Women’s 100 Meter Backstroke
- Day 4, Saturday, August 9th
- Defending National Champ: Missy Franklin, 58.67
- Defending U.S. Open Champ: Sarah Denninghoff 1:00.04
- Time to make 2013 U.S. National Team: 1:00.38 – Olivia Smoliga
Since at least 2011, this event has been all but owned by Missy Franklin. Despite a great crop of swimmers behind her, Franklin has taken national titles every season since, including a win at the Olympic Trials in 2012, Olympic gold and the 2013 long course World Championship. To say she’s the favorite here would be an understatement. The only question is her event focus. After a college season where Cal asked her to swim mainly mid-distance freestyle, there’s no guarantee her backstroke is still as suffocatingly dominant as it’s been the past three years. Still, if there’s a cardinal rule in swimming right now, it might go something like ‘Never bet against Missy Franklin in a backstroke race’.
Franklin leads in a really strong group from Cal, with the potential to sweep the top three or more spots here. In fact, former or future Cal swimmers swept the top 3 backstroke spots at the 2012 Olympic Trials (Franklin, Rachel Bootsma and Natalie Coughlin), and Golden Bears also went 1-2-3-4 at Winter Nationals, albeit in short course.
Elizabeth Pelton was the second-fastest American backstroker last year, and took second behind Franklin at nationals. Pelton also holds the fastest 100 back time in the nation so far this year, just a tenth ahead of her training partner Franklin. Then there’s Bootsma, a 2012 Olympian and the American record-holder in the 50 back. Bootsma’s clearly got the talent to win this event, but she’s still a bit of an enigma, coming off a roundly disappointing college season where she failed to even make the A final in trying to defend her NCAA title.
Much of this field is made up of talented youngsters on their way up. In all likelihood, one or more of this group will take a huge step forward this summer – the trouble is predicting who exactly will do it. Olivia Smoliga made the U.S. National team last summer in the 100 back, taking 5th at Nationals. She’ll shoot to crack the minute barrier for the first time since her breakout freshman NCAA season that culminated with a team title at Georgia and an individual title in the 50 free.
SwimMAC’s Kathleen Baker is one of the nation’s best rising high school seniors, and is the beneficiary of some great training partners – Baker gets to practice and compete alongside SwimMAC’s high-calibur group of pros, and has certainly absorbed much of their poise in high-pressure situations. Baker was a finalist last summer and even a semi-finalist at the 2012 Olympic Trials at the age of 15.
Some more young swimmers to watch: incoming Georgia freshman Kylie Stewart, future Michigan Wolverine Clara Smiddy and Stanford signees Ally Howe and Janet Hu. On the younger end of things is Carmel High School star Amy Bilquist, who had a great meet at the Santa Clara Grand Prix last month. Smiddy would probably be in our top 8, except that she’s already committed to swim at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. That means she should have her taper focused a few weeks beyond Nationals.
Michigan’s Ali DeLoof is an intriguing prospect. She’s put up the third-fastest American time this season behind Franklin and Pelton. The question (as it always seems to be with Michigan) is how well she’ll taper from there, but over the past few years, the Wolverines have showed up in postseason competition more often than not.
Speaking of crunch-time performers, Megan Romano is a returning national teamer in this event, and though the field is awfully stacked, it’s hard to count her out, considering she’s one of a select group in this event to have broken a minute.
Another national teamer is Longhorn’s Sarah Denninghoff, though she’s had a very limited competition schedule since last summer’s US Open championship. Dealing with a hip injury much of the year, she’s only swum one 100 meter backstroke in the past 11 months. It’s unclear if she’ll even enter nationals or not, but if she does, consider her an intriguing wild card to keep an eye on.
Cal also enters Melanie Klaren and Cindy Tran as part of its backstroking gauntlet. Bay Area rival Stanford counters with Felicia Lee, while fellow Pac-12 power USC has Kendyl Stewart and Arizona offers Bonnie Brandon, more of a 200 backstroker but still very dangerous here.
Lee won the B-Final in this event at last year’s World Championship Trials, which kickstarted a little bit of a career resurgence and continued into a fantastic NCAA season. If she B-Finaled last year, despite nobody really “dropping off the map” from last year’s A-final, we think she can have a better prelims swim and make the push into the top 8.
My picks (swimmer, team, lifetime best, year of lifetime best):
1. Missy Franklin (Cal Aquatics) – 58.33/2012
2. Elizabeth Pelton (Cal Aquatics) – 59.27/2013
3. Olivia Smoliga (Athens Bulldog Swim Club) – 59.82/2012
4. Kathleen Baker (SwimMAC) – 1:00.62/2013
5. Megan Romano (Athens Bulldog Swim Club) – 59.85/2013
6. Rachel Bootsma (Cal Aquatics) – 59.10/2012
7. Felicia Lee (Stanford) – 1:00.81/2013
8. Kylie Stewart (Dynamo) – 1:00.86/2012
Note: Athletes are listed under the college/club with whom, to the best of our knowledge, they’re currently training.