2024 Worlds Previews: Aussie Youth On The Rise, But Curzan In Driver’s Seat In Women’s BK

2024 WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

In the strangest World Championships in several generations, we will do our best to pick the medalists and finalists for the 2024 World Championships. It’s going to be weird and fun, all at the same time. Let’s dive in.

With a combined four finalists from the 2023 World Championships set to race the women’s backstroke events in Doha, on the surface level, things appear incredibly wide open. However, the highest profile name in the field, American Claire Curzan, wasn’t at last year’s championships in Fukuoka but comes in as the big favorite in at least the 100 and 200-meter distances as the fastest swimmer in the field.

Names like Lauren Cox and Ingrid Wilm will be aiming to further establish their international resume with the pared-down field, while veterans such as Kira Toussaint have the opportunity to return to the top and youngsters like Jaclyn Barclay can make a name for themselves on the senior stage globally for the first time.

WOMEN’S 50 BACKSTROKE

  • World Record: 26.86 – Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 2023 World Cup – Budapest
  • World Junior Record: 27.49 – Minna Atherton (AUS), 2016 Brisbane Sprint Championships
  • World Championship Record: 27.06 – Zhao Jing (CHN), 2009
  • 2023 World Champion: Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 27.08
2023 RETURNING SEMI-FINALISTS 2023 ABSENT SEMI-FINALISTS
3. Lauren Cox (GBR), 27.20 1. Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 27.08
6. Ingrid Wilm (CAN), 27.41 2. Regan Smith (USA), 27.11
11. Theodora Drakou (GRE), 27.87 4. Kylie Masse (CAN), 27.20
12. Maaike de Waard (NED), 28.03 5. Katharine Berkoff (USA), 27.38
16. Andrea Berrino (ARG), 28.34 7. Wang Xueer (CHN), 27.99
8. Analia Pigree (FRA), 28.04
9. Letian Wan (CHN), 27.74
10. Mary Moluh (FRA), 27.82
13. Danielle Hill (IRL), 28.10
14. Miki Takahashi (JPN), 28.13
15. Simona Kubova (CZE), 28.16

COMING OFF WORLDS MEDAL, COX LEADS 50 FIELD

The only one of the events with a returning medalist, Cox has to be considered the favorite in the 50 back after she logged a lifetime best of 27.20 to snag bronze in the Fukuoka final, .01 shy of the British Record set by Kathleen Dawson in 2021.

Between 2022 and 2023, Cox went sub-28 nine times, showing some impressive consistency. The 21-year-old will have eyes on Dawson’s record and her first world title.

Dawson, 26, will be in the field but hasn’t broken 28 seconds since 2021.

The only swimmer in the field who has been within a half-second of Cox recently is Canadian Ingrid Wilm, who was 6th in the event last year after taking 4th in 2022. Wilm set a PB of 27.37 at the Monte Carlo stop of the Mare Nostrum Tour last June and has been sub-27.5 five times and under 28 seconds a staggering 28 times.

After two near misses in Budapest and Fukuoka, Wilm is poised to reach the podium individually for the first time at LC Worlds, the question just becomes if she can reach the top step.

If Cox or Wilm isn’t the favorite here, that distinction might have to go to Curzan, who may only have a best time of 28.09, but hasn’t raced the event many times and is the American Record holder and #3 performer all-time in short course meters (25.54).

In addition to Cox and Wilm, the other women in the field who broke 28 seconds last year were Iona Anderson (27.52), Adela Piskorska (27.84), Theodora Drakou (27.87), Maaike de Waard (27.91) and Barclay (27.94).

Among that group, the most intriguing medal contender is Anderson, who only turned 18 in October and produced her time in December. That 27.52 swim also marked a half-second drop from the time she went en route to the World Junior title in September (28.01), showing impressive improvement.

She could realistically win, which would be an upset from the outside looking in, but when you really take a close look at her progression, shouldn’t be a surprise.

The owner of the fastest best time in the field is Toussaint, who went 27.10 in 2021 but last year failed to crack 28 (28.02) while placing 21st at Worlds.

Louise Hansson is a swimmer who is elite in short course meters but hasn’t broken 28 in LC despite racing it consistently (much more than Curzan, for example).

