4 Storylines To Watch in the ISL’s Semifinal #1: Battle of the Backstrokers


The International Swimming League’s 2020 postseason starts tomorrow, with the top two teams in each semifinal making the league finale. Here are four storylines we’re watching in semifinal #1:

Intrigue of the Skins Choices

In contrast to the second semifinal where the top medley relay teams and their likely skins choices are pretty easy to predict, this semi should have a lot of drama circling both the medley relays and their prize: the choice of stroke for the skin races.

Energy Standard leads the league in both the women’s and men’s medley relays this year. But London is third in the league in both. Here’s a look at the season-best medley relay times for the four teams in this semifinal:

Women’s Medley Relay

  1. Energy Standard – 3:46.95
  2. London Roar – 3:47.85
  3. Tokyo Frog Kings – 3:50.41
  4. NY Breakers – 3:51.30

Men’s Medley Relay

  1. Energy Standard – 3:20.68
  2. London Roar – 3:21.59
  3. Tokyo Frog Kings – 3:22.58
  4. NY Breakers – 3:25.76

So while Energy should be favored to win both, the margins are close enough that a London win wouldn’t be a shock. And whichever team wins will have potentially tough choices for the skin strokes.

Energy has a pretty good roster across all four strokes of skins. We’ve seen them pick women’s freestyle twice, and that probably aligns best with London’s weakness. But we could also see Energy look at butterfly, where they have two of the top five performers league-wide this year in Sarah Sjostrom and Maddy Banic.

Energy has won three men’s medley relays this year and picked three different strokes: free, breast, and fly. In this specific matchup, free and fly probably take advantage of London’s biggest weaknesses.

London, meanwhile, is very strong in women’s backstroke, but so is Energy. And London has a top women’s breaststroker in Alia Atkinson (a skins winner this year), but she would have to face Energy’s standout Benedetta PilatoLondon’s men’s backstrokers were their early standouts, but Energy is also loaded in backstroke, so Adam Peaty in the breaststroke might be the best option.

No matter how you slice it, the skin stroke selections should give us a lot of insight into what strokes each team really wants to prioritize – and with both Energy and London expected to move on to the final, that info will be big in predicting the final.

Battle of the Backstrokers

We mentioned it above, but this semifinal promises a stellar men’s backstroke showdown.

Energy is loaded in men’s backstroke, with three short course world champs on the roster: Evgeny Rylov, Kliment Kolesnikovand Matt GreversBut London has also been a powerhouse in the backstrokes, with Christian Diener and Guilherme Guido both sitting inside the top 5 in the league this year in a back event with a skins 1-2 on their combined resume.

We’re guaranteed four great showdowns: the 200 back, 50 back and medley relay leadoff leg on day 1 and the individual 100 back on day 1. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a ‘Game 5’ type decider with a men’s backstroke skin race on Sunday.

Can Anybody Stop the Tokyo IMers?

The expansion Tokyo Frog Kings have staked their claim on the league’s IM rankings. Kosuke Hagino hasn’t lost a 400 IM in four career ISL meets, and holds the league’s fastest time by more than two seconds. Yui Ohashi hasn’t lost a 400 IM on the women’s side and is the fastest active swimmer in the league after Melanie Margalis withdrew.

But they’ll face perhaps their toughest tests this week. Ohashi faces London’s Sydney Pickremwhose season-best is just 0.4 seconds behind Ohashi’s. And Hagino gets to face three of the four swimmers closest to him in the league ranks: NY’s Brandonn Almeida and Energy Standard duo Max Litchfield and Max Stupin.

Who Gets Fly Spots For Energy Standard?

The reigning league champs have an embarrassment of riches on their roster, highlighted by the #1, #2, and #3 performers this year in the women’s 100 fly. Sarah Sjostrom tied the league record in a win last week. But while she was out with back pain, Anastasiya Shkurdai rose to #2 in the league ranks and Maddy Banic to #3.

Only two of the three can swim the 50 fly and 100 fly. Energy will have to make the right choices for those events, while also giving each athlete enough rest for their other events. Sjostrom, in particular, is one of the team’s top freestylers and 100 IMers.

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1 year ago

This is sorta BORING

1 year ago

Battle of the backstrokers without mentioning Irie?

1 year ago

Not sure how you can talk about battle of the backstrokes without mentioning Irie, who’s been by far the most consistent, going 49 high and 1:49 pretty much every time he swims the 100/200 back.

1 year ago

No mention of Irie in that backstroke battle, but he can play spoiler.

Honest Observer
1 year ago

Slightly off-topic: can’t help but feel that the Japanese swim federation is acting self-destructively, not to mention overly harshly, by suspending Seto for having had an affair, which really has nothing to do with his swimming per se. Obviously it hurt the Frog Kings’ performance, though that matters little in the larger scheme of things. And it may end up just meaning that Seto gets a larger training block in than he might have had he swum in the ISL. But it’s also quite possible that this disrupts his rhythm and the momentum he had earlier this year, which would be a shame.

Imagine for a moment that other organizations, in other fields, levied such harsh punishments for extra-marital… Read more »

Panic behind the blocks
Reply to  Honest Observer
1 year ago

Their federation, their culture, their suspension. Who are we to judge?

Reply to  Honest Observer
1 year ago

Did Seto speak out against his punishment at all though?

IU Swammer
Reply to  Khachaturian
1 year ago

He did not. He accepted it in a public statement.

Reply to  Honest Observer
1 year ago

The comparisons you make are all with American organisations. I think you’ll find a completely different culture in their equivalent organisations in Japan. Not denying that affairs still happen but having lived in Japan there is a completely different level of cultural/social reaction than you find in somewhere like the UK or US.

Reply to  Honest Observer
1 year ago

Seto was a game changer for the frog kings, it’s nearly impossible for them make the final without him.. I think he is very hard on himself but this is japanese culture and we can’t do that much about it..

IU Swammer
Reply to  Honest Observer
1 year ago

It wasn’t all that long ago (60-ish years) that adulatory was a CRIME in many US states. I’m pretty sure it still is for military officers. By current US standards, the reaction is extreme. But it shouldn’t be surprising that some cultures take it very seriously.

1 year ago

Is it better to finish second than first in the regular season standings? The second ranked team just has to beat the 6th ranked team to make the finals but the the first has to beat the fifth. Not a huge difference between TFK and Iron this season but just a thought…

1 year ago

What a luxury for ES to have Shkurdai and Banic swimming fly to allow Sjostrom to throw down absurd freestyle splits.

1 year ago

And not to mention, on the other side, they have Haughey (how is she allowed to move from DC to ENS like that, from a competitive standpoint?) AND Heemskerk that can allow Sjostrom to throw down absurd butterfly splits if that is instead what she chooses to do.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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