Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: 3 World Record-Holders in W 100 Back

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Women’s 100 Backstroke

  • World Record: Kaylee McKeown (AUS) – 57.45 (2021)
  • Olympic Record: Emily Seebohm (AUS) – 58.23 (2012)
  • World Junior Record: Regan Smith (USA) – 57.57 (2019)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 58.45

There’s no easy way to go about this. The women’s 100 backstroke has been one of the most mind-bending races to keep track of over the past few years and the talent that we’ve seen in the field makes it nearly impossible to feel confident about a pick for who will take gold in Tokyo.

We’ll start by identifying our likely uncontroversial top three contenders for gold: Kaylee McKeown, Kylie Masse, and Regan Smith. Those 3 women represent the 3 fastest women in the history of the event and the only 3 to have ever posted a time under 58 seconds. The first woman to do so was Regan Smith who swam a 57.57 during a relay leadoff at the 2019 World Swimming Championships which marked a new world record at the time, improving upon Kathleen Baker‘s 2018 mark of 58.00. Smith dipped under 58 for a second time at the 2021 US Olympic Trials when she swam a 57.92 for the win.

The second woman to break 58.00 was Kaylee McKeown when she hit a 57.93 in December of 2020. Months later, McKeown became the first woman to swim under 58 seconds more than once when she notched a 57.63 at the 2021 Sydney Open. McKeown pulled off the feat for a 3rd time at the 2021 Australian Olympic Trials by delivering a new world record in the event of 57.45. Kylie Masse became the most recent addition to the 57-second club when at the 2021 Canadian Olympic Trials she swam her way to a 57.70 to win the national title. That swim for Masse was a 0.40 seconds improvement upon her former Canadian record of 58.10 which was actually also a world record back in 2017.

So in summary, Smith has been under 58 twice (57.57, 57.92), McKeown thrice (57.45, 57.63, 57.93), and Masse once (57.70) and all 3 of them have at one point held the world record. So even without Kathleen Baker, who was a recent World Record breaker in this event as well but struggled at the Olympic Trials while recovering from a broken field, this race will have three 100 backstroke World Record breakers in it.

Kaylee McKeown

Kaylee McKeown, Swimming Australia, Ltd.

In terms of deciding who is the favorite to win gold in Tokyo, we’ll go with McKeown. Her improvement to world record speed in the event over the past few months and her consistency this season in the women’s 100 backstroke is hard to bet against. Not only has she been under 58 3 times this season as compared to Smith’s and Masse’s 1, but her season-best of 57.45 is also a full 0.25 seconds faster than Masses’s 57.70 and a full 0.47 seconds faster than Smith’s 57.92. With plenty of time to close the gap, Masse and Smith have some speed to make up if they want to catch world record holder and our top pick for gold in Tokyo: Kaylee McKeown.

Kylie Masse 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Our #2 pick here is Kylie Masse who comes in as the reigning Olympic bronze medalist and the 2-time defending world champion. Masse somehow faded from the popular conversation as McKeown rose in the ranks and the women’s 100 backstroke was widely regarded as a 2-woman race between Australia and the United States. That was also largely a result of Canada’s lack of high-level racing opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. After 2019 World Champs, we didn’t see much long course racing from Masse while continuing to get glimpses into where McKeown and Smith were. Masse put an end to that lul, however, with her recent 57.70 at Trials to remind us that she is not to be forgotten. As the most decorated woman in the field, Masse has proven that she knows how to get her hand on the wall when it counts and is our #2 pick behind McKeown.

Regan Smith 2019 FINA World Championship Gwangju courtesy of Rafael Domeyko

With McKeown and Masse out of the way, Smith is the obvious 3rd pick. Smith has raced more than Masse has over the past few seasons but we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve seen her at her best. Considering that she almost definitely wasn’t in full form at US Trials, we can assume that Smith hasn’t delivered a fully-tapered swim since Gwangju 2019. Smith is our #3 pick here but certainly can’t be counted out as she guns for gold at her first-ever Olympic Games.

