2019 FINA World Championships Predictions: Masse Leading Assault on 57-Second Clocking in 100 Back

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Kylie Masse is looking to get her world record back in the 100 backstroke; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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The women’s 100 back is one of the most stacked races for this summer’s World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. Five of the 10 fastest performers ever will be swimming this event in Korea. World record holder Kathleen Baker of the United States will be facing off with former world record holder and reigning world champion Kylie Masse of Canada.

Masse has the fastest time in the world in the 100 backstroke for 2019 with a 58.16 from April, which was not far off of Baker’s world record of 58.00. She will have a chance to be joined on the podium by fellow Canadian Taylor Ruck, who just finished her freshman season at Stanford. Ruck was a 58.55 swimming next to Masse in April. Canada has never won two medals in the same event at the World Championships so Masse and Ruck have a chance to make history.

But it will not be easy for the Canadians. Americans Baker and Olivia Smoliga will be representing the Stars and Stripes this summer as Smoliga lowered her lifetime best to a 58.73 in April at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Richmond. Smoliga is now 12th all-time with her swim. It is a bit surprising that Smoliga has yet to win an individual medal in a major international meet in long course. She was sixth in Rio and fourth in Budapest. But Smoliga had a breakout meet at the 2018 World Short Course Championships in December, winning eight gold medals, including one in the 100 back. Smoliga seems to be hitting on all cylinders this year, and she will be looking to culminate this year with an individual medal.

Baker, on the other hand, is trying to replicate the success she had last year. She is in her first year of swimming as a professional after signing with Speedo shortly after US Nationals last summer. Baker broke the 100 back world record in Irvine at Nationals but settled for bronze in the event at Pan Pacs behind Masse and Australia’s Emily Seebohm. She was the silver medalist in Rio and the silver medalist in Budapest. Now that she has a world record to her name, she’s chasing gold. Baker had qualified to swim the 200 IM in Gwangju but has since dropped that race from her program, presumably to focus on the 100 back. The semifinal for this event was on the same day for the 200 IM final and Baker did not want to take any chances. Additionally, she has been recovering from a rib fracture that was suffered during a coughing attack while sick.

This year’s women’s 100 back final will be a significant one since it will be the first time since 2005 that Seebohm will not be in the final. The 27-year-old Aussie did not qualify for the Worlds team in either the 100 or 200 backstroke last month, opening the door for Minna Atherton and Kaylee McKeown to take her place. Atherton was the 2015 world junior champion in the 100 and 200 back but has yet to make her debut on the senior team. For many years, the Australian backstrokers were fighting for one spot behind Seebohm. But Atherton and McKeown took down the champion, and both will be swimming the 100 and 200 back in Gwangju.

McKeown will turn 18 just a few days before the Worlds begin, but she has had plenty of international experience. She was fourth in the 200 back in Budapest in 2017 and was fifth in both backstrokes at Pan Pacs last summer. McKeown is better at the 200 back, but is still competitive in the shorter distance.

Italy’s Margherita Panziera had a major breakout summer in 2018, winning the gold in the 200 back at Europeans. Panziera has continued that momentum into 2019, where she currently sits fifth in the world in the 100 back. Panziera has never made it into the semifinals in the 100 back at the Worlds, placing 20th in 2017 and 37th in 2015. If Panziera can get into the final and be competitive, then she will be dangerous later in the week in the 200 back. If Hungarian Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu does not scratch the event as part of her demanding schedule, she is an obvious medal contender.

Current Records:

World Record: 58.00, Kathleen Baker, USA – 2018
Championships Record: 58.10, Kylie Masse, CAN – 2017
American Record: 58.00, Kathleen Baker, USA – 2018

2017 World Champion: Kylie Masse, CAN – 58.10
2018 Virtual World Champion: Kylie Masse, CAN – 58.61 (Pan Pacs)
2019 Fastest Times:

  1. 58.16, Kylie Masse, CAN
  2. 58.55, Taylor Ruck, CAN
  3. 58.73, Olivia Smoliga, USA
  4. 58.92, Margherita Panziera, ITA
  5. 59.05, Kathleen Baker, USA
  6. 59.20, Minna Atherton, AUS
  7. 59.28, Kaylee McKeown, AUS
  8. 59.46, Daria Vaskina, RUS

*Regan Smith was a 58.45 in June but will not be swimming the 100 back at the World Championships.

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. Kylie Masse
  2. Olivia Smoliga
  3. Margherita Panziera

Dan’s Picks:

  1. Olivia Smoliga
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Kathleen Baker

David’s Picks:

  1. Kylie Masse
  2. Kathleen Baker
  3. Olivia Smoliga

Diana’s Picks:

  1. Olivia Smoliga
  2. Kylie Masse
  3. Kathleen Baker

Taylor’s Picks:

  1. Kylie Masse
  2. Kathleen Baker
  3. Olivia Smoliga

2019 FINA World Championships Predictions:

Day 1:

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