2024 Olympics Previews: Another Round Of Ceccon Vs. The Americans On Tap In The Men’s 100 Back

2024 PARIS SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

BY THE NUMBERS — MEN’S 100 BACKSTROKE

  • World Record: 51.60 — Thomas Ceccon, Italy (2022)
  • World Junior Record: 52.34 — Miron Lifincev, Russia (2024)
  • Olympic Record: 51.85 — Ryan Murphy, United States (2016)
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: Evgeny Rylov, ROC — 51.98

The Russian Olympic Committee dominated the men’s 100 backstroke at the Tokyo Games, going 1-2 with Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov. Neither will race in Paris and haven’t raced at any of the intervening World Championships. It looked like the top end speed of the 100 backstroke was going to take a hit but instead, the opposite has happened.

Not only has the world record gone down but three swimmers have emerged at the top of the heap: Thomas Ceccon, Ryan Murphyand Hunter Armstrong controlled the 2022 and 2023 World Championship podiums. All have broken 52 seconds in the last three years and combined with a field that’s a healthy mix of familiar faces and quickly rising talent, the men’s 100 backstroke should be as exciting as ever in Paris.

The Big Three

Thomas Ceccon — 2022 World Champion

Ceccon had the race of his life in the final of the 2022 World Championships. The rounds leading up to the final had been quick, thanks to exploits from swimmers like Ksawery Masiuk and Apostolos Christou, but the crowd was still stunned to see Ceccon obliterate the world record in 51.60. He sliced .25 seconds off the world record en route to the world title.

Ceccon backed up the performance later in the meet on the 4×100 medley relay, once again dipping under 52 seconds and helping the Italians upset the Americans in the medley relay. A year later, he earned silver in Fukuoka, finishing second to Murphy by .05 seconds in 52.27. In semifinals, he swam a 52.16 which would’ve earned him another world title.

Out of Ceccon, Murphy, and Armstrong, Ceccon is the most versatile swimmer. We’ve seen him test out various events over the last three years: he’s a valuable member of Italy’s 4×100 free relay, a 50 butterfly world champion, and raced events like the 200 IM and 200 back on the 2023 World Cup.

He’ll surely factor in on multiple relays for Italy, but expect his individual event focus to be mainly on the 100 backstroke. At the Barcelona stop of the Mare Nostrum tour, Ceccon was still unsure about his individual event lineup; based on Olympic Qualifying Times, we expect Ceccon to only race the 100 back individually.

In Tokyo, Ceccon finished fourth, off the podium by .11 seconds. In Paris, he should be right at the heart of the race for gold.

At any rate, he seems fully recovered from a finger injury that kept him out of the World Championships.

Ryan Murphy — 2023 World Champion

In the rematch with Ceccon a year later, Murphy got the better of the Italian. It was a slower race than many expected—unlike the year before no one broke 52—but it was still a huge moment for Murphy. After Olympics golds and setting the event’s world record, he finally got to add “100 backstroke long-course World Champion” to his list of accomplishments.

Murphy has been the face of American men’s backstroke for almost ten years. He’s the 2016 Olympic gold medallist in this event and is a consistent gold medal threat on any national or international stage.

Now 28 and heading to his third Olympics, Murphy would definitely be classed as a veteran in the field. But he’s remained consistently fast in this new phase of his career. At 2022 Worlds, Murphy clocked 51.97 for the silver medal behind Ceccon—his fourth sub-52 effort and first in four years.

His consistency was on display at 2024 U.S. Trials, when he won the 100 back for the third straight Trials. Over twelve years, the range on his Trials-winning 100 back times is .11 seconds, a ridiculously small margin.

2016 2021 2024
Ryan Murphy – 100 Back Winning Time, U.S. Trials 52.26 52.33 52.22

The 52.22 he swam to win in Indianapolis is 2nd in the world for the 2023-24 season and the fastest of this calendar year. When Murphy arrives in Paris, he’ll find himself in a familiar position among the favorites as he aims for his third straight Olympic podium in this race.

One interesting thing to note: both Murphy and Ceccon have season-bests that exactly match their time from the 2023 Worlds final.