Moving past our top 3 choices for the women’s 100 backstroke in Tokyo, we are left with many more talented women, all fighting to become the 4th woman under 58. We can predict confidently that it will take better than a 58.00 to medal in Tokyo which means that any of these women will need a PB in order to break into the top 3.

Rhyan White is one of the newest names to join this field of elite women and would likely not have been in contention had the Games occurred in 2020 as intended. Coming off a breakout NCAA season, White had a powerful performance at the US Olympic Trials and swam a 58.60 for 2nd place, joining Smith on the team. In order to do so, White had to fend off 58.30 swimmer and 2016 Olympian Olivia Smoliga, among many more talented American women. White has shown incredible improvement this season, shaving exactly 3 seconds off her 2018 PB of 1:01.60. The biggest signifier of White’s readiness to perform is that days after making the team in the 100, White defeated the heavy favorite and world record holder Regan Smith in the women’s 200 backstroke. That sheer competitive edge and ability to put her head down and race will be key for White in Tokyo. Combine that with her current momentum and we could very well see White deliver the next 57 in the women’s 100 backstroke.

DAWSON Kathleen GBR
Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kathleen Dawson holds the distinction of being the woman in this field who has come the closest to breaking 58 seconds without actually doing so. Her 58.08 from the 2021 European Championships marked a new European record and made her the 5th performer all-time behind McKeown, Smith, Masse, and Kathleen Baker who won’t be racing in Tokyo. Like White, Dawson has become much more of a threat in this event given the year-long delay. Prior to the 2021 season, Dawson held a PB of 59.68 from back in 2016. Dawson got under 59 for the first time in April 2021 with a 58.24 and has since delivered a 58.49, 58.44, 58.18, and a 58.08. Dawson showed off her capacity to keep her head in the game when at the 2021 European Swimming Championships she won gold not once, but twice.

Dawson first swam to gold by nearly a second in the event with a 58.18 to Kira Toussaint‘s 59.02 and Maria Kameneva‘s 59.13. When Sweden’s Louise Hansson reported that she hadn’t heard the start gun, however, it was announced that the final would be contested again. Dawson again delivered a European Championships-winning time and threw down a 58.49 to beat Margherita Panziera‘s 59.01 for silver and 59.22. Dawson’s proximity to the 58.00 barrier and her proven mental toughness make her a big threat in this lethal field.

PANZIERA Margherita, TOUSSAINT Kira, ZEVINA Daryna,
Tollcross International Swimming Centre
Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

2 of the final 8 women on this list were the 2 second-place finishers at the 2021 European Championships. Kira Toussaint took the first silver medal in a 59.02 but then fell to 4th in the second final with a 59.32. Margherita Panziera on the other hand was 4th originally in a 59.65 but managed to find her strength in the second run and hit a 59.01 for silver. That 59.01 for Panziera represents a season-best but she holds a PB in the event of 58.92 from back in 2019. Toussaint’s season and lifetime-best came in March 2021 when she hit a 58.65 at the Eindhoven Qualification meet. A few months will have passed since their European Championships performance once Tokyo 2020 rolls around and it will be exciting to see what the 2 silver medalists will bring this summer.

 

 

Emily Seebohm at the 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

We have saved the most legendary for last on this list of elite 100 backstrokers. Emily Seebohm has been racing this event at the Olympic Games since 2008 when she placed 9th overall with a 1:00.31. 4 years later at London 2012, Seebohm nabbed silver in the event with a 58.68 but posted her current PB of 58.23 during the prelims there which still stands as an Olympic record in the event. At her most recent Games in 2016, she fell to 7th overall with a 59.19. Seebohm hasn’t gotten back to her 2012 form but wasn’t far off when she won World Championships gold in 2015 (58.26) and bronze in 2017 (58.59).

Seebohm has been a consistent member of team Australia for well over a decade and proved at the recent Australian Olympic Trials that you can never count out the veterans. Seebohm qualified to swim in Tokyo by hitting a 58.59 behind McKeown’s 57.45. Not many swimmers are able to remain at the forefront of an event for as long as Seebohm has and her recent ability to beat out young guns such as Minna Atherton and Molly O’Callaghan reminded us that she’s not yet finished with the event. Coming into her 4th Olympic Games, Seebohm has another shot at the podium and will be relying on her unique experience and the confidence that accompanies it.

