2021 Trials Vision: Ryan Murphy Heads Crowded 100 Back Field

Ryan Murphy 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.

For six straight Olympic Games, the 100 backstroke has been the sole dominion of the American men. The latest in that long line of stars, Ryan Murphy, is still ascending. But the power behind him, the depth on which the program has long been built, remains undimmed.

The Favorite

It’s Ryan Murphy, all day, though he hasn’t been infallible since doing the backstroke double in Rio. At the 2017 World Championships, he landed third in the 100 back behind Xu Jiayu and Matt Grevers. At 2019 Worlds, he was fourth in the 100 back, Xu winning again. Murphy also finished second in the 200 back at each of the last two Worlds, each time to Evgeny Rylov. Murphy still holds the 100 back world record, from the relay in Rio.

Murphy’s top time in the 100 back, 52.44 from 2019 Worlds, is tied for seventh-best since Sept. 2018, per USA Swimming’s database of times.

The Contenders


Shaine Casas Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Matt Grevers may be 34, but he’s still got it. He’s been as quick as 52.75 in the last 18 months after finishing third at the 2016 Trials. The only other American who’s been sub-53.3 in the last 18 months is Shaine Casas at 52.72. (David Plummer, who took bronze in Rio, is retired.)

Justin Ress, who finished third at the World University Games, has been 53.31. Wyatt Davis and Will Grant were in the top five at the World Junior Championships

On the veteran front, Jacob Pebley might be better over 200 meters but is still a contender at 100. There’s also the possibility of Ryan Lochte throwing his hat in the ring.

The Longshots

Michael Andrew will be 22 by the 2021 Trials. He’s gone 53.40. It will have been six years since his breakout 2015 World Juniors meet. It seems as though he’s more comfortable in the 50-meter events. But if ever there was a time for him to make the leap at the international level, this would be it.

Looking ahead to 2021

Grevers will be 35 by the 2021 Trials, already at the edge of the usual viable career lifespan for swimmers. Backstroke has been a theater of Trials surprises before – Plummer over Grevers in 2016 being one of the big ones. Murphy is the entrenched favorite but that second spot appears pretty open.

Rylov is coming off a five-medal haul at the 2019 World Championships, including in all three backstroke events. Xu has won the last two World Championships in the 100 back. That plus Murphy is the probable podium everyone will be chasing.

2021 Trials Vision:

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