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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Drama King
1 year ago

Gold – Kliment Kolesnikov 51.76l
Silver – Xu Jiayu 51.94
Bronze – Ryan Murphy 52.08

4. Evegny Rylov – 52.17
5. Hunter Armstrong 52.44
6. Mitch Larkin – 52.62
7. Robert Glinta – 52.74
8. Christou Apostolos – 52.82

Dark Horse – Thomas Ceccon

Lex Soft
1 year ago

I think it will be :

  1. Kliment Kolesnikov
  2. Evgeny Rylov
  3. Ryan Murphy
  4. Hunter Armstrong (the new Matthew Grevers ?)
  5. Xu Jiayu

A relatively slow regeneration of Japanese swimmers in backstroke; I still see the same Irie Ryosuke competing in this event, rather than find someone like Daichi Suzuki who upset the favorite David Berkoff at Seoul 1988.
The 1988 final is one of the exciting race I have seen, because of 4 guys : Berkoff, Suzuki, Igor Poliansky and Sergey Zabolotnov, doing underwater for more than 15 meters.

1 year ago

Unpopular opinion – Armstrong makes the podium and Jaiyu, Larkin, and Kolesnikov miss out.

1 year ago

Ryosuke Irie of Japan may have a hard time winning medals, but he will definitely advance to the finals.

Lex Soft
Reply to  ddd
1 year ago

The same Irie Ryosuke that I have been seeing since 2008; it indicates very slow regeneration in Japanese backstroke.

1 year ago

This is the superpower final, Russia v US v China.
Koleskinov gold
Murphy Silver
Xu Bronze

1 year ago

Tough one to call.

Am thinking it can go either way between Murphy and Rylov. Kolesnikov and Xu are more X factors. Armstrong looks the most likely gatecrasher.

Left field prediction: Don’t be surprised if Larkin misses final and may even be outperformed by Cooper. Would be surprised if either makes final.

Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

You are going to lose your Aussie citizenship soon, this is the Aussie swim team not the cricket team.
HAHA. Please note said in jest with smile on my face.

Reply to  Robbos
1 year ago

CW does seem to be pretty low on a lot of Aussie swimmers. However, I would much rather be low on them and get surprised than be high on them and get surprised.

Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Zero offence taken, Rob.

I’m an old codger who’s seen the bleak periods as well as the “years of plenty” so I have a somewhat different view on what is “usual programming” and thus expectations.

Low on a lot of AUS swimmers ? Moreso those who have proven CVs (ie over 2-3 years/2-3 World level meets) of non performance/erratic performance.

Disrobed Panic
1 year ago

Murphy at plus 275 (Gamble Responsibly, call 1-800 Gambler if you think you have a problem) is about as good of a bet as I’ve seen.

Sadly you don’t seem to be able to parlay the swimming bets.

I’ve come to the realization I’m the target demographic for swim betting and if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Eric the eel > Phelps
1 year ago


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Annika Johnson

Annika came into the sport competitively at age eight, following in the footsteps of her twin sister and older brother. The sibling rivalry was further fueled when all three began focusing on distance freestyle, forcing the family to buy two lap counters. Annika is a three-time Futures finalist in the 200 …

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