Top 8:

Place Swimmer Country
Best Time Since 2016 Olympics
1 Kaylee McKeown AUS 57.45 (2021)
2 Kylie Masse CAN 57.70 (2021)
3 Regan Smith USA 57.57 (2019)
4 Rhyan White USA 58.60 (2021)
5 Kathleen Dawson GBR 58.08 (2021)
6 Kira Toussaint NED 58.65 (2021)
7 Emily Seebohm AUS 58.53 (2017)
8 Margherita Panziera ITA 58.92 (2019)

Dark Horse: Anastasia Fesikova (RUS) – Russian swimmer Anastasia Fesikova is expected to race the women’s 100 backstroke in Tokyo, having hit a 59.51 in March at the 2021 Russian National Swimming Championships. Fesikova, like Seebohm, has been on the international backstroke scene for more than a decade. Her current PB in the 100 actually comes from the 2009 World Championships where she hit a 58.18 to take the silver medal. Fesikova hasn’t been as fast in recent years and hasn’t collected a World Championships or Olympic medal since her silver in the 200 at London 2012. Fesikova hasn’t faded completely, however, having won gold in the 100 backstroke at the 2018 European Championships. Fesikova hit a 1:00.00 during the semi-finals at the 2021 European Championships and went on to place 7th with a 1:00.33. If she can get closer to her top form once she gets to Tokyo, Fesikova will have a shot at redemption and could make a statement about longevity at her 4th Olympic Games.

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wow
3 months ago

  1. Kaylee McKeown 57.34 WR (WR may likely fall in Semi’s, she circle swam her WR of 57.43)
  2. Kathleen Dawson 57.79
  3. Regan Smith 57.87 (double taper has always done her good)

I know this isn’t going to be a popular take, but – Kylie Masse’s 57.70 was incredible, but one of the big three is bound to be slower than their season best. Masse has always shown up in the finals, but a massive PB like that is so hard to replicate. And seeing Dawson go 58.0 on the last day of an eight day meet where she was quite busy, I feel like she’s got a big one in her. I see McKeown and Dawson for sure on… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by wow
Dee
Reply to  wow
3 months ago

Six swims between 58.08-58.49 spread over 1 month is definitely suggestive of somebody on the verge of a big breakthrough, but given she has already had one this year, I’m not sure I would predict another.

Dawson is definitely the joker in the pack though, I really don’t know what to expect from her.

wow
Reply to  Dee
3 months ago

You may have more insight or opinions to provide other than myself, but I think the Stirling swimmers are going to have a really great meet (mainly Scott’s 200 Free and Dawson’s 100 Back). I think Scott’s 200 Free is going to be special.

Dee
Reply to  wow
3 months ago

I don’t know anybody swimming at Stirling so no direct insights, I have spoken to a few BS people saying the same as you though – Not sure what it’s based on, but there’s an anticipation surrounding Stirling this year.

Jeff
Reply to  wow
3 months ago

I’d say Regan is most likely to add time out of the ‘big 3’ based on how she seemed at trials and how relieved rather than happy she looked. But granted if she gets into the right mindset she could win a medal. I actually feel a lot more confident about Kylie Masse – she’s somebody who has proven herself time and time again on the big stage and won every major title since 2017 in the 100 (both worlds, commonwealths and Pan Pacs)

Caleb
Reply to  Jeff
3 months ago

I don’t think it has much to do with a mental thing; she more looks like someone who missed training time and isn’t in as good shape as she was before Feb 2020. Not likely to reclaim that in six weeks, but it’s easier to regain speed for the 100 than for the 200. Wish for her sake that backstroke came before the 200 fly.

Emg1986
Reply to  wow
3 months ago

Oh, I absolutely love the idea of Dawson going 57.79! (personally, i think it is McKeown, Masse, Dawson/Smith.)

Eric the eel > Phelps
3 months ago

McKeown > All

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Eric the eel > Phelps
3 months ago

So was Campbell heading into 2016.