SwimSwam’s Picks

RANK SWIMMER COUNTY SEASON BEST CAREER BEST
1 Lauren Cox GBR N/A 27.20
2 Iona Anderson AUS 27.52 27.52
3 Claire Curzan USA N/A 28.09
4 Ingrid Wilm CAN 27.68 27.37
5 Kira Toussaint NED 28.19 27.10
6 Jaclyn Barclay AUS 28.14 27.94
7 Adela Piskorska POL 28.31 27.84
8 Maaike de Waard NED 27.92 27.54

WOMEN’S 100 BACKSTROKE

2023 RETURNING SEMI-FINALISTS 2023 ABSENT SEMI-FINALISTS
5. Ingrid Wilm (CAN), 59.31 1. Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 57.53
10. Lauren Cox (GBR), 59.79 2. Regan Smith (USA), 57.78
11. Maaike de Waard (NED), 59.84 3. Katharine Berkoff (USA), 58.25
12. Kira Toussaint (NED), 59.89 4. Kylie Masse (CAN), 59.09
15. Hanna Rosvall (SWE), 1:00.65 6. Pauline Mahieu (FRA), 59.72
7. Medi Harris (GBR), 59.84
8. Letian Wan (CHN), 1:00.39
9. Madison Wilson (AUS), 59.63
13. Wang Xueer (CHN), 59.96
14. Simona Kubova (CZE), 1:00.43
16. Margherita Panziera (ITA), 1:01.31

CURZAN A STEP AHEAD IN 100 BACK

The 100 back field is headlined with a bullet by Curzan, who ranked #4 in the world last year after dropping a personal best of 58.35 at the U.S. Open in December. She also won bronze at the 2022 World Championships and has broken 59 seconds eight times, making her a massive favorite in Doha.

Wilm is the only other swimmer in the field who broke 59 last year, having gone 58.80 at the Canadian Trials in March before she placed 5th in Fukuoka.

Unlike the 50 back where things are a little more up in the air, Curzan and Wilm seem to have a firm grasp on the top two spots barring one of them being off form or someone else having a big performance.

The leading candidates for the latter are Aussie youngsters Anderson and Barclay, who ranked #3 and #4 in the world last year among swimmers in the field. Anderson went 59.24 in mid-December at the Western Australia State Championships, and Barclay was 59.47 en route to the World Junior title in December.

Just like the 50 back, Anderson has dropped a lot in a short period of time, having logged a 59.88 swim in winning silver at World Juniors before getting down to 59.24 three and a half months later.

Seven others in the field went under 1:00 in 2023, led by de Waard (59.65), Piskorska (59.76) and 19-year-old Spaniard Carmen Weiler Sastre (59.76), who is currently in her sophomore season at Virginia Tech.

Belarusian Anastasiya Shkurdai, who was among the eight swimmers granted individual neutral status by World Aquatics in order to be eligible to compete, could shake things up as she owns the third-fastest PB in the field at 59.08 from 2020.

SwimSwam’s Picks

RANK SWIMMER COUNTY SEASON BEST CAREER BEST
1 Claire Curzan USA 58.35 58.35
2 Iona Anderson AUS 59.24 59.24
3 Ingrid Wilm CAN 59.64 58.80
4 Jaclyn Barclay AUS 1:00.00 59.47
5 Adela Piskorska POL 1:00.72 59.76
6 Maaike de Waard NED 1:00.39 59.62
7 Anastasiya Shkurdai NIA 59.90 59.08
8 Carmen Weiler Sastre ESP 1:01.04 59.76

WOMEN’S 200 BACKSTROKE

  • World Record: 2:03.14 – Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 2023 NSW State Championships
  • World Junior Record: 2:03.35 – Regan Smith (USA), 2019 World Championships
  • World Championship Record: 2:03.35 – Regan Smith (USA), 2019
  • 2023 World Champion: Kaylee McKeown, 2:03.85
2023 RETURNING SEMI-FINALISTS 2023 ABSENT SEMI-FINALISTS
7. Laura Bernat (POL), 2:10.68 1. Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 2:03.85
9. Eszter Szabo-Feltothy (HUN), 2:10.38 2. Regan Smith (USA), 2:04.94
11. Africa Zamorano Sanz (ESP), 2:10.76 3. Peng Xuwei (CHN), 2:06.74
13. Gabriela Georgieva (BUL), 2:11.99 4. Katie Shanahan (GBR), 2:07.45
15. Camila Rebelo (POR), 2:12.47 5. Kylie Masse (CAN), 2:07.52
6. Rhyan White (USA), 2:08.43
8. Jenna Forrester (AUS), 2:11.44
10. Margherita Panziera (ITA), 2:10.65
12. Katalin Burian (HUN), 2:11.47
14. Rio Shirai (JPN), 2:12.45
16. Lee Eunji (KOR), 2:13.65

CURZAN CLEARLY #1, SHKURDAI LURKING IN 200 BACK

Like the 100 back, the 200 is Curzan’s race to lose.

At the 2023 U.S. Nationals, coming off of illness, Cruzan placed 3rd in the 200 back in a personal best time of 2:06.35, which ranked her 4th in the world for the year and was faster than what won bronze at the World Championships.

