2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES
- When: Pool swimming: Saturday, July 24 – Sunday, August 1, 2021
- Open Water swimming: Wednesday, August 4 – Thursday, August 5, 2021
- Where: Olympic Aquatics Centre / Tokyo, Japan
- Heats: 7 PM / Semifinals & Finals: 10:30 AM (Local time)
- Full aquatics schedule
- SwimSwam Event Previews
- Start Lists & Results
MEN’S 200 BACKSTROKE
- World Record: Aaron Peirsol (USA) – 1:51.92 (2009)
- Olympic Record: Tyler Clary (USA) – 1:53.41 (2012)
- World Junior Record: Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) – 1:55.14 (2017)
- 2016 Olympic Champion: Ryan Murphy (USA) – 1:53.62
The men’s 200 backstroke has been dominated by the United States over the course of Olympic history, winning nine gold medals over 14 Games (excluding 1980), including topping the podium six consecutive times coming into 2021.
Ryan Murphy carried on the great American backstroking tradition in 2016, sweeping both the men’s 100 and 200-meter events (the U.S. men have also has also won six straight gold medals in the 100 back).
If Murphy were to repeat in the 200, he would actually become the first American to win two titles in the event, and just the second man ever after East German Roland Matthes won consecutive crowns in 1968 and 1972.
However, Murphy’s chances of going back-to-back and keeping the American run alive are in serious jeopardy.
RYLOV & MURPHY
Since winning Olympic gold in 1:53.62, Murphy has only dipped under 1:54 once, 2018, when he set his best time of 1:53.57. He’s been beaten handily by Russia’s Evgeny Rylov in each of the last two World Championships, and Rylov has undoubtedly asserted himself as the favorite.
After claiming bronze in Rio, Rylov has been on an absolute tear.
The now-24-year-old has won 200 back gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 LC World Championships, the 2018 SC World Championships, and the 2018 and 2021 LC European Championships over the last four years—essentially undefeated in the event in major international finals.
Rylov occupies five of the 17-fastest swims in the event’s history—more than any other swimmer—and has been 1:53 at least once in five of the last six years, only failing to break 1:54 in the competition-scare 2020.
The Novotroitsk native swam his fastest-ever time, 1:53.23, at the Russian Olympic Trials in April, making him almost a full second faster than Murphy, who ranks second in the world this year at 1:54.20.
It’s Rylov’s race to lose, and Murphy will need a special performance to make it close.
For Murphy, he was at his best in 2016 and 2018, and just a bit off in 2017 and 2019. Now he’s had two years to really dial things back in in preparation for a second Olympic bid, and his Trials times indicate he’ll have another ‘on’ performance in Tokyo.
Murphy had dropped three tenths from Trials to the Games in 2016, and if he follows a similar trajectory this year, he’ll be right around 1:53.9. That’s a safe bet for silver, but he’ll probably need a PB to challenge Rylov and keep the American streak intact.
China’s Xu Jiayu had back-to-back years going 1:54.0 and 1:53.9 in 2017 and 2018, but hasn’t been under 1:55 in the last three years, opening the door for some others in the scrap for bronze.
Luke Greenbank has really come into his own of late, following up a surprise bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships with a massive best of 1:54.43 earlier this year, making him the fourth-fastest man in the world and the third-fastest who will race the event at the Games.
That leads us to the event’s most notable absence, Australian Mitch Larkin, who has opted to focus on the 200 IM instead. Larkin owns four of the top-20 swims of all-time, all from 2015, and took silver behind Murphy in Rio. He has been 1:54.38 this year, which would’ve made him a medal contender if the 200 IM didn’t conflict on the schedule.
Mefford’s 1:54.79 in Omaha was a huge time drop, so predicting him to go any faster wouldn’t be prudent. But if he’s in range of that, he’s in the top-five and potentially close to the bronze.
Xu has been 1:55.26 this season (late 2020), and he’s certainly talented enough to get on the medal stand. It’s worth noting that he pulled out of the event’s semi-finals at the 2019 World Championships to focus on the 800 free relay, so his commitment to the event could be a question mark.
Japan’s Ryosuke Irie has been among the best in the world in this event for more than a decade, and while he may not be going 1:53s anymore, he’s still able to crank out 1:55s seemingly at will despite being 31.
There’s a sea of swimmers entered in the 1:56s (13), so expect it to be extremely close in the fight to advance out of the prelims and to get that last spot or two in the final.
Mityukov has been 1:56.4 or better in each of the last three years, and is coming off a bronze medal victory at the European Championships. Tomac dropped a second from his best time to qualify for the Games at the French Elite Championships in June (1:56.82), and Cejka, the 2019 European Junior champion, went sub-1:57 for the first time in the 2021 Euro prelims (1:56.66). He ended up finishing ninth in the semis, which should serve as a good motivator for the second round at the Games.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
|Place||Swimmer||Country||Best Time Since 2016 Olympics|
|2||Ryan Murphy||United States||1:53.57|
|3||Luke Greenbank||Great Britain||1:54.43|
|5||Bryce Mefford||United States||1:54.79|
Dark Horse: Kaloyan Levterov, Bulgaria – The 18-year-old Levterov dropped a huge best time by almost three seconds in November, clocking 1:56.57 for a new Bulgarian Record. Levterov’s splits in that swim were pretty interesting: 28.7/28.8/29.6/29.3. With that kind of back-end speed, he’s got a lot of potential. He’s a dark horse, however, because that is still his only swim sub-1:59.