2019 FINA World Championships Predictions: Smith, Masse Set For Showdown in 200 Backstroke

Regan Smith is a popular pick to win the 200 back at World Championships at just 17. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Rising star and 17-year-old Regan Smith is widely regarded as a future headliner for the United States. She made her Worlds debut in 2017 at age 15, placing eighth in the 200 back in Budapest. Smith returned to the US team at Pan Pacs last summer with a bronze in Tokyo. She has continued to swim fast as she has the fourth-fastest time in the world this year at 2:06.47 from May. Smith will only be swimming the 200 back in Gwangju, so she will be relatively fresh compared to her competitors. She has proven she is in good shape this year after she swam a 58.45 in June in the 100 back, flirting with the world record.

Smith ranks 16th all-time in the 200 back and she is just getting started. Her swim in Bloomington was nearly a best time and she was not remotely rested. She talked with Swimming World while on a training trip in Fort Myers and said she did not expect to have the success that she has had the last few years. Smith is now a favorite to win a medal in Gwangju and a popular pick to score an upset win over Canada’s Kylie Masse.

Masse came up big for Canada in 2018 as she had the fastest time out of the four major meets (Commonwealth Games, Europeans, Pan Pacs, Asian Games) in both the 100 and 200 back. Masse was a 2:05.94 this year at the Canadian Trials, which was faster than what she swam to win Commonwealth Games last year. She was fifth in Budapest two years ago, but still poses a real challenge to win the gold medal. The last three years, she has gone faster after Nationals, so if she continues on that path then she should improve on her best time, which currently puts her seventh all-time.

Italy’s Margherita Panziera has the top time in the world this year at 2:05.72 from April. She is fifth all-time with that swim and has made tremendous improvements over the last few years. She was 17th in Rio and 14th in Budapest before winning the gold medal at Europeans, dropping the legendary Krisztina Egerszegi’s meet record that had stood since 1991. Panziera proved that 2:06 was not a fluke when she went a tick quicker with a 2:05 in April at Italian Nationals. She has been a consistent performer at the FINA Champions Series with 2:06s in Budapest and Indianapolis. Panziera is not a household name internationally, but she could make that change in Gwangju.

Notably, Australia’s Emily Seebohm will not be swimming the 200 back at the World Championships. Seebohm won the last two world titles in this event, but did not make the team for Australia. Kaylee McKeown and Minna Atherton will take her place and look to continue the Australian tradition in this event. McKeown is ranked third in the world at 2:06.35 and was fourth in Budapest in the 200 back. She already has Worlds experience and she is now the face of Australian backstroke, so there’s some pressure on her. But McKeown has the capabilities of winning a medal in Gwangju and is better at the 200 back than the 100.

The other Aussie is Atherton. She might be stronger in the 100 back, but her season best of 2:06.82 puts her sixth in the world. She was the 2015 world junior champion in both the 100 and 200 back and is finally making her senior debut this year. This race is fairly wide open and there’s about eight women that can win a medal.

Not to be forgotten is 2018 Pan Pacs champion Kathleen Baker of the United States. She had a great year last year as she broke the 100 back world record and also went professional, signing with Speedo. She won the Pan Pacs gold medal in the 200 back at 2:06.14, which was the second fastest time out of the four major meets in 2018. But Baker has not shown the same kind of speed in 2019. Her season best is only a 2:08.08 from the March Pro Swim Series in Des Moines. The good news is that that swim was her third best in-season swim of her career in the 200 back. Having dealt with illness and a broken rib this season, Baker is the reigning bronze medalist in this event.

Canada’s Taylor Ruck is another potential upset pick as she is ranked fifth in the world at 2:06.70. She finished her freshman season at Stanford, where she finished second in this event at NCAAs. She had a major breakout year in 2018, most notably in the 200 free, but also won the silver medal in the 200 back at both Pan Pacs and Commonwealth Games. Ruck has been able to fly under the radar this year with more attention on Masse and other swimmers. If Ruck and Masse can both get on the podium in this event, it would be the first time Canada has ever had more than one medalist in the same event at the World Championships.

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the reigning silver medalist in this event, should also not be counted out. Hosszu won the silver in Budapest in front of the home crowd and also won the bronze in Kazan in 2015. She has been a 2:06.94 this year from the FINA Champions Series in Indianapolis, which puts her seventh in the world. She is one of the toughest swimmers in the world and as long as she has a lane in the final, she’ll be in the mix for a medal.

Current Records:

World Record: 2:04.06, Missy Franklin, USA – 2012
Championships Record: 2:04.76, Missy Franklin, USA – 2013
American Record: 2:04.06, Missy Franklin – 2012

2017 World Champion: Emily Seebohm, AUS – 2:05.68
2018 Virtual World Champion: Kylie Masse, CAN – 2:05.98 (Commonwealth Games)
2019 Fastest Times:

  1. 2:05.72, Margherita Panziera, ITA
  2. 2:05.94, Kylie Masse, CAN
  3. 2:06.35, Kaylee McKeown, AUS
  4. 2:06.47, Regan Smith, USA
  5. 2:06.70, Taylor Ruck, CAN
  6. 2:06.82, Minna Atherton, AUS
  7. 2:06.94, Katinka Hosszu, HUN
  8. 2:08.08, Kathleen Baker, USA

Swimming World’s team of Andy RossDan D’AddonaDavid RiederDiana Pimer and Taylor Covington will be selecting their choices for the medals at World Championships in each event. Read below who everybody picked.

Andy’s Picks:

  1. Regan Smith
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Margherita Panziera

Dan’s Picks:

  1. Regan Smith
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Margherita Panziera

David’s Picks:

  1. Regan Smith
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Margherita Panziera

Diana’s Picks:

  1. Regan Smith
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Margherita Panziera

Taylor’s Picks:

  1. Regan Smith
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Kathleen Baker

2019 FINA World Championships Predictions:

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  1. avatar
    Jenő Hámory

    As you may know Katinka Hosszu is not entering this event (200 m back) at the Wolrd Championships,trying to concentrate “with full steam” on 400 m IM on the very same day.

    • avatar

      She entered and will swim it. Otherwise 400IM is on the last day and 200 back final is one day before.
      The same day in the afternoon will be 100 back semis and 200IM final.

  2. Justin Sabourin

    I assume every person that gets to predict for this site is American. God forbid they put a Canadian first 🤦🏼‍♂️😂