2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Regan Smith on the Verge of First 200 Back Olympic Berth

2024 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

WOMEN’S 200 BACKSTROKE – BY THE NUMBERS

  • World Record:  2:03.14, Kaylee McKeown (AUS) – 2023 NSW Championships
  • American Record: 2:03.35, Regan Smith – 2019 World Championships
  • U.S. Open Record: 2:03.80, Regan Smith (USA) – 2023 U.S. National Championships
  • World Junior Record: 2:03.35, Regan Smith (USA) – 2019 World Championships
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 2:04.68
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Rhyan White, 2:05.73
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 2:13.59
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time (‘A’ Cut): 2:10.39

Throughout this past Olympic cycle, little has changed in the women’s 200 backstroke as it remains one of the most crowded events of the meet. In fact, last year, the time to final at the 2023 US National Championships was faster then the time required to qualify for the final at the 2023 World Championships. With multiple Olympic, World, and NCAA Champions this event could see some major surprises, mirroring the results of the 2021 Olympic Trials meet.

Regan Smith Looking for Redemption

When I previewed this exact same race 3 years ago ahead of the 2021 Olympic Trials meet, Regan Smith was the clear-cut favorite in this event. As the reigning World Champion and world record holder in this event at the time, Smith was seemingly legions ahead of the field with her personal best of 2:03.35. 

Come Olympic Trials, Smith looked extremely relaxed through the first two rounds of action, taking the top seed out of both the heats and semifinals. In the final, Smith took the race out hard, appearing to be chasing her own World Record. However, she severely faded over the closing 100 meters, being passed by Rhyan White who went on to win the event in a time of 2:05.73. Phoebe Bacon then managed to win a tight race for the second and final Olympic spot over Smith, touching with a time of 2:06.46 to Smith’s 2:06.79. White and Bacon then went on to finish 4th and 5th, in Tokyo, respectively, leaving Smith without the chance to race for an Olympic medal. 

In 2022, it was a similar story as Bacon and White topped Smith at the 2022 International Team Trials, leaving her off of the roster for the 2022 World Championships in this event. 

Shortly after her defeat at the International Team Trials, Smith switched up her training, moving to Arizona to train under Bob Bowman. In early 2023, it appeared that the move paid dividends for Smith as she broke Bacon’s US Open Record in the 200 Backstroke with a 2:04.76, a time that would have won the world title in 2022. Smith’s drops continued to come throughout 2023, culminating with a time of 2:03.80 at the US National Championships, a performance that once-again set the US Open Record and sent Smith back to the World Championships in this event for the first time since 2019. 

Since then, it has become apparent that Smith has only become more confident in herself and her chance to qualify for her second Olympic team. Only a few days ago, she posted a time of 57.51 to break her own American Record in the 100 backstroke at the Speedo Grand Challenge meet. Though she did not contest the 200 backstroke at that competition, she certainly made the case that she will be the one to beat in Indianapolis later this month. 

White and Bacon Looking to Repeat

Behind Smith, the race for second will be one of the best races of the entire meet. As previously mentioned, Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White were the two representatives for the US in this event at both the 2021 Olympics and 2022 World Championships. Currently, the pair rank as the 2nd and 3rd fastest Americans in this event during the Olympic Trials qualification period with their times of 2:05.08 and 2:05.13, respectively, from the 2022 International Team Trials, making themselves the top contenders for that remaining spot. 

After winning a silver medal in this event at the 2022 World Championships, Bacon failed to qualify for the 2023 World Championships team, finishing 5th in the event at the US National Championships with a time of 2:06.59, far from her best time. She recently wrapped up another NCAA season at Wisconsin, claiming the NCAA title in the 200 backstroke in a new personal best of 1:48.23. Due to the NCAA season, the 2022 World Championships silver medalist hasn’t competed in many long course races this season. However, she posted her season-best of 2:07.24 at the Pro Swim Series stop in San Antonio in early April, ranking 3rd in the country for the 2024 season. 

Last spring, following her graduation from the University of Alabama, White announced that she would be joining the pro group at NC State. Despite struggling early in the season while adjusting to the switch, White managed to claim a spot in the 2023 World Championships team by posting a runner-up finish at Nationals with a time of 2:05.77. Though she added some time from her Nationals time at Worlds, she managed to finish 6th with a 2:08.43. White has only competed a few times since then, with her best time this season sitting at a 2:07.38 from the Pro Swim Series in Westmont, ranking as the 4th-fastest American this season. 

