Rhyan White, Phoebe Bacon Follow in Footsteps of Idols to Make Olympic Team in 200 Backstroke

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In a shocking turn of events on Saturday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, 21-year-old Rhyan White won the 200 back with a 2:05.73, with Phoebe Bacon in second at 2:06.46 and Regan Smith, the world record holder and the reigning World champ, in third at 2:06.79.

The time is a season best for Smith, but it was not fast enough to make the team for Tokyo. She is already on the team in the 100 back and 200 butterfly, but it was almost a foregone conclusion she would take the 200 back win here and challenge for the gold medal come five weeks at the Games in Japan. But she did not get it done, and White and Bacon will carry the mantle for the United States in the 200 back.

White picked up her second event for Tokyo after finishing second in the 100 back on night three. Earlier tonight, USA Swimming confirmed all second place finishers in the women’s events would be officially on the team so White’s participation in Tokyo was finalized.

“I try to focus on myself a lot during the race,” Rhyan White said. “I was trying to keep up with Regan for the first 100, I think we all know she likes to take it out.

“Over the course of this meet I know that I swim better if I have no expectations and focus on myself during the race and try not to look at the big, huge scoreboard above all of us. To see first and second for us is really exciting. I was a little surprised but mostly excited.”

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Rhyan White. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bacon, who won this year’s NCAA title for Wisconsin, is the fourth swimmer to come out of Nation’s Capital Swim Club to make this year’s Olympic team after Katie LedeckyAndrew Wilson and Andrew Seliskar made the team.

White is now third in the world for 2021 while Bacon is fifth among those qualified for Tokyo.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be on the Olympic team since Katie (Ledecky) went to the Olympics in 2012,” Bacon said. “That was kind of eye-opening to me, this young girl from the same area, same schools I’ve been going to, made her dreams come true. And I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Regan Smith played to her strengths on the front half, turning at 1:01.01 at the halfway point, but her lead was small – Isabelle Stadden was second at 1:01.06 while Bacon was third (1:01.26) and White (1:01.64) was fourth. Smith was off her world record pace of 1:00.37 and on the fifth 25, the world record holder looked vulnerable as Stadden, Bacon and White were not letting her get away.

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Regan Smith. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At the 2019 Worlds en route to her world record, Smith was 31-mids on her last three 50s, and at the 150, although she still had the lead at 1:33.56, split a 32.55.

White had the fastest split in the field with a 32.13 and was second at 1:33.77. Bacon was also within striking distance in third at 1:33.79, splitting a 32.53, and Stadden was not out of it in lane 1 at 1:33.92.

On the final 50, as the house DJ started playing Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” White had the momentum and inched past Smith, and soon Bacon, who was a popular second place pick behind Smith heading into the meet, was passing Smith. At the finish, such is the nature of this Olympic Trials, a medal contender for Tokyo was left off the team in third place. White, age 21, and Bacon, age 18, are on their first Olympic team.

“I knew that the whole field was going to go out probably faster than me just because I have a little bit slower of a tempo,” Bacon said. “But I knew I could hold on till that last 50, which is really where I find my strength in that race.”

Stadden finished fourth at 2:07.86 while Kathleen Baker, who sustained an injury close to the Trials, finished in fifth at 2:08.78.

Rhyan White & Phoebe Bacon’s Journey From Olympian Idolizer to Idolized Olympian

For White and Bacon, their Olympic dreams came from following the footsteps of their idols.

Bacon was in pre-K when she first met fourth grader Katie Ledecky at the Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland. Ledecky was assigned Bacon as her “older buddy,” to be a mentor to her.

“I don’t know how random those assignments are,” Ledecky said in her press conference. “I don’t know if she had started swimming at that point, she might have, and it may have been because we both swam, but it may have been because she was super energetic, would play whatever sport on the playground. I was very much like that as well so maybe they matched us up in that way.”

