In our new series, Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars, we will explore how modern-day Olympians climbed their way to the top, starting from as early as 8 years old all the way to their elite level today. In Roadmaps 2.0, we are expanding to international swim stars.
In 2011 and 2013, American teenager Missy Franklin stormed to back-to-back world 200 back titles, spaced by her 2012 Olympic title. After that, six years went by where a teenage woman had yet to top a major international 200 back final. That all changed at the 2019 World Championships, where 17-year-old American Regan Smith was crowned the world 200 back champion after breaking Franklin’s 2012 world record in the semi-finals. Yet what made the final all the more historic was 18-year-old Aussie Kaylee McKeown‘s finish, who touched out veterans Kylie Masse (Canada) and Margherita Panziera (Italy) for world runner-up, creating a teen 1-2 event sweep.
What could make the women’s 200 back more historic in 2021? What about an entire teen podium sweep plus a world record? In this installment of Roadmaps 2.0, we will explore a new limit the LCM women’s 200 back that could make headlines in 2021: hitting 1:59. How has this Roadmaps group progressed over the years past the 2:10 barrier to their career best? Do teens Smith and McKeown have a 1:59 in their sights based on their current progression? Read on to find out more.
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Women’s 200 BK LCM
|1||Regan Smith||USA||2:03.35||2019 World Championships|
|2||Emily Seebohm||AUS||2:05.68||2017 World Championships|
|3||Margherita Panziera||ITA||2:05.72||2019 Italian Nationals|
|4||Kaylee McKeown||AUS||2:05.83||2020 South Australia Championships|
|5||Katinka Hosszu||HUN||2:05.85||2017 World Championships|
|6||Kylie Masse||CAN||2:05.94||2019 Canadian Swimming Trials|
|7||Kathleen Baker||USA||2:06.14||2018 Pan Pacific Championships|
|8||Taylor Ruck||CAN||2:06.36||2018 Pro Swim Series – Atlanta|
Who is “Most Improved”?
Another table talking about who broke 2:10 first would be boring, so instead we broke down who has been improving the most in the 200-meter back. A yearly time-drop average was calculated after selecting a five-year period when each swimmer broke (or neared) 2:10 to when they set their current career best. If a swimmer did not drop time one year, a zero was put in place of a time drop. Looking at the below table from afar, the teen/college swimmers have a higher time drop average than their adult counter-parts.
Since her first swim in the 200 back, Regan Smith has consistently dropped time every year (with the exception of 2020). Her world record (2:03.35) set at the 2019 World Championships chopped 2.66 seconds from her then-world junior record (2:06.01) from prelims, which gave Smith a yearly average time drop of 2.59 seconds. Kaylee McKeown hit the 2:10 barrier at 14 years old, however, her yearly time drop average has been 0.92 seconds.
Canadian Taylor Ruck, who is currently 19, and Kathleen Baker, now post-grad age (23), both have not broken their career bests in 3 years. Despite this, Ruck and Baker’s time drop averages were at least 1 second each year during their high school/NCAA careers. The averages of the four adult swimmers (24+) in the group (Margherita Panziera, Kylie Masse, Emily Seebohm, Katinka Hosszu) was -0.83 seconds each year. Notably, each of these swimmers had at least one year where they did not drop from their personal best.
|Yearly Average||Age Range||
July 2020 Age
Who Will Swim 1:59 First?
At the 2011 Berlin World Cup, Missy Franklin swam a then-world record 2:00.03 in the short course meters pool. Three years later at the 2014 SCM World Championships, Katinka Hosszu became the first woman to break 2:00 in the SCM 200 back at 1:59.23. In theory, Regan Smith‘s 2019 world record of 2:03.35 may indicate a 1:59 could happen in the LCM pool in 3-4 years.
