Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: US Seeks 7th-Straight Men’s 100 Back Gold

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2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games

Men’s 100 Backstroke

USA’s Ryan Murphy, the World Record holder and defending Olympic champion in the 100 back, has the opportunity to up America’s win streak in this event to seven consecutive Olympic golds.

Americans have won the event the past six Olympic Games:

Murphy’s record stands at 51.85 from the Rio Olympics and his fastest time since then was a 51.94 from the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

We’ve seen this world record fall pretty often at the Olympic Games: 11 times. And there are a few competitors within striking distance of it this time around.

Russia’s Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov top this season’s world rankings in this event. Rylov placed 6th at the Rio Olympics while this will be Kolesnikov’s Olympic debut.

2016 Olympic silver medalist Xu Jiayu of China holds the fastest time since the Rio Olympics, though, with a 51.86 from 2017.

Jiayu outswam bronze medalist David Plummer in 2016 by taking out the first 50 meters faster than nearly everyone in the race besides Australia’s Mitch Larkin. Jiayu and Plummer had the exact same second 50 split. 

25-year-old Jiayu won gold at the 2019 World Championships (52.43) where Rylov placed 2nd (52.67), Larkin placed 3rd (52.77), Murphy took 4th place (52.78).

Jiayu also has the advantage over other athletes who are not from Asia because he will be competing in a closer time zone to what he trains in. Beijing, China is only an hour behind Tokyo’s time zone.

Murphy has been more consistent than Kolesnikov and Rylov, lately though.

At the 2021 European Championships, Kolesnikov blasted a 52.32 in prelims to earn the top spot in the semifinals, but he finished 16th there (54.86). Rylov finished 8th (53.51) after posting 53 low’s in semi’s and prelims.

Both Murphy and Hunter Armstrong swam 52 mid / 52 low in the semifinals and finals of the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. In the semifinals, Murphy posted a season-best time of 52.22 and Armstrong dropped down to 52.48 in finals.

Romania’s Robert Glinta and Greece’s Apostolos Christou were also more consistent at the European Championships. Glinta won the event (52.88) and Apostolos maintained high 52’s for semifinals and finals to place 3rd.

Glinta made it to the final in this event at the Rio Olympics where he placed 8th.

Larkin is walking into Tokyo with the most experience. This will be the 28-year-old’s 3rd Olympic Games and he placed 4th at the Rio Olympics by .03 behind bronze medalist Plummer in this event. He outsplit everyone on the first 50 meters (25.18) but didn’t have the same finishing speed.

Larkin then won silver in the 200 back behind Murphy. He still stands a better chance of medaling in the 200 back in Tokyo, but he will be in medal contention here too.

Italian 20-year-old Thomas Ceccon is ranked 9th in the world this season with the lifetime best 52.84 he swam in December.  He has a solid chance of making the final, but he will have to fend off the likes of French 19-year-old Mewen Tomac who beat him by .02 at the 2021 European Championships with a 53.00.

Italian National Record holder Ceccon won the 100 back at the recent Sette Colli Trophy (53.84), but was a ways off his best time.

There are a few historic things on the line in Tokyo besides the Americans’ win streak.

Four men have won gold twice in this event and no one has surpassed two gold medals. Murphy stands to join the likes of Warren Paoa Kealoha, David Theile, Roland Matthes, and Peirsol if he wins his 2nd gold medal.

Only Matthes has ever made three Olympic finals in this event and 2012 bronze medalist Ryosuke Irie of Japan has a chance to make his third final. Irie placed 6th at 2019 World Champs (53.22) but has not broken 53.00 yet this season.

He swam a 53.00 in June to rank himself 17th in the world this season, although his fastest time since Rio was a 52.53 from 2018.

Top Times in 2020-2021 Season (embed)

Top Times in 2020-2021 Season

2020-2021 LCM Men 100 Back

View Top 27»

Top Performances in 2016-2021 Olympic Cycle (1 Per Person)

  1. Xu Jiayu, CHN – 51.86 (2017)
  2. Ryan Murphy, USA – 51.94 (2018)
  3. Evgeny Rylov, RUS – 52.12 (2021)
  4. Kliment Kolesnikov, RUS – 52.13 (2021)
  5. Matt Grevers, USA – 52.26 (2017)
  6. Mitch Larkin, AUS – 52.38 (2019)
  7. Hunter Armstrong, USA – 52.48 (2021)
  8. Ryosuke Irie. JPN – 52.53 (2018)
  9. Shaine Casas, USA – 52.72 (2019)
  10. Christou Apostolos, GRE – 52.77 (2021)

Top 8 Predictions

Place Swimmer Country Best Time Since 2016 Olympics
1 Ryan Murphy USA 51.94
2 Evgeny Rylov RUS 52.12
3 Xu Jiayu CHN 51.86
4 Kliment Kolesnikov RUS 52.13
5 Mitch Larkin AUS 52.38
6 Hunter Armstrong USA 52.48
7 Christou Apostolos GRE 52.77
8 Thomas Ceccon ITA 52.84

Dark Horse: Hugo González de Oliveira (ESP) – 2016 Olympian Gonzalez de Oliveira won 2nd place at the 2021 European Championships in the 100 back with a time of 52.90. 

He beat Apostolos, Tomac, Ceccon and Rylov and this was his first time under 53.00. 

Gonzalez de Oliveira placed 20th in this event at the Rio Olympics but his recent 52.90 ranks him 14th in the world this season and puts him in contention to snag a spot in the Olympic final if he lowers it further.

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1 month ago

Kolesnikov obliterates the field and gets the gold with a WR. Rylov will also be in close for a silver. On the medley relay, they’ll have Rylov do backstroke and Kolesnikov do freestyle.

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
1 month ago

In my opinion, the probability of the winning time being slower than 52.00 is larger than the probability of a WR.

Reply to  Notanyswimmer
1 month ago

either third or 8th in the final. I can see both

Bobo Gigi
1 month ago

I’ve also picked Murphy for the win.
Ndoye-Brouard can make the final for France.

Reply to  Bobo Gigi
1 month ago

Ndoye-Brouard vs. Tomac. Who do you think will be the star backstroker (100 and/or 200) for France?

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Bobo Gigi
1 month ago

The race has the potential to be tight and unpredictable. Will be exciting for sure.

1 month ago

Murph won’t let the streaks end with him.

1 month ago
  1. Last name: Xu, first name: Jiayu
  2. Larkin isn’t doing 200back
1 month ago

What’s insane is that 3 people in this field, Murphy, Xu, and Rylov (mixed relay lead off so you won’t find the time in a database) have all broken 52, and Kolesnikov has just barely missed doing so (also a mixed medley lead off)

I’m liking Kolesnikov, I think him eventually getting the WR in the 100 has been coming for awhile. Though this field is stacked. You can’t count out Murphy or Xu at all, and I think Rylov’s going to be in the shape of his life.

I just have a gut feeling the Russians will do well here though, idk why…

1 month ago

Kolesnikov then Murphy and Rylov in an order I’m not sure of. Kolesnikov just looks too good rn

1 month ago

1. Kolesnikov
2. Murphy
3. Rylov

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
1 month ago

I struggled a lot in picking medalists in this event.
Kolesnikov is a question mark. It depends on how much taper he did at trials and Euros. He will either do something really crazy at Olympics or burn himself out a bit too early.
Xu is a bigger question mark. He only did one race this year and was nowhere near his best, but he also didn’t need to as he can easily qualify for the Olympics and save his best for Tokyo. There’s too little information about Chinese which makes them pure mysteries.

Murphy and Rylov are safer picks, but it’s hard to choose between them. I ultimately picked Murphy to win simply because of the US… Read more »

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
1 month ago

Maybe we can see a tie in this event? If it’s allowed to pick a tie in pick’em I will do it here.