Budapest 2022, North America Day 3: Claire Curzan Deepens USA’s Podium Potential


Barry Revzin contributed to this report.

Day 3 of the 2022 FINA World Championships was a big one. One World Record, one World Junior Record, and a handful more of National Records fell on night three. Though North America does not get to claim any of these records, it was still a momentous night of swimming for Team USA.

Claire Curzan Adds Vital Depth to Team USA

17-year-old Claire Curzan first emerged on the international scene as a butterfly swimmer, though in her two individual races so far in Budapest, Curzan has had better results in backstroke than butterfly.

On Sunday, American Torri Huske claimed gold in the 100 butterfly, lowering her own American Record to a 55.64, while teammate Curzan placed 5th in 56.74, which is 0.54 slower than her lifetime best from 2021. On Monday, Curzan added 0.28 to her lifetime best in the 100 backstroke, a 58.39 from April of this year, yet still came away with a bronze medal.

In 2018, Curzan was ranked 251st in the world in the 100 backstroke and 134th in the world in the 100 butterfly. By 2019 she had moved up to 30th and 25th in the backstroke and fly, respectively, and by 2020 she was 24th in the 100 back and 2nd in the 100 fly. In 2021 Curzan fell back to 8th in the 100 fly but moved up 14 places to 10th in the 100 backstroke. Now in 2022, as of the time of this writing, Curzan is ranked 3rd in the world in 2022 in both the 100 backstroke (58.39) and 4th in the 100 butterfly (56.35).

The fields in the 100 fly and 100 back are comparable at this world championships versus the Tokyo Olympics in that both are missing medalists from the Tokyo Games. The 100 butterfly, for instance, misses 2020 gold medalist Maggie MacNeil and bronze medalist Emma McKeon. As for the 100 backstroke, 2020 gold medalist Kaylee McKeown sat this one out in favor of the 200 IM. These absences are not to take away from Curzan’s accomplishments, however, as her world rankings speak for themselves, and her quick ascension in the 100 backstroke is particularly notable.

Curzan ended 2021 with a lifetime best of 58.82 in the 100 back and has since taken 0.43 off of it, now holding a 58.39. This improvement illustrates that her backstroke is catching up to her butterfly, and catching up quickly. If ranked with USA Swimming points, Curzan’s backstroke easily out-paces her 100s of fly and free, and even her 100 yard fly, where she briefly held the American Record in 2021.

Until Monday, the United States had never put two women on the podium at a long course world championships in the 100 backstroke.

While Smith and Huske are certainly versatile swimmers, they don’t cover as vast a range of events as Curzan, who is swimming the 50fly, 100 fly, 100 back,  and 100 free in Budapest this week. Smith, for instance, only has to focus on the 100 backstroke and 200 butterfly, while Huske puts her attention the 50 and 100 fly and free. Relays, of course, also play a factor, but Smith will only swim backstroke on the medley relays while Huske will likely stick to butterfly for the medley, and then a few 100 freestyle splits. Curzan, meanwhile, spreads her energy between three different strokes, and is expected to be a medal contender in all of them.

This is a great luxury for Team USA as it allows for a myriad of medley relay lineups. Curzan’s versatility makes her one of Team USA’s most valuable assets as she can always reasonably be considered a medal contender in her events, even when superstars like Smith and Huske are favored to win the event or at least pick up a medal as well.

Ledecky and Grimes Go the Distance

Katie Ledecky won the women’s 1500 freestyle by a staggering 14 seconds, leaving the silver medal to teen phenom Katie Grimes. Ledecky’s time clocks in as the 6th-fastest ever, behind 5 of her other performances, while Grimes rises in the all-time rankings to 9th-fastest in history.

Murphy and Armstrong Hit 51, Take Silver and Bronze Medals

Americans Ryan Murphy and Hunter Armstrong finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, behind Italy’s Thomas Ceccon in the men’s 100 backstroke. Ceccon shocked viewers with a new World Record in the 100 backstroke, producing a 51.60 shaving 0.25 from Murphy’s 6-year-old mark from Rio. To their credit, Murphy and Armstrong both swam sub-52 as well, clocking times of 51.97 and 51.98, respectively. Even without Russians Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold and silver medalists, respectively, Monday’s 100 backstroke podium was still the fastest in history.

In the entire history of the men’s 100 backstroke, only 6 men have swam the race in under 52 seconds, and 3 of them have been from the United States.

Kylie Masse Adds Another Silver for Canada

Former World Record holder Kylie Masse added another silver medal to her collection this evening, finishing 2nd to American Regan Smith in the 100 backstroke, just missing out on a 3-peat of world champs titles in the race. Masse was the 2017 and 2019 World Champion in this event, and the 2020 Olympic silver medalist.

Masse finished just 0.18 behind Smith, 58.40 to 58.22, respectively. Despite making the podium, none of the medalists in the women’s 100 backstroke swam their best times. Masse will be positioned well for her upcoming 200 backstroke, an event that she placed 2nd in last summer in Tokyo to Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, who pulled out of the 100 backstroke this week in order to focus on the 200 IM, where she placed 2nd.

Semi-Finals and Off-Podium Finishes

The United States had three athletes finish outside of the medals on day 3. First, Drew Kibler and Kieran Smith placed 4th and 6th, respectively, in the 200 freestyle, which was won by 17-year-old David Popovici of Romania in 1:43.21, a new World Junior Record. 100 breaststroke World Record holder Lilly King placed 4th in the women’s 100 breaststroke final, falling just 0.05 short of Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte.

Michael Andrew and Nic Fink will advance to the final of the men’s 50 breaststroke as the 2nd and 3rd seeds, respectively, while Luca Urlando will move onto the final of the men’s 200 fly as the 5th seed. Canada’s Taylor Ruck will also advance to the final of the women’s 200 freestyle seeded 6th.

North American Medal Table

The United States is dominating the medal tables, as usual. Night 3 in Budapest was notable, however, in that Team USA put two swimmers on the podium in 3 different events, claiming 2 golds, 2 silvers, and 2 bronze.

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
USA 7 3 8 18
Canada 0 3 0 3
7 6 8 21

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5 months ago

Seems a strange title to me.

5 months ago

Huske is also swimming the 100 free, not just fly events individually

Swim fan
5 months ago

Has she not swum much backstroke because it conflicted with fly? I believe in Olympic trials fly and back overlapped. With her walls would love to see her swim the 2 back again. That may be her best stroke yet.

5 months ago

Not too hard to medal when they go 58’s

Sherry Smit
5 months ago

What is she better in BK or FL? I’ve always gone back and forth with this in my head. She made the Olympics in the 100 FL, but medaled in the 100 BK. She has a 56.2 FL and 58.3 BK, but can swim the 200 BK better than the 200 FL, and the 50 FL better than the 50 BK.

Scott Bonney
5 months ago

Has Claire Curzan ever tried the 200 IM ? If not, is it because of too weak breaststroke or too much of a sprinter and cant excel at 200s ? Or maybe both ?

Reply to  Scott Bonney
5 months ago

Claire Curzan Swimcloud


Reply to  Scott Bonney
5 months ago

She has a weak breaststroke

In her best short 200 IM 1:58.8, she split 38.1. In her best short 400 IM 4:11.9, she split 1:20. Both races were from 2021.

Last edited 5 months ago by Thezwimmer
Sherry Smit
Reply to  Scott Bonney
5 months ago

Her 200 Back is 2:07 so she can swim 200’s. It would be fun to watch her do IM. 27.4, 32.2, 44.0, 32.1 would be reasonable and around 2:15.7

5 months ago

Curzan did not qualify for the 50FR.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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