Robbos
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Campbell choked, is that how you win now, hoping others choke.

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Robbos
3 months ago

Again, literally no one is hoping anything. Where did you read anyone is hoping anyone chokes?

It’s just a simple fact that the Aussies have choked in at least the last two Olympics, enough so to make you wonder what’s going on with that system. Meanwhile, Americans outperform expectations again and again, Olympics after Olympics. So don’t rule Smith out.

Robbos
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

No-one has ruled Smith out, it will be a great race between McKeown, Smith & Masse.
It’s your throwaway comments about choking & you put in again in this post.
Chalmers won the 100 free way above expectations. Horton beat Yang, way above expectations.
Australians also moved their trials to closer to the Olympics.

SHG
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Why do people keep dragging out one bad race that happened five years ago. Cate has proved herself many times since then.

Robbos
Reply to  SHG
3 months ago

See I’m looking forward to Smith v Mckeown v Masse, Titmus v Ledecky, Chalmers v Dressel, swim to their current best & seeing the best man or women win.
But superSwimmer is hoping some of the Aussies choke so that the his/her swimmers from the US wins.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  SHG
3 months ago

Toss in the women’s 50 meter freestyle at the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well.

Robbos
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
3 months ago

Very quiet of late!!!

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  SHG
3 months ago

Proved herself when? The 2017 World Championships? (Wait, she didn’t compete) The 2019 World Championships?

The point is the Aussies have had sub-par Olympics for the last two Games. Campbell was the hands-down favorite like McKeown, and she didn’t perform, and the Aussies have a recent history of underachieving at the Games. That’s the point.

Robbos
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

You really have no idea!!!!
Campbell choked in RIO & admitted it, she was injured at London & only swam in the relay & the 50 free, where she won Gold in relay & was not expected to win in the 50 as she carried an injury.

SHG
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

So individual silver and bronze medals at 2019 Worlds is under achieving. Is that what you are saying?

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  SHG
3 months ago

Yes it’s underachieving when you are the first- or second-fastest swimmer of all time and you are expecting more.

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Just like Simone Manuel, defending Olympics champion and reigning world champion, she’s underachieving by not qualifying in 100m free.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
3 months ago

but simone manuel is sooo clutch, she always comes through when it matters most! and regan smith, 200 back wr holder, who had a 3 sec buffer over her nearest competitor, goes 3.4 sec slower than her wr and doesn’t qualify even with an underperforming kathleen baker

Aigues
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Her 2019 WC is weird, she’s been stellar on relays, she humiliated (really, humiliated) Manuel anchoring against her in 4×100 and mixed 4×100… then she just swam well in individual and 4×100 medley.

I think long meets are not made for her.

kevin
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Yes but the goal posts have changed fool trials only 6 weeks out new head coach and toyko will suit aussies

Swimfan
Reply to  Eric the eel > Phelps
3 months ago

Soo was seebohm heading into rio

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Swimfan
3 months ago

Seebohm had injury. Look it up.

So you’re hoping other swimmers to get injury just so your favorite swimmer win.

That’s low

Last edited 3 months ago by Texas Tap Water
SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
3 months ago

Literally no one is saying that.

Robbos
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Well get your facts right before throwing accusations.
Campbell choked yes.
McEvoy choked, but Chalmers won anyway.
End of story.

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

So why did you mention Seebohm?

Pathetic.

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
3 months ago

I didn’t mention Seebohm.

Dee
3 months ago

I think White has gone 58.43, hasn’t she?

1. McKeown
2. Masse
3. Smith

Dawson the one I see having the requisite mix of speed and endurance to challenge the podium should one of the ‘big 3’ struggle, but that may be my bias speaking.

Last edited 3 months ago by Dee
Robbos
Reply to  Dee
3 months ago

Hard to disagree Mckeown, Gold, Masse or Smith Silver & bronze & Dawson the smokie.

commonwombat
Reply to  Robbos
3 months ago

Don’t see any of this ‘carved in stone’ but mine’s

  1. McKeown 2. Masse 3. Dawson

IF McKeown brings her A game, its hard to go past her. If she’s only very good then I can see Masse pulling it off. Dawson over Smith may be slightly provocative to some but Dawson has the forward momentum this year. SHOULD Smith get it together then it can certainly “game on” for all podium positions but we haven’t really seen that so far this year.

wow
3 months ago

Mini-Update: Rhyan White’s 58.60 from Trials was not her lifetime best or season best. She posted a 58.43 behind Smoliga (58.31) at the Atlanta Classic.

