Who Will Win The Backstroke Races At World Championships?

backstroke start
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Each week leading up to the start of the swimming competition at the FINA world championships, Swimming World will offer medal predictions for the 42 events set to be contested in Kazan, Russia. 
Coverage of the World Championships is sponsored by Wylas Timing

By Jeff Commings, Swimming World senior writer

On paper, it looks like none of the reigning world champions in the six backstroke events to be swum in Kazan will hold on to their titles. But races aren’t swum on paper, and things could change drastically once the competition begins.

Women’s backstroke at world championships

Missy Franklin is the only serious women’s medal contender to not have raced long course so far this year. We know Franklin will be fast in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, but will she have enough to overcome the massive improvements by Australia’s Emily Seebohm?

Franklin and Seebohm have been battling in the pool since the 2012 Olympics, where Franklin denied Seebohm gold in the 100 backstroke. Seebohm has returned to the 200 back, and could give Franklin all she can handle in that event as well. While Franklin hasn’t raced much backstroke since relocating to Berkeley, she should not be counted out when the heat is on. If Seebohm heals well after dislocating her kneecap, she will have a very successful meet.

Another serious contender in the 200 backstroke is Katinka Hosszu, who took down Franklin’s short course world record last fall with a 1:59.23. Hosszu and Seebohm are the only swimmers to go under 2:07 so far this year, and they will be battling for silver behind Franklin, who I predict will break 2:05 for the third time in her career. Hosszu will have the issue of competing much more than Seebohm by the time the 200 back final rolls around, but the Iron Lady might find the energy to push past the pain for silver.

Women’s 200 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Missy Franklin
Silver: Katinka Hosszu
Bronze: Emily Seebohm

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

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The 100 back tips in Seebohm’s favor. She’s always preferred the 100 back, and will be hungry to overtake Franklin. Seebohm finally beat Franklin in the 100 back last year at the Pan Pacific championships, but Franklin was severely hampered by back pain throughout the meet. When Franklin is on her game, no one can match her final 50 meters. If Franklin is within five tenths of a second of Seebohm at the turn, the race belongs to Franklin. Battling for bronze will be a wealth of heavy hitters, but the medal should go to Denmark’s Mie Neilsen, who has been ready for a breakthrough for about three years. Now 18 years old, she will need to break 59 seconds to snag the bronze medal, and she is right on the cusp of doing that.

Women’s 100 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Emily Seebohm
Silver: Missy Franklin
Bronze: Mie Nielsen

Emily Seebohm, Pan Pacs 2014

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

The 50 backstroke is not an Olympic event, but with a gold medal on the line for their countries, many swimmers will be putting a high premium on not only getting into the final but getting on the medal podium. Brazil best chance for a medal in the women’s meet comes in the 50 backstroke, where reigning short course champion and world record holder Etiene Medeiros will be the one to beat. Though the long course 50 backstroke only gives her one opportunity to showcase her underwater kicking skills, she is likely to emerge victorious. Fu Yuanhui, who was second in the 2013 world championships, will have to contend with Seebohm, Neilsen and teammate Xiang Liu. Rachel Bootsma will be the lone American in the event, and could be in the medal hunt if she makes the final.

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Women’s 50 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Etiene Medeiros
Silver:Emily Seebohm
Bronze: Fu Yuanhui

Etiene Medeiros Doha 2014

Photo Courtesy: FINA Doha 2014

Men’s backstroke at world championships

With reigning 200 backstroke world champion Ryan Lochte not swimming the event in Kazan, the door is open for Japan’s Ryosuke Irie to break an impressive eight-meet streak by the United States. Though he’s been on the international scene since 2009, Irie has not won gold at the Olympics or world championships. The issue is his consistency, as he posts fast times early in the season but cannot replicate those swims or go faster in the championship meet.

Irie is remedying that problem, and could be the one to beat in the 200 back. But American Ryan Murphy has been having a stellar year, winning both backstroke titles at the NCAA championships. The 200 back is Murphy’s only event in Russia, and he will be much fresher than his competitors. That could be a big factor when the race comes down to the final 25 meters. Irie is a great finisher, but Murphy knows how to finish a race as well.

Radoslaw Kawecki won silver behind Lochte in 2013, and has already shown some promise for fast swimming with a 1:56.38 last week that was likely not at peak form. He and Tyler Clary will be fighting for the bronze medal.

Men’s 200 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Ryosuke Irie
Silver: Ryan Murphy
Bronze: Radoslaw Kawecki

Ryosuke Irie

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

Irie managed to beat Matt Grevers in the 100 back last year at the Pan Pacific championships, but I don’t see that happening in Kazan. Irie is sure to get on the medal stand, but might not have the speed to stay within striking distance of gold. With that in mind, Grevers is not a sure thing. Along with Irie, several athletes have the ability to break 53 seconds and contend for gold.