If we apply the adult group’s yearly time drop average (-0.83s) to 2020 teens Regan Smith, Kaylee McKeown, and Taylor Ruck, we could predict their progress into their early 20s. Since any of these swimmers could encounter a big swim or a tough hurdle, this theory is the next closest step to making a prediction before making hypothetical theories in their progress. Fast forwarding four years from now to the 2024 Olympics, 22-year-old Regan Smith, 23-year-old Kaylee McKeown, and 24-year-old Taylor Ruck would all have swum under the 2019 world record, nearly surpassing the 2:03-barrier.
At the current pace Smith is going at, especially with a 4-year Stanford career ahead of her, she could potentially hit 1:59 earlier than we think. Simply applying the 0.83-second time drop per year to Smith’s world record, she would hit 2:00.03 by 2024.
Age in 2024
Who’s Bubbling Up Right Now?
It would be rather plain to predict this outcome for the 2021 Olympic 200 back final: Regan Smith wins with a sub-2:00 world record while Kaylee McKeown and Taylor Ruck take silver and bronze with respective national records. However, the outcomes of the 2017 World final versus the 2019 World final morphed a new international women’s 200 back scene where US/Aussie teens are now dominating the world top 10 in 2020. Only 3 Olympians make up the top 10 times in the world alongside 6 teenagers (yes, six).
Kaylee McKeown currently leads the 2020 world rankings with her sub-2:06 January lifetime best swim of 2:05.83, followed by another sub-2:06 swim from No. 2 Regan Smith (2:05.94). Kathleen Baker, who won Olympic silver in the 100 back, and Marghertia Panziera, who just missed the 2019 World podium, are also in the top five times. Olympic medalists Taylor Ruck and Emily Seebohm also make the top 10 times in the 200 back while Kylie Masse, more of a 100 specialist, and Katinka Hosszu, who literally swims everything, are currently outside of the top 10.
|Swimmer||2020 Season||2019 Worlds||2017 Worlds|
Hold Up… What About Minna Atherton?
Revisiting the 2016-2021 Olympic cycle, sitting right outside the top eight 200 back times is another Aussie teen, Minna Atherton. At the 2019 Australian World Championship Trials, Atherton took an upset win in the 100 back and second in the 200 back behind McKeown. At the 2019 World Championships, Atherton was unable to repeat her 2:06.82 lifetime best from Aussie Trials and placed 6th in the final. After her breakout swims in summer 2019, Atherton only began to shoot upwards when debuting with the ISL’s London Roar in fall 2019.
|Women’s 200 BK LCM|
Once Atherton was with the Roar, she instantly became a successful backstroker for the squad. At ISL London (European Derbies), Atherton swam her second sub-2:00 SCM 200 back of her career with a 1:59.25, just missing Hosszu’s 2014 world record by 0.02s. Her current SCM best would translate to a 2:01.65, but of course she had 4 extra underwaters in the short pool. This season, she is 9th in the world at 2:08.59.
Single Age Progression: International Women’s 200 BK LCM (Ages 12-27)
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Women’s 200 BK LCM
|1||Regan Smith||1||2:03.35||2019 World Championships|
|2||Kathleen Baker||7||2:06.14||2018 Pan Pacific Championships|
|3||Lisa Bratton||17||2:07.91||2019 World University Games|
|4||Isabelle Stadden||19||2:08.16||2020 Pro Swim Series – Greensboro|
|5||Alex Walsh||20||2:08.30||2019 Pan American Games|
|6||Hali Flickinger||22||2:08.36||2019 Atlanta Classic|
|7||Asia Seidt||23||2:08.56||2019 World University Games|
|8||Olivia Smoliga||24||2:08.58||2018 Summer US Nationals|
Single Age Progression: US Women’s 200 BK LCM (Ages 12-25)
Single Age Progression: US Women’s 200 BK SCY (Ages 11-22)
More from U.S. Roadmaps:
- Men’s 100 Free
- Women’s 100 Free
- Men’s 100 Back
- Women’s 100 Back
- Men’s 100 Breast
- Women’s 100 Breast
- Men’s 100 Fly
- Women’s 100 Fly
- Men’s 400 IM
More from Roadmaps 2.0: