Minna Atherton’s WR puts women’s backstroke into the fast lane for London ISL match

Minna Atherton AUS, 100m Backstroke Final, 18th FINA World Swimming Championships 2019, 23 July 2019, Gwangju South Korea. Pic by Delly Carr/Swimming Australia. Pic credit requested and mandatory for free editorial usage. THANK YOU.

There will be no rest for Australia’s latest world record holder Minna Atherton when she lines up against a backstroking “who’s who” in this weekend’s all-important ISL round in London.

While the match between unbeaten European group leaders the London Roar, Energy Standard, Iron and Aqua Centurions will determine the top two teams for the Christmas week finale in Las Vegas it is the rise of Atherton that has captured the imagination since Budapest.

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Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia D’Alberto/LaPresse

All eyes will be on the 19-year-old Queenslander from the London Roar who set an astonishing short course world mark of 54.89 in the 100m backstroke in Budapest – lowering Hungary’s Iron Lady Katinka Hosszu’s colours.

And it will certainly swing some of the attention away from the other major events – hometown hero Adam Peaty (Roar) in the men’s breaststroke and the Campbell sisters Cate and Bronte and Emma McKeon (Roar), Sarah Sjostrom (Energy Standard) and Dutch pair Ranomi Kromowidjodjo (Iron) and Femke Heemskerk (Energy Standard) in the women’s freestyle and butterfly.

The three women’s backstroke events will potentially feature six of the top ten short course backstrokers of all time – including Minna’s fellow Australian but ISL archrival Emily Seebohm who will line up in the Energy Standard team and Roar team mate Holly Barratt.

400 IM Katinka Hosszu of Hungary celebrates after winning in the women's 400m Individual Medley (IM) Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.

Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Throw in Hosszu (Iron), the Netherlands Kira Toussaint (Iron) and Denmark’s Mie Nielsen (Iron) and all three world records over 50, 100 and 200m could well be under siege.

Roar will be without several members of their Australian contingent – in particular team captain Kyle Chalmers as well as breaststrokers Matt Wilson and Jess Hansen and Gold Coast freestylers Elijah Winnington and Cam McEvoy.

But enter British pair, Commonwealth Games gold medallists – the versatile duo of Dunc Scott and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor.

Chalmers, who scored a combined 72 in the first two matches, including a win in the all-important skins event in Budapest, has been one of the Roar’s top performers so far.

However, Chalmers’ absence in London will open the door for Scott to jump in and make an impact.

“The guy (Kyle) is a machine so I think that is a tough ask,” joked Scott.

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Duncan Scott; Photo Courtesy: Speedo

But, the man who upset Chalmers to win the 100m freestyle gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, is open to swim whatever he’s asked, including the Skins – the three-round 50 freestyle eliminator that can score up to triple points – and is sure to feature the big two Russian Vladimir Morozov (Iron) and flying Frenchman Florent Manaudou (Energy Standard).

“The skins events have been a great spectacle,” he said. “I’m not bothered by what I’m racing, whatever role I have I’ll take it and be grateful to be a part of the team.”

Outside of freestyle, where he was the 200m freestyle World Championship bronze medallist, Scott can swim a wide range of events, including individual medley and butterfly.

In terms of who Scott is looking forward to facing off with in London, it’s the athletes he’s usually competing alongside with who get him the most excited.

“It’ll be a good opportunity to race some of the British guys that are in other ISL teams that I’m usually teammates with.”

O’Connor, the dual Olympian and silver medallist to Hosszu is one of the world’s finest IMers and is also a class breaststroker.

Roar boss Rob Woodhouse says this weekend’s round “should be an interesting one to decide the ISL European champion.”

“Our main priority is to ensure qualification for the final in Vegas so we will focus on that,” said Woodhouse.

“But we will definitely be looking to win the match against what will be some pretty tough competition.  The addition of Duncan Scott and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor coming into the team this weekend will help us, though we are a little weaker on the men’s side with a number of big names missing including Kyle Chalmers.”

Woodhouse said the ISL so far has been great.

“The swimmers absolutely love the team concept and the production of the event is unprecedented for the sport which makes it such a great spectacle,” said the two-time Olympian ands respected international sports manager and commentator.

“The fans are loving it also.  The potential is there to establish the ISL as a commercially successful league, but there’s still a lot of hard work to be done to get to this.”

And the future in Australia?

“I think it’s unlikely there will be an Australian team in the ISL, I have heard some discussion about potentially hosting a match Down Under,” said Woodhouse.

“From a London Roar perspective we’d love to host a match in Australia given the strong Aussie contingent on the team.”

And word from inside the ISL is that organisers are potentially looking at an Australian venue for the 2020 ISL Grand Final.