WATCH: YMCA Nats Champ Josh Cohen Swims 5:02 500 Backstroke at Club Meet

by Spencer Penland 21

January 15th, 2019 Club, News, Previews & Recaps

2019 HCY Stingray Splash

  • January 11th-13th, 2019
  • Perth Amboy, NJ
  • Short Course Yards

Soon-to-be Georgia Tech swimmer Josh Cohen (currently of Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA) swam a 500 backstroke during the 500 free at the HCY Stingray Splash this past weekiend. Cohen, a 3-time YMCA national champion, swam a 5:02.21, actually winning the event, despite swimming backstroke instead of freestyle. Here is a breakdown of Cohen’s splits, as well as the race video:

Distance Split Total Time
50 27.44 27.44
100 29.86 57.30
150 29.93 1:27.23
200 30.07 1:57.30
250 30.61 2:27.91
300 30.91 2:58.82
350 31.13 3:29.95
400 31.29 4:01.24
450 30.82 4:32.06
500 30.15 5:02.21


He kept his time under 1:00 100 pace for the 1st 350 yards of the race, ultimately finished the race at an overall 100 pace of 1:00.4. Cohenis a very well-rounded swimmer, but judging by his personal bests, he is primarily an IM’er and a middle-distance and distance freestyler. For context, here are his personal bests:

  • 50 free – 21.35
  • 100 free – 46.34
  • 200 free – 1:38.10
  • 500 free – 4:26.57
  • 1000 free – 9:15.15
  • 1650 free – 15:31.72
  • 100 back – 51.22
  • 200 back – 1:51.50
  • 100 breast – 57.82
  • 200 breast – 2:07.26
  • 100 fly – 51.95
  • 200 fly – 1:54.86
  • 200 IM – 1:52.37
  • 400 IM – 3:58.52

According to Josh’s father, his motivation for swimming backstroke for the 500 free came from seeing someone do it at the same meet 3 years ago, and someone else swimming the 500 fly at this meet 2 years ago. Josh wanted to do the same in his final HCY Stingray Splash meet.

Last year we reported on then-NC-State-recruit Kylee Alons swimming the 500 backstroke at a high school meet in her senior season. She swam a 5:26. Here is the link to that story.

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Any guesses on what fastest 500y back could be? Ryan Murphy might have too much sprint speed to be the best 500 backstroker. Maybe Lochte/Clary b/c of the 4IM training would be better suited for it – or Piersol or Iyre b/c they are so smooth over a 200. Go out :51 and hold 54 — that seems imminently feasible. That would be 4:27.

Josh C

I feel that if top backstrokers can go sub 1:40 in the 200 they could be under 4:30. Those two milestones are broken around the same time for freestylers so I don’t see why it would be much different for backstroke


That sounds about right. So what does that mean for a 1:35 backstroker? Probably more like low 4:22-24

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name

Under the radar pick: I think Seliskar would have a sneaky shot to be the best in that event. His underwaters seem to translate to longer races (see his 4:13 500 free) and he was 1:41.3 in the 200 back in high school. Of the top 25 guys on the 2back performances list, only Conger, Lochte, and Roberts have been 4:13 like Seliskar was.

Lochte or Clary makes sense to me. 4:27 seems too fast. I think everyone’s legs will give out before 4:27. Though if a high school swimmer is going 5:02, maybe I’m not giving the pros enough credit. I’d take the over on 4:27, but I bet someone could go under 4:40 or maybe even under 4:35.


You’d have to lay off the underwaters for sure. And just to be clear – I’m not talking about what could be done in practice or at the “January Open” in a drag suit. I’m talking suited-up peak performance.

Suited up peak performance, peak Lochte…I could buy sub-4:35. I just still can’t believe he could go 4:27. But, maybe. It’s all just a guess until one of them does it, right?


I know this is a silly academic debate, but this is fun. So you must think endurance backstroke is dramatically different than freestyle, I guess. As another comment says, there is a rough equivalence of midddle-D freestylers breaking 1:40 (200) and 4:30 (500) about the same time. But a 1:36 backstroker can only go 4:35? I don’t see it.


And article below (from SwimSwam!) says Lochte went 4:44 in practice. I gotta believe peak 2010-12 Lochte is going sub 4:30 easily.

Caeleb Dressel’s Bandana

Shame that he didn’t win the 200 back in London. If he did, his fate as the greatest 200 backstroker of all time would be sealed. I still think he is.


Watch the Carson Foster interview from this latest PSS

Caeleb Dressel’s Bandana

Lochte was a beast in 2011, probably could have gone a 4:25 or something


Wasn’t there a tweet a while back about Ryan Lochte going like a 4:42 500 back in a Swim MAC practice?


Here it is:
Lochte went a 4:44 and Clary went a 4:56


I also have it on good authority that Tom Dolan went 3:45 400y back circa 1995. That would be 4:41-42 if he extended to 500. And that’s practice.


The guy in the lane next to him should have punched him

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