Hunter Armstrong — 2024 World Champion

Armstrong is the only swimmer to podium in this event at the last three World Championships. He took bronze in both 2022 and 2023 and then was the only one of the 2023 podium to participate in the 2024 World Championships. In Doha, he got the better of Hugo Gonzalez by .02 seconds for his first 100 backstroke world title.

He’s the third man in the field arriving in Paris with a sub-52 personal best, courtesy of the 51.98 he swam for bronze at 2022 Worlds. It puts him in a much different position than he was in at the last Olympics where he was a bit of an unknown after surprising to make the U.S. roster.

Since that first surprise he’s proven himself many times in the last three years, rounding into a top contender in the event. He didn’t final in Tokyo, instead tying for 9th with Ryosuke Irie in 53.21, a hundredth behind 8th place Robert Glinta. Now, it would be a huge shock if he missed the final.

Armstrong often likes to do just enough to make it through the rounds; this was most on display at 2023 Worlds, when he qualified for the semifinals in 16th and the finals in 8th before jumping up for a second-straight bronze. Though between trying to make his first Olympic 100 backstroke and the almost disastrous slip on the start during semifinals at U.S. Trials, Armstrong may take a safer approach this year. But if he does only just slide into the final, don’t count him out of the hunt for a medal—he isn’t called “Magic Man” for nothing.

In The Hunt

Speaking to SwimSwam after the 2022 World Championships, Murphy said “you never want to count out anyone in the heat and you never want to focus in on just one person.” So, while there are certainly three clear podium favorites, there are plenty of other swimmers you don’t want to dismiss.

Chief among them: 2016 silver medallist Xu Jiayu. Another veteran in the field, Xu is heading to his 4th Olympics and has been at the top of the international scene in this event for a long time. He won consecutive world titles in this event in 2017 and 2019, nearly breaking Murphy’s then-world record in 2017 with a 51.86. After a 5th place finish in Tokyo, Xu had an off year in 2022. He missed the World Championship final and missed breaking 53 seconds for the first time since 2013.

Xu Jiayu, courtesy Rafael Domeyko

Xu regained his form last season, claiming 4th in this event in Fukuoka with a 52.58. He was sub-53 all three rounds of 2023 Worlds, with his fastest time coming in semifinals (52.42). He performed even better at September’s Asian Games. There, he swam a 52.05 that stands as the fastest time in the 2023-24 season—putting in a strong position to climb back on the Olympic podium.

The Cal Golden Bears have no shortage of representation in Paris and that’s most obvious in the men’s backstroke events. Hugo Gonzalez joins Murphy and Armstrong as a Cal-trained backstroker taking a run at the podium.

Gonzalez’s best chance may be in the 200 backstroke—where he’s the reigning world champ—but he can’t be ignored here in the 100. Gonzalez had one of the best meets of his life at the 2024 World Championships. The highlight was winning the 200 back in his first best time in the event since 2017, but he also swam a lifetime best for silver in the 100 back (52.70) and won Spain’s first swimming Worlds medal in seven years.

At June’s Spanish Championships, Gonzalez nearly reset his 100 back PB again, swimming a 52.71. He’s riding a huge wave of momentum that makes it a realistic to see him putting up yet another personal best and move up from his 6th place finish in Tokyo.

The Duos

It’s not just the Americans looking to put two swimmers into the final. Several other countries have a strong 1-2 swing for the men’s backstroke.

Greece

The 2022 World Championships really spoiled us in the men’s 100 backstroke. Not only did we see a world record and a full podium of 51s, Apostolos Christou nearly joined the sub-52 party. Christou ripped a 52.09 to qualify first for the final. He ended up 5th in 52.57—then didn’t make the semifinal in Fukuoka.

But he’s showing signs of being back on his best for this season. He won bronze in Doha (53.36), collecting his first Worlds medal. More importantly at 2024 Euros he clocked a 52.23 to win the title. He’s now sitting 3rd in the world this season behind Xu and Murphy. For Christou, the big challenge will be putting it all together at the right time in Paris.