Players Looking to Interrupt the Party

Claire Curzan has been one of the top US performers in the 100 backstroke for several years now, but she just recently added the 200 backstroke to her repertoire of events. At the 2023 US National Championships, despite illness clouding her competition, Curzan touched 3rd with a huge personal best of 2:06.35, narrowly missing a chance to contest this event at the 2023 World Championships. Curzan was later named to the 2024 World Championships team in all three backstroke events, where she swept the gold medals, which included a personal best 2:05.77 in the 200. That time currently ranks her as the 2nd fastest American this season, only behind Smith. Though Bacon and White’s best times still rank ahead of Curzan on the all-time list, she seems to have an edge going into these Olympic Trials, especially after transferring to the University of Virginia last summer and taking a redshirt NCAA season. 

Kennedy Noble is another swimmer who burst onto the scene in this event over the past year. Entering the 2023 US National Championships, Noble held a best time of 2:10.53, ranking her as the 11th seed in the event. Throughout the meet, she managed to lower that time by nearly 4 seconds to finish 4th in the event with a time of 2:06.54, earning herself a spot on the Pan Ams roster. At the Pan American Games, Noble was slightly off of her best time but still managed to win the gold medal and set a new meet record with a 2:08.03. Her time currently ranks her as the 6th-fastest American this season. Noble also had an impressive NCAA Championships representing NC State, highlighted by a 2nd place finish in the 200 backstroke (1:48.43). Prior to NCAAs, she had never broken 1:50 before, entering the meet with a personal best of 1:50.23. 

If she elects to swim this race, Katie Grimes might also be a contender here. Grimes, who is already qualified to race in Paris in Open Water swimming, posted a best time of 2:08.01 at the World Cup in Athens last October, ranking herself as the 5th fastest American this season. Despite her chance of success in this race, however, it appears fairly unlikely that Grimes contests this event at Trials. Even though there are no notable event conflicts at Trials, in Paris the 200 backstroke finals fall on the same day as the 800 freestyle heats and the semi-finals conflict with the 4×200 free relay finals. Add in the depth of the field, and it further solidifies the doubt that Grimes will contest this event. 

Grimes’ former teammate Bella Sims is another swimmer who could post a strong performance here, if she elects to swim the event. Like Grimes, Sims already is slated to have a really loaded Olympic Trials schedule with the mid-distance and distance freestyle events. Her season best stands at a 2:11.39 from the US Open back in December. Given that Sims doesn’t seem to be targeting this event, it is also unlikely that she will swim it. 

Young Stars on the Rise 

From Smith to Missy Franklin, this event is certainly no stranger to young stars rising through the ranks to claim an international roster spot. There are a few of those swimmers who may very well find themselves in the final come the end of the month. 

Teagan O’Dell is the reigning World Junior Champion in this event. She posted a best time of 2:08.09 to win the event last September, which currently ranks her at the 7th-fastest American this season and the 8th-fastest American since the 2021 Olympics. JoJo Ramey finished 2nd to O’Dell at the World Junior Championships, swimming a time of 2:10.08 in the process. Ramey finished 7th in this event at the 2021 Olympic Trials meet, swimming her lifetime best of 2:08.90 in the semi-finals. A similar time would likely see her make another final in 2024. 

 

Leah Shackley is another contender who could make a name for herself. Shackley first burst onto the scene in early 2023, with performances that included a 2:08.42 in the 200 backstroke which ranked her as the #2 Americans in the event at the time. Though she failed to progress out of prelims at the National Championships later that season, Shackley still managed to qualify for the 2023 World Junior Championships in the 50 and 100 butterfly, walking away from the meet with multiple medals and a large boost in confidence. Shackley’s best time currently ranks her 9th amongst Americans since the 2021 Olympic Games and her season best of 2:08.87 ranks her 10th in the country this season. 

Other age-groupers to keep an eye on include Maggie Wanezek and Lilla Bognar, who posted personal best times of 2:10.33 and 2:10.37, respectively, at the 2024 NCSA Championships. Charlotte Crush hasn’t competed as much long course action lately, but holds a best time of 2:09.71 that puts her right in the mix. 

