2016 Trials Throwback: Ryan Murphy Starts Gold-Medal March; David Plummer Fulfills Dream in 100 Backstroke

David Plummer, left, and Matt Grevers at 2016 Trials Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 US Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in 2021.

The last time the United States failed to win the gold medal in an Olympic men’s backstroke race was 1992. Successive generations of Americans – Aaron Peirsol, Ryan Lochte, Lenny Krayzelburg – have redefined excellence in the stroke. Save for a one-week, tech-suit-aided interlude by Spain’s Aschwin Wildeboer, the world record has belonged to Americans unchallenged since 1988.

The heir apparent to that line of backstrokers, Ryan Murphy, was an infant when the American backstroke hegemony started with Krayzelburg’s double in Sydney. At age 20, Murphy was the youngest of the elite class of backstrokers arriving in Omaha for the 2016 Trials in the 100 backstroke. Even though the last two gold medalists in the 200 back – Tyler Clary in 2012 and Lochte in 2008 – steered clear of the 100 at the 2016 Trials, there were plenty of medals jangling ahead of Murphy.

The top seed belonged to 30-year-old David Plummer, seeking his first Olympics berth after falling 12 hundredths of a second short of London. The seemingly ageless Matt Grevers was second, toting a silver medal from Beijing and gold from London in the 100 back. Those two and Murphy were clustered within six hundredths of a second on the psych sheet, with Jacob Pebley a second back. It shaped up as an intriguing field.

The Race


Ryan Murphy at 2016 Trials Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The top four seeds advanced from prelims without consternation, Plummer setting the pace at 53.22. He again led the way in the semifinals, clocking in at 52.12, with Murphy at 52.28 and Grevers at 52.64. Out in the distance hung Peirsol’s world record (51.94) from the World Championship trials in 2009.

The 2016 Trials final was a three-man race. Only .18 separated Plummer, Grevers and Murphy at the 50-meter wall. Murphy and Plummer went stroke for stroke down the final 20 meters, opening up a sliver of space on Grevers. The final result had Murphy first to the wall in 52.26, Plummer second with his long-awaited Olympics berth in 52.28. A disappointed Grevers settled for third in 52.76, and Pebley, in a preview of his stronger 200 back later at the 2016 Trials, was fourth in 52.95. No one else broke 54.


  1. Ryan Murphy 52.26
  2. David Plummer 52.28
  3. Matt Grevers 52.76
  4. Jacob Pebley 52.95
  5. Michael Taylor 54.04
  6. John Shebat 54.20
  7. Sean Lehane 54.72
  8. Jake Taylor 54.72

On to Rio

There was no space between Murphy and Plummer after semis in Rio, the Americans earning the top two finals seeds separated by .01 seconds.

In a loaded final, Murphy was outside the top three after 50 meters, with Australia’s Mitch Larkin taking the advantage. But Murphy took control off the wall, closer to Peirsol’s world-record line than to the field. He missed the former by .03, setting for an Olympic record of 51.97, though that only delayed his chase, Murphy splitting 51.85 to start the medley relay en route to gold.

China’s Xu Jiayu took silver in 52.31, and Plummer snuck past Larkin by .03 for bronze in 52.40. Plummer would add gold for swimming in prelims of the medley relay.

Swimming World’s 2016 Olympic Trials Flashbacks

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

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