Eyaggelos Makrygiannis joined Christou on the Euros podium, giving Greece a 1-2 finish. Makrygiannis—who was 4th at 2024 Worlds—was also under 53 seconds, putting up a lifetime best 52.83. The 24-year-old has had a huge improvement curve in 2024. He’s gone from a 54.02 PB (set December 2023) all the way to 52.83—a 1.19 second drop that puts him in the conversation for the final.

Yohann Ndoye-Brouard, courtesy of Fabio Cetti

For reference: it took a 53.20 to final in Tokyo. That dropped to 53.00 at 2022 Worlds, before going back up to 53.21 in Fukuoka. 11 men we expect in the Paris field have already broken 53 seconds this season, but the cut off will likely stay in the 53-low range as swimmers hold their cards close for the final.

France

Mewen Tomac and Yohann Ndoye-Brouard represent the home nation’s hopes in the men’s backstroke. Ndoye-Brouard is the faster of the two in the 100 backstroke; at 2022 Worlds, he put up a 52.50 for 4th place. He was 5th in 2023 with a 52.84 and Tomac joined him in the final (8th, 53.16).

The pair are separated by just .02 seconds this season. Tomac got the better of Ndoye-Brouard at the French Elite Championships, 52.88 to 52.90. That was an especially promising swim for Tomac as it’s just .02 seconds away from his personal best.

Ndoye-Brouard will also be looking for redemption in Paris after getting disqualified in the Tokyo semifinal.

Great Britain

Oliver Morgan and Jonny Marshall put on a show in April at Great Britain’s Championships. Morgan led the way; in prelims, he broke 53 seconds for the first time (52.87) then broke Liam Tancock’s super suited national record in finals with a 52.70. Marshall, who arrived for the championships fresh off his first NCAAs, nearly cracked the 53 second barrier as well with a 53.03. In Paris, the 19-year-old Marshall won’t have to quickly recalibrate from yards to meters or from high-pressure meet to high-pressure meet, which could be a recipe for him to join Morgan sub-53.

The pair are now Great Britain’s first and fourth fastest 100 backstrokers in history. They’ve greatly improved Great Britain’s medley relay chances but the big question will be if they can fight their way through the rounds in the individual event and make the final.

Both bring World Championships experience, though this will be their first Olympics.

Finals Threats

Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk was part of lighting up the early rounds of 2022 Worlds. Then 17, he lowered the Polish record in prelims and then again in semifinals, bringing it all the way to his current lifetime best 52.58. He’s been a consistent factor in this final at Worlds, finishing 6th in 2022 and 2023 and wrapping up a successful international junior career.

He missed semifinals in Doha, but threw down a 53.09 leading off the relay, which would’ve won bronze. As long as he doesn’t have a big miss like that again, Masiuk is a real contender for the final and possibly more. He’s six got sub-53 outings under his belt, which is an advantage over some of the other swimmers with season-bests in his current range.

Two other names to keep an eye on are Hubert Kós and Pieter Coetze. Kós’s transition from the IMs and his rise in the backstroke since he started training with Bob Bowman is well documented. His major breakthrough came from beating Murphy for gold in the 200 backstroke in Fukuoka. Most of the attention has rightfully gone to him for his success in that distance, but he’s also making steady improvement in the 100 back.

At 2023 Worlds, Kós rewrote the Hungarian record, clocking a 53.12 in prelims. He knocked .01 seconds off that time with his 6th place finish. Then, at the 2024 San Antonio Pro Series he took another couple hundredths off with a 53.08.

Hubert Kos, courtesy of European Aquatics

Kós has followed Bowman to his new home in Austin, Texas which no doubt made for a turbulent couple of weeks. But between the San Antonio PSS and his swims at 2024 Euros, he’s put together solid in-season performances that don’t give any reason to think that his training has taken a huge step back.

Based on previous qualifying times, he’ll need to be right at his best to make the final but posting an in-season personal best could point to him firing off another PB in Paris.

At 20 years old, Coetze is gearing up for his second Olympics. But despite that, his first LCM World Championship was the 2024 Worlds, which means there isn’t a lot of data about how he performs in a “best of the best” field. In Doha, he finished 5th in this event (53.51) before earning bronze in the 200 back.