Other NCAA Veterans Trying to Stake their Claim

In a fairly young field, there are also a swarm of NCAA swimmers who are hoping to translate their short course successes into the long course pool. 

Isabelle Stadden is arguably the biggest name out of that pack. The Cal swimmer has represented the United States on the international stage on several occasions and holds a best time of 2:07.28 from 2021. This season, her fastest time stands at a 2:08.42 from the Pro Swim Series in Knoxville. Stadden finished in a tie for 6th in this event at the 2023 National Championships sharing an identical time of 2:08.65 with Virginia’s Reilly Tiltmann

Tiltmann does not appear to have logged a swim since the 2024 NCAA Championships, where she finished 10th in the 200 back (1:51.80). Earlier in the year, Tiltmann competed in her first, and only long course meet this season, swimming a 2:13.83 in this event. 

Josephine Fuller from the University of Tennessee just posted a best time of 2:08.80 in this event, putting herself into a good position a month out from Trials. Fuller was one of the top backstrokers in the NCAA this season with her time of 1:49.57 from the National Championship. 

Another notable swimmer to watch out for is NC State’s Katharine Berkoff. Though she contested this event at the 2021 Olympic Trials meet, Berkhoff tends to be much more of a sprinter. It seems likely that she might target the sprint freestyle and backstroke events, potentially leaving this event off of her schedule all-together.

The Verdict

Ultimately, behind Smith, I think that this will be an extremely tight field just to make it into the final. It is possible that someone who was favored to finish in the top 2 could even see themselves on the outside looking in if they don’t hit their taper properly. 

Top 8: 

Rank Swimmer Season Best Personal Best
1 Regan Smith 2:03.99 2:03.35
2 Claire Curzan 2:05.77 2:05.77
3 Phoebe Bacon 2:07.24 2:05.08
4 Kennedy Noble 2:08.03 2:06.54
5 Rhyan White 2:07.38 2:05.13
6 Isabelle Stadden 2:08.47 2:07.28
7 Leah Shackley 2:08.87 2:08.42
8 Josephine Fuller 2:08.80 2:08.80

Darkhorse Pick: Audrey Derivaux – At only 14 years-old Derivaux has already established herself as one of the top upcoming backstroke prospects. After dropping nearly 5 seconds off of her best time in 2023, Derivaux just set another personal best of 2:10.36 in this event a few weeks ago. Her time easily puts her in contention to make the semi-finals, and possibly even the final, in Indy. 

 

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e-Swimmer77
1 month ago

Regan will probably win this race. But I can’t enjoy watching this since she announced that she’s supporting cheater (Kensey McMahon).
I’m done rooting for Regan. The same goes for the Walsh sisters.

Sherry Smit
Reply to  e-Swimmer77
1 month ago

Well then you don’t support a lot of swimmers. There is a long list of swimmers that support McMahon

Coach
1 month ago

I have 2 tix for all sessions near mid-pool and cannot go. I’ve had trouble selling these online – anyone have any advice on how to get something for these? I am looking to sell them heavily discounted at this point since I cannot go at all 🙁

Drew
1 month ago

Hoping to send all good karma Regan’s way. I’m sure she’s aware there’s a few wildcards in the mix with 200 back. She just needs to stay focused, and do her thing!

Smglsn12
1 month ago

Women like Stadden/Noble should check to see if they have a Swedish great grandparent or something

HWS
1 month ago

I see Regan winning in a 2:03mid, 2nd place (whoever it is, but I’m rooting for Curzan) a 2:05low.

Teddy
1 month ago

Feels like a couple going on their first date after having been married for 10 years and having 3 children

Admin
Reply to  Teddy
1 month ago

God that’s so accurate.

Eli
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Or like meeting a hinge match for the first time after already following them on everything and texting for a year

Admin
Reply to  Eli
1 month ago

Funny story: I have a good friend in Philly, and a woman we play pickleball with was getting ready to set him up with her coworker like, today.

Turns out, they had matched on hinger 3 days ago and have been messaging non-stop since.

Zeph
1 month ago

This has gotta be one of US’s deepest events internationally

Eli
1 month ago

1. Regan Smith 2:04.17
2. Claire Curzan 2:04.86
3. Phoebe Bacon 2:05.07

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  Eli
1 month ago

completely reasonable except Regan stays in 203 land. Not sure why so many downvotes.

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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