Without having to go through the loaded American women’s backstroke field to earn a major international slot, Curzan rolls into Doha as the favorite for gold, having nearly taken down that PB at the U.S. Open in December (2:06.39) and then clocking 2:07.38 at the Knoxville Prom Swim in January

The only swimmer seemingly within reach of an upset is Shkurdai, who set a Belarusian Record of 2:06.95 in April, making her the only swimmer in the field besides Curzan who was sub-2:08.5 in 2023. Shkurdai was only 2:09.67 in October, however, and Curzan’s ability to be 2:06/2:07 in-season puts her well ahead in the projections.

The #2 seed is Great Britain’s Freya Colbert, who is still 19 and established a sizeable best time of 2:08.73 last April. She was 5th at the 2023 Worlds in the 400 IM, but hasn’t raced the 200 back in the long course pool tapered since last year’s PB, so she’s a bit of an unknown, especially considering that’s her only swim sub-2:11.

Australia’s Barclay (2:08.76), Hungarian Eszter Szabo-Feltothy (2:08.85) and Poland’s Laura Bernat (2:08.96) are the others in the field sub-2:09 last year. Bernat is also the lone finalist from last year’s Worlds in the field.

Portugal’s Camila Rebelo accrued some international experience last year, winning silver in this event at the World University Games in addition to making the semis at Worlds, putting her in position to celebrate her 20th birthday—which was on Feb. 3—with an appearance in the final. She hasn’t raced the long course event this season, but was an impressive 5th at SC Euros in December.

American Lilla Bognar, 17, is another name to watch after she cracked 2:10 for the first time at U.S. Nationals last year.

SwimSwam’s Picks

RANK SWIMMER COUNTY SEASON BEST CAREER BEST
1 Claire Curzan USA 2:06.39 2:06.35
2 Anastasiya Shkurdai NIA 2:09.67 2:06.95
3 Jaclyn Barclay AUS 2:08.76 2:08.76
4 Freya Colbert GBR N/A 2:08.73
5 Laura Bernat POL 2:10.96 2:08.96
6 Eszter Szabo-Feltothy HUN 2:10.73 2:08.85
7 Adela Piskorska POL 2:11.01 2:09.40
8 Camila Rebelo POR N/A 2:09.84

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Bill Lumberg
3 months ago

Can someone tell me how I can watch this meet live? Youtube? Peacock?

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  Bill Lumberg
3 months ago

Peacock I am pretty sure. At least that’s how 2023 World Champs were streamed. Cheap, like $4.99/mo I think.

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  RealSlimThomas
3 months ago

awesome yea i have peacock

Jojob
Reply to  Bill Lumberg
3 months ago

(Arrgh! two attempts to reply. two crashes!) Just checked with Peacock. As Peacock usually does, Prelims and Finals for each day will air live. Then, Peacock will post Prelims and Finals for each day as recordings that can be played at one’s convenience. OF COURSE, live airings will be affected by your location. Here in California, I can watch the Prelims for a particular day at night, 10:30 pm, Pacific Standard time. I can watch the finals for that same day when I get up the next morning, 8:00 am, Pacific Standard time.

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  Jojob
3 months ago

awesome thanks man. Jealous of California. What part are you in? Might come out in a week or 2 to surf san diego.

flicker
3 months ago

not that it really matters but minor correction Curzan is #3 all time in the 50 back scm – O’Callaghan led off the aus relay the day after in a 25.49 to overtake her (they seemed quite evenly matched in the 50 and 100 at SCW and their LCM 100 back PB’s are similar so you’d have to think Claire should be capable of something around a 27.3-27.4)

Last edited 3 months ago by flicker
Hhdjhdhd
3 months ago

Curran breaks 58s 100m back

RMS
3 months ago

Didn’t Curzan recently go 2:07 in the 200 back in practice? I think she goes a PB and wins gold. I hope she makes the US Olympic team in this event.

Oceanian
3 months ago

“Aussie youth on the rise”.

Could be a headline in any women’s backstroke story since about 2007.

Slow Swimmer X
Reply to  Oceanian
3 months ago

Emily Seebohm – Meagan Nay – Sophie Edington – Belinda Hocking – Madison Wilson – Minna Atherton – Kaylee McKeown

Swim Fan
3 months ago

Excited to see how backstrokes play out. If curzan healthy, fun to see what she can do.

Skip
3 months ago

Go the aussies

Scuncan Dott v2
3 months ago

Think Dawson could surprise here, she looked like she was finally getting back to 2021 form at Euro SC champs in December after the back injury she’s had since just before Tokyo. Can see her medaling in at least one of the 50 or 100.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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