He owns the African record with a 52.78, swum at last summer’s South African championships. He neared that time at this year’s event, swimming 52.89. So, while he’s still aiming to translate his national and Commonwealth level success onto the biggest stage in swimming, both his season and lifetime bests should be a confidence boost to him that he can compete.

The Verdict

Ceccon, Murphy, and Armstrong have been the three on the podium at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships. They arrive in Paris as the favorites for the podium and that’s likely where they’ll find themselves at the end of the final. Your mileage on the exact order likely varies by how much weight you put on factors like the distance between Ceccon’s personal best versus the rest of the field and Murphy’s consistency. We’ve decided to pencil Ceccon in for the gold but there’s certainly a case to be made for all three.

Xu is the best pick to disrupt the top three: he’s experienced, he’s got the hardware, and he’s shown himself to be on form this season.

Given how many times we’ve seen in the 52-high to 53-low range already this season, there will likely be a huge fight to make the final. The name of the game for all these swimmers: break 53 in the semifinals or don’t have the highest 53 low. There are several swimmers in this field that have shown flashes of brilliance but haven’t been able to put it together at the opportune moment. If at least one of them figures it out in Paris, there could be a major shake up.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Name Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Thomas Ceccon Italy 52.27 51.60
2 Ryan Murphy United States 52.22 51.85
3 Hunter Armstrong United States 52.68 51.98
4 Xu Jiayu China 52.05 51.86
5 Apostolos Christou Greece 52.23 52.09
6 Hugo Gonzalez Spain 52.70 52.70
7 Yohann Ndoye-Brouard France 52.90 52.50
8 Ksawery Masiuk Poland 53.09 52.58

Dark Horse: Oleksandr Zheltyakov (Ukraine) — Oleksandr Zheltyakov cleaned up at last year’s World Junior Championship. He swept the 100/200 backstrokes, then took silver in the 50 back, swimming national records in all three distances. Zheltyakov’s got a clearer path to the final in the 200 backstroke (where he’s already tied his national record this season) but he could have a surprise in store for the 100 back. His personal best is a 53.73 that’s just inside the Olympic Qualifying Time. He wasn’t too far off that mark at 2024 Euros and is still young enough that the kind of big drop that would bump him into the later rounds is not out of the question. 

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zaj
17 days ago

For this time round, i bet xu jiayu will win at paris based on the consistency he did last year and this year.
My prediction
Gold – Xu Jiayu
Silver – Ryan Murphy
Bronze – Thomas Ceccon

zaj
17 days ago

Please correct the season best of Xu Jiayu. He had clocked the fastest time 51.91 during the opening leg of mixed 4×100 medley relay at hangzhou asian games last year whereby the quartet almost broke the world record set by great britain team at tokyo olympics.

JCK
Reply to  zaj
17 days ago

Under FINA rules, mixed medley leadoff swims cannot qualify for World Records, which is likely why swimswam didn’t use it as a season best. I presume that the reason why they don’t qualify is because of the inconsistencies in gender from lane to lane which can cause discrepancies.

Last edited 17 days ago by JCK
U turn
18 days ago

Hey Swimswam what will be schedule for these previews?

gitech
18 days ago

Why everyone says that Ceccon was inconsistent, why did he simply lose last year in Fukuoka?
He Will be in 51 in paris

Last edited 18 days ago by gitech
HeGetsItDoneAgain
18 days ago

Murph vs Ceccon for the title. Everyone else is a minor player.

I miss the ISL (go dawgs)
18 days ago

After trials I dont love Armstrong’s chances at a medal here, but he is the Magic Man, so he may have something in store we don’t think he has right now. Murphy and Ceccon are near locks for medals imo, crap shoot for gold.

Sub13
18 days ago

Ceccon wins if he swims his best, but he has been fairly inconsistent. Murphy seems like the safest bet because of his consistency so is probably my pick

lotus
18 days ago

Murphy is favourite, Armstrongs skills are trash, Xu is a choke artist and Ceccon is a fluke

Isaac
Reply to  lotus
4 days ago

Opposite Andrew

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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