. From 2016 to 2019, it was Jacob Pebley who claimed the second spot. In 2021, Bryce Mefford earned his first Olympic berth. 2022 was the one exception, as Shaine Casas, who trains with the pro group at Texas, nabbed a Worlds berth (and eventually bronze).

If we expect the trend of Cal dominance to continue, the most likely candidates are between Destin Lasco and Keaton Jones.

Lasco made his first international meet in 2023, earning individual qualification in the 200 back and a relay spot in the 100 free. In his senior NCAA campaign, Lasco earned his third straight title in the 200 back, downing the NCAA record previously held by Murphy.

While the New Jersey native had a stellar yards season, he’s been relatively quiet in the long course pool. He clocked 2:00.99 at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions in April, but his best time of 1:55.63 will have him ranked much higher on the psych sheet.

On the flip side, Keaton Jones has been riding the momentum of his freshman season with the Bears. At the Fran Crippen SMOC he set a personal best of 1:56.79, touching ahead of both Murphy and Lasco in the final.

It’ll be an intriguing race of youth versus experience. Lasco has a higher ceiling, but he looked rough at his last meet with a fastest outing of 2:02.14 between prelims and finals. Jones has the hot hand; he’s beaten Lasco head-to-head twice in the last two months. And with Murphy’s consistency over the past two quads, the Bears look like they’ll have a strong presence in the final.

More Swimmers with Momentum

After missing out on Worlds qualification in the 200 back for the second year in a row, Jack Aikins announced he would be taking a gap year from UVA during the 2023-24 season to prep for Trials. 

Aikins finished 3rd in the 200 back at World Trials in 2022 and 2023, heartbreakingly one place away from qualification.

He’s made the most of his season so far. He kicked it off with Pan American gold in the 200 back, finishing just ahead of countryman Ian Grum. Then he traveled to Doha for Worlds in February, where he finished 4th in 1:56.21, just 0.17-seconds off his personal best.

Aikins’ time from Doha leads the U.S. field this season while Grum sits in 4th (1:57.19). Grum has only logged one other long course 200 back this season, but holds a best time of 1:56.32 from 2023.

There are a few other swimmers who have been faster in the qualifying period, but not this season. Perhaps most intriguing is Daniel Diehl, who made an unexpected NCAA debut this January for NC State after graduating early from high school.

Diehl’s best time is from last summer, where he tied Aikins for 3rd at Nationals. His sudden appearance likely accounts for his minimal long course results this season – he lurks at #9 with his silver-medal World Juniors swim (1:58.93) – but he’s another swimmer who will be in the mix for a lane in finals.

Another swimmer with a career-best 1:56 is Hunter Tapp, who won gold at the 2023 LEN European U23 Championships (1:56.45). At the last Olympic Trials, he placed 4th.

Tapp has struggled to advance to finals in the last two NCAA Championships, but considering he hit a PB at his last major long course outing it seems likely he has what it takes to make the final again.

Carson Foster and Kieran Smith – Scratch or Swim?

According to the pre-scratch psych sheets, multi-talented Carson Foster is entered in a whopping seven events (100/200/400 free, 200 back, 200 fly, 200/400 IM). While most of his senior international experience has been in the IM events, he does hold two silver medals in the 200 back from Junior Worlds (2017 and 2019) and has been as fast as 1:55.86.

The 200 fly has been his stroke 200 of choice at recent trials meets, but Foster has the talent to not only make the final in the backstroke but also challenge for an Olympic berth. However, energy management might be the deciding factor here, as his current schedule includes back-to-back events.

Another athlete who has focused elsewhere on the international stage is Kieran Smith, the Tokyo bronze medalist in the 400 free. After nearly three-and-a-half years away from the 200 back, Smith clocked 1:58.43 at the Westmont stop of the Pro Swim Series in 2023. That swim was his best time by nearly a second and his first foray under the 2:00 barrier.

He followed that up with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, lowering his time even further to 1:57.51 to sit just a hundredth of a second outside the Olympic Qualifying Time.

Smith could be a factor in the final, but again it remains to be seen which events he will choose to contest. While his pre-scratch entry list isn’t quite as crowded as Foster’s, at five events (100/200/400 free, 200 back, 200 IM) he would still have an extremely busy schedule.

Other Competitors to Watch

Utah swimmer Brandon Miller set his PB this season at the Art Adamson Invite (1:58.52), which ranks him #18 on the psych sheet. He’s been relatively quiet after wrapping his NCAA season, but if he’s in top form he’ll be right in the mix for semis.

Notre Dame’s Tommy Janton is entered with his 1:56.94 from 2023 U.S. Nationals, though he’s only been 2:00.06 this season. Janton made his first NCAA A-final in this event this year, contributing to the Fighting Irish’s program high 10th-place finish, so it’s not unreasonable to assume he’s got a higher ceiling this season.

The Verdict

It’s hard to bet against Ryan Murphy, whose best time leads the field by over two seconds. Behind him, it’s a tightly bunched field of 1:56s.

The one exception* is Destin Lasco, who has been sub-1:56 once in his career. However, we’re giving the nod to Jack Aikins, who has spent the past year focusing on long course training and competition.

The rest of the field will depend on who best handles the gauntlet of prelims-semis-finals format.

*We are expecting Carson Foster to drop the 200 back from his schedule, but if he does choose to swim it he is also in the 1:55 club.


1 Ryan Murphy 1:56.64 1:53.57
2 Jack Aikins 1:56.21 1:56.04
3 Keaton Jones 1:56.79 1:56.79
4 Destin Lasco 2:00.99 1:55.63
5 Daniel Diehl 1:58.93 1:56.04
6 Hunter Tapp 1:58.52 1:56.45
7 Tommy Janton 2:00.06 1:56.94
8 Ian Grum 1:57.19 1:56.32

Dark Horse: NC State commit Gavin Keogh is one of the youngest qualifiers in the field. He got under two minutes for the first time in April of this year (1:59.19). That swim came on the heels of a nearly two second drop in the yards version of the event (1:42.88), a time that makes him #2 in the high school class of 2025. 

Keogh recently competed at the Irish Olympic Trials, where he recorded a 2nd place finish (1:59.89). Having recently experienced the prelims-semis-finals format could give him the edge to have a big swim at U.S. Trials. 

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1 month ago

Destin Lasco is the ultimate taper swimmer.

1 month ago

Is 1:51.92 ever going to be broken?

1 month ago

Murphy 1:54.5

1 month ago

Murphy will pull a Brendan Hansen and lose to Lasco and someone else

1 month ago

Murphy has been in heavy work all year with nothing worth tapering for besides trials. He is probably going to finish 2 secs ahead of anyone else. 2nd a dogfight with Aikins, Jones, Lasco and maybe Casas and Foster if he competes it.

Viking Steve
1 month ago

Murphy’s longevity and consistency should be more appreciated and celebrated.

USA lucky to have his veteran presence to anchor our team this summer

Jalen T
1 month ago

Only one way Murphy can win gold at the Olympics and it’s if the Russians are out…. Oh wait, they’re out??? Gold for Murphy (but with asterisk)

1 month ago