2021 Trials Vision: Regan Smith Leads 200 Backstroke Pack, With Baker, Bilquist & Youth Movement Looming

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Regan Smith. Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

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 200 Backstroke: Regan Smith leads the contenders.

Four years ago, Maya DiRado completed a spectacular Olympic Trials by overtaking the defending Olympic champion Missy Franklin, as they both headed to Rio. DiRado won gold and went out in spectacular fashion. Franklin, a star of the 2012 Games, didn’t have a great showing, missing the finals, but earned another gold in relay action before retiring.

Another multi-Olympian Elizabeth Beisel also retired, meaning the 2021 women’s 200 backstroke is wide open. There are plenty of qualified swimmers ready to take that elite step in the 200 backstroke, and some who already have — but not at the Olympic Trials.

The Favorite

Teen phenom Regan Smith is the clear favorite after winning the event at the 2019 FINA World Championships — and breaking the world record in the semifinals.

And all of that coming as a high-schooler.

Smith has proved she can already dominate on the biggest stages in the sport. She set world records to win both backstroke events last summer and has been a factor in other strokes as well.

They way she was going, it looked pretty clear that 2020 was going to be Regan Smith’s year.

But now it is 2021, which because of Smith’s age shouldn’t hinder her chances, though she was heading into 2020 on quite the roll. Since the start of 2019, she has the fastest five swims by a U.S. swimmer, and seven of the top nine in the 200 back.

Can any one be faster than the world-record-holder?

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Kathleen Baker; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The Contenders

Kathleen Baker earned a spot in Rio four years ago in the 100 backstroke, but has really improved her 200 back since then.

Baker is the second-fastest U.S. performer since the start of 2019 at 2:06.46, only trailing Smith.

But that doesn’t make her a lock for the second spot.

Her former Cal teammate Amy Bilquist was fourth four years ago, leading for some of the race, and put together a spectacular 2019 season, having her best NCAA performances, then winning the U.S. national title in the summer in the 100 backstroke, despite a broken hand.

Lisa Bratton finished third four years ago, and has been the third-fastest U.S. swimmer in the event since the start of 2019, as fast as 2:07.91.

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Caitlin Brooks, Amy Bilquist and Claire Curzan. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

One of the other veterans, Asia Seidt, recently announced her retirement, so she will not be continuing to 2021, but could have been a factor had the Trials happened in 2020.

But there are plenty of other young guns ready to make their move as well. Teenagers Isabelle Stadden, Phoebe Bacon, Claire Curzan and Alex Walsh have been low 2:08s and with an extra year could be even stronger. Perhaps even a younger teenager like Ryenne Ulett, who has been as fast as 2:09.70, could make an impact.

The Longshots

Lucie Nordmann and Katharine Berkoff have been strong as well, and Erin Voss was a finalist four years ago before a standout career at Stanford. Beata Nelson won the NCAA title in the event, but is still waiting for that big swim in long course.

Hali Flickinger has been a 2:08 low as well, but since she is focused on the 200 butterfly and some other events, might not swim the 200 backstroke. But if she does, she shouldn’t be counted out, which also goes for Gabby DeLoof.

And if on the off chance Olivia Smoliga swims the event, she also shouldn’t be counted out.

Looking ahead to 2021

With some young stars aiming to follow Smith, the extra year before Trials will help them more than the veterans, though someone like Bilquist could benefit from some more healing time after her injury.

But Regan Smith would be the favorite in 2020 or 2021 or until someone else proves it should be them.

Will she be joined by another young gun, or a veteran looking to make another Olympic team — or perhaps their very first?

2021 Trials Vision:

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