Chinese Spring Nationals hasn’t even wrapped up yet, but it’s already produced some HardCore swimming. One of the most notable swims came on the meet’s opening day: Xu Jiayu‘s world-leading 100 backstroke.
It’s also a race that appears to have some big international implications.
Jiayu, still just 18 years old, blazed a 52.34 to jump to the top spot in our 2014 World Rankings. That time would have given him a new Junior World record, but FINA calculates age based on year of birth, so Jiayu, who turns 19 in August, is not eligible.
Still, that time could put Jiayu in line for even higher honors. With the swim, he became just the second man in the world this year to break 53, and is just two tenths off the time Matt Grevers went in winning Olympic gold in London, a time that, at that point, thoroughly dominated a field of the world’s best backstrokers.
The United States has had a dominant run in the backstroke races on the international level stretching back to the 1980s. In fact, the Americans haven’t missed an Olympic gold medal in the 100 back since the 1992 Barcelona Games, and even then went 2-3 with Jeff Rouse and David Berkoff.
With reigning World Champ Grevers returning alongside Olympic silver-medalist Nick Thoman and 2013 Worlds runner-up David Plummer, the U.S. is still a force, most likely the force to be reckoned with in the stroke.
But the East has started to serve notice that it, too, can produce some dangerous young backstrokers. Japan was the first in on the action, with Ryosuke Irie and Kosuke Hagino forming a formidable 1-2. But now China has countered with Jiayu, a rising star in his own right, who now sits just four tenths off of Peirsol’s hallowed World Record from the supersuit era.
Whatever country you’ll be rooting for come World Championships and the Olympic Games, swimming fans should agree on one thing: any event featuring Grevers, Thoman, Plummer, Irie, Hagino, perhaps Ryan Lochte and Ryan Murphy and now Xu Jiayu will be nothing if not entertaining.
One might event call that event HardCore.
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