Chris Walker-Hebborn continues to improve almost a year after winning gold in the 100 back at the Commonwealth Games last year. He broke 53 seconds for the first time in his career last April, and will need to be faster than his 52.88 if he wants Great Britain to return to the medal podium in the 100 backstroke. Irie is likely to be under 53 seconds, and Mitch Larkin of Australia could have a breakthrough swim as well. David Plummer captured silver in the event in 2013 to give the Americans a 1-2 finish in Barcelona, but Plummer will have to surpass his lifetime best of 52.98 if he wants to return to the podium. France’s Jeremy Stravius might be an underdog.

Men’s 100 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Matt Grevers
Silver: Chris Walker-Hebborn
Bronze: Ryosuke Irie

matt-grevers-mesa-2015-2

Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

While the French duo of Stravius and Camille Lacourt don’t appear to have the ability to win medals in the 100 back or repeat their tie for gold in 2011, they could go 1-2 in the 50 backstroke. They are ranked first and second in the world now, but the race is so unpredictable that nothing matters until the race begins. Grevers and Plummer will factor in the race, and Plummer has more motivation after slipping on the start in the semifinals in 2013 and missing out on a likely spot in the final.

Men’s 50 backstroke medal prediction

Gold: Jeremy Stravius
Silver: David Plummer
Bronze: Camille Lacourt

Photo Courtesy: Pamela Roberts

Photo Courtesy: Pamela Roberts

Agree or disagree with our medal predictions? 

13 comments

  1. avatar
    barkergk

    I think  Fanklin will take both events.
    1. She has greatly improved her turns and especially her starts while at Berkeley. 
    2. She is no longer limited to practicing a maximum 20 hours per week by NCAA rules.
    3. She is back training at altitude in familiar surroundings.
    4. She is no longer dividing her energy as a student in a demanding institution.
    5. Her track record at World’s and the Olympics speak for themselves. 
    6. Don’t ever bet against a superstar. 

    • avatar
      Jeff Commings

      It wasn’t easy for me to pick Emily Seebohm over Missy Franklin in the 100 backstroke, especially given Seebohm’s recent injury. But Seebohm has been doing so well in the past 12 months that I sense it could carry over to worlds.

      • avatar
        John

        Madison Wilson 58.94 could win!

    • avatar
      liquidassets

      I think Franklin is more vulnerable in the 100, and I actually would have picked Seebohm over her myself if it hadn’t been for the knee injury; knees are so tricky especially in backstroke. The only other pick I don’t agree with is I believe Clary will step it up and medal in the 2.

      Maddy Wilson is a not-so-wild horse who could easily medal if she can withstand the pressure of her first major international competition after such a rapid rise to the top.

      • avatar
        commonwombat

        Wilson WAS actually given international exposure last year at CommGames where she finalled in all 3 backstroke events and also at World S/C where she finalled in 100 & 200. This is certainly her first LC “Championship” but these 2014 outings plus her progress since DO give some degree of confidence that she won’t “fall in a heap”. I rate her some medal chance but probably behind Neilsen.

        IF Seebohm’s knee is “all clear” then I probably have her as a narrow favourite over 100. Franklin is a prohibitive favourite over 200 and it will be a major surprise to see anyone within 2 seconds. My money is on Hosszu for silver; as yet Seebohm remains unproven in international waters over this distance.

  2. avatar
    Danjohnrob

    FYI: Hagino is not entered in the 200 back in Kazan, he is “only” swimming the 200/400 free and 200/400 IM races.

  3. avatar
    aswimfan

    IMHO,

    Seebohm ‘s peak was in 2011, unfortunately she was so sick on Shanghai she could barely swim.

    Missy can win 200 with her eyes closed.

    • avatar
      commonwombat

      Puzzled by your contention that Seebohm’s peak was 2011 given that she didn’t break 59 until 2012 ? DO 100% agree that, barring major mishaps, Franklin could touch the wall after the 200 & dial for pizza delivery before anyone else arrives.

  4. avatar
    No Clary on Podium?!

    VERY interesting and love the support for Ryan Murphy, but the kid can never show up for long course. His underwaters are arguably the best in the world, but he will only have half the walls in this race than at NCAA’s, and he still can’t beat Clary’s times from then. Clary also shows up when it matters and has NEVER lost it at the end of the race. Yea, he’s got a tough schedule, but he had it worse at Pan Pac’s last year and even though the 4IM and 2Fly came before the back, he still beat the incredible Japanese. That’s where he’s strongest, and should never be ruled out. I hope he see’s this because nothing pushes Clary more than people forgetting his name 😛

    • avatar
      Jeff Commings

      I didn’t forget his name. He will be in medal contention, as I mentioned in the 200 back analysis. I think it will not be the schedule that keeps him off the podium, since the 200 back is his second event of the meet. It’s going to be a very tight field in the 200 back, and Clary will be tough. That’s how he won the 200 back at the Olympics and last year at Pan Pacs, and he’s going to show that same toughness in August. Ryan Murphy has made big improvements this past year, and he is due for the big breakthrough that Tyler had in London.