Khachaturian
Reply to  wow
3 months ago

Another dark horse. Definitely has a lot of potential for improvement and showed in the 200 back that she can perform under pressure.

Swimfan1
3 months ago

This is unrelated but would it be possible to get a deep dive analysis into athletes who did not make the US Olympic Team who were considered favorites or returning Olympian’s (Leah Smith, Melanie Margalis, Madisyn Cox Emily Escobedo, Kathleen Baker, Kelsi Dahlia, Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian.) I would love to know how they felt about their meet and what went wrong for each of them. The media mostly covered the highs, as they should, but now that these swimmers have had time to reflect I am curious what happened? Would love to hear their perspective!

KimJongSpoon
Reply to  Swimfan1
3 months ago

I just need to find out what happened to Ryan Held and then I can relax

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  KimJongSpoon
3 months ago

He didn’t swim his best when it mattered.

Simple.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan1
3 months ago

Kathleen Baker injured her ankle/foot prior to the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

https://swimswam.com/olympian-kathleen-baker-fractures-foot-twists-ankle-in-walking-accident/

Samuel Huntington
3 months ago

I would be surprised to see White beat Dawson.

Virtus
Reply to  Samuel Huntington
3 months ago

Yeah I don’t get that prediction at all from ss

LittleFin
3 months ago

Im not ready to project white finishing ahead of Dawson when Dawson is a full half-second faster (and has performed to that level multiple times and seems to be still dropping time).

AnEn
Reply to  LittleFin
3 months ago

She isn’t half a second faster though.

IM FAN
3 months ago

I really don’t know how to pin Reagan right now. On one hand looking at that 57.9 at trials in isolation one might think she is on track to be her 2019 self in Tokyo.

But on the other hand she did not convincingly win the final at trials swimming only a 58 mid, then struggled mightily in the 200 back, what many would consider her better event, to not even make the team.

So was this just a product of the immense pressure of making the US Olympic team? Has something gone wrong with here training. Is it just an unfortunate case of peaking young that does often happen with swimmers?

Or is she going to rebound… Read more »

Hswimmer
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

White can medal have you seen her improvement curve?

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Hswimmer
3 months ago

Improvement curve don’t go endlessly

Tomek
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

Good points, we will find out in about 4 weeks…

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

Smith tried to swim too much at Trials. 100 fly, 200 fly, 200 back, 100 back. People learn quickly how hard it is to swim like Michael Phelps. On top of that, it was kind of a low-energy Trials. I think she bounces back quite a bit for the Games.

mhm
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

tokyo is gonna be low energy too considering spectators cant even cheer

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

Regan Smith had one freakish meet two years ago. This is the only sport where regression seemingly isn’t even a consideration, nor totality above best time. You are what you are. Regan Smith has never gone below 57.9 in an individual race. I have no idea why those relay leadoff legs are considered. Sjostrom’s world 100m record was leading off a relay and likewise Comerford in the same race set an American record that she never threatened again. Mallory would have medaled in the individual event with that relay time.

IMO, Regan needs to take it out like Michael Andrew and establish a clear lead even if it risks complete collapse and off the podium. Often it’s remarkable how… Read more »

Caleb
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
3 months ago

that’s how she swims, you’ve seen it. She’s just not as sharp right now. She looked awesome in Jan/Feb 2020 but something seems to have thrown her off in between. Time will tell if she had the bad luck to miss her shining moment, or just lost some of a training cycle and will return as good as ever. But it’s all relative. Even now, wouldn’t be a shock to see her pull off the upset in Tokyo.

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
3 months ago

Regan Smith took it out hard.

Watch her 200 back for clearer views. She just has no strong finish as she used to have.

Last edited 3 months ago by Texas Tap Water