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Phoebe Bacon repping Nation’s Capital Swim Club. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I do remember spending a day with her,” Bacon said. “Neither of us had the knowledge of where swimming was going to take us. I was just meeting someone older than me. She went on to 2012 and it just opened my eyes up to, Maybe swimming can get me this far as well.'”

Over the years, Ledecky kept tabs on Bacon, who grew up swimming on the same club team – NCAP in the DC metro area, and attended the same high school – Stone Ridge of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda.

“Every time we pass each other in the warm down pool or at the massage table, she is always saying ‘good luck’ or ‘great job’ and I would say I’m doing the same,” Bacon said. “It’s not only because of the NCAP connection but she has known me since I was 4 so she has definitely been a big supporter.

When Ledecky won the 800 free gold medal in 2012 at age 15 (while coached by Yuri Suguiyama, who now coaches Bacon at the University of Wisconsin), Bacon’s eyes were opened up to maybe that could be her some day. Now in 2021, it is almost fitting that Bacon and Ledecky will represent the United States together, once more as teammates, at the Olympic Games.

“She’s such a gamer,” Ledecky said. “She just steps up to whatever level she needs to step up to and she certainly did that tonight. I can’t wait to be going to Tokyo with her.”

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Rhyan White. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Rhyan White remembered meeting 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin at a sectionals meet in Mt. Hood as a 15-year-old in 2015. At the time, Franklin was an established member of the United States national team, then the world record holder and reigning Olympic champ in the 200 back. White told Franklin one day she would be going to the Olympics, to which her friends still remember all these years later.

“But looking back, I would just say, she handled it well, she said, ‘OK, yeah, you should do that!'” White said.

At the time, White was ranked 30th in the nation among 18 and under swimmers in the 200 back (2:14.54) swimming for Wasatch Front Fish Market in Utah.

Flash forward six years later, and White is the Trials champ in the 200 backstroke, and is off to Tokyo in both backstroke events, following in a legacy that Franklin was a part of in 2012 when she swept the backstroke gold medals at age 17.

“I think it’s cool,” White said. “It’s people we have looked up to and now there are hopefully some kids looking up to us as well.”

The Legacy Fulfillment

Bacon and White are filling big shoes in the 200 backstroke – the U.S. has won the last two gold medals in this event – Franklin in 2012, and Maya DiRado in 2016. Before those two, Natalie Coughlin and Margaret Hoelzer won gold and bronze in the 100 back in 2008, while Hoelzer won silver in the 200 later on in Beijing.

“They are all names I have looked up to my whole swimming career,” Bacon said. “Now to be thrown into that mix of names is so special and I cannot wait to represent the country in the legacy we have.”

Rhyan White is making a legacy of her own – she hails from Herriman, Utah, a state not known historically to produce Olympic swimmers. According to KSL in Utah, White is one of two natives from the Beehive state to make the US Olympic team – the other being Ben Patch in volleyball.

I would say it’s really special,” White said of representing Utah. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me from home that they’re somewhat friends or old friends or old family friends that I had no idea they were watching. It kind of gives me a little honor, I would say, to represent the state.”

Both of them will get the chance to represent their country at the highest stage after successful junior careers. Bacon won the 100 back at the 2018 Junior Pan Pacs, and followed that up with a gold in the same event at the 2019 Pan American Games. White was one of a small number of representatives to swim at the 2018 Youth Olympics, where she won bronze in the 100 backstroke.

Results:

  1. Rhyan White, 2:05.73
  2. Phoebe Bacon, 2:06.46
  3. Regan Smith, 2:06.79
  4. Isabelle Stadden, 2:07.86
  5. Kathleen Baker, 2:08.78
  6. Lisa Bratton, 2:09.03
  7. Jo Jo Ramey, 2:09.90
  8. Katharine Berkoff, 2:10.20

2021 World Rankings:

  1. 2:04.28, Kaylee McKeown, AUS
  2. 2:05.56, Margherita Panziera, ITA
  3. 2:05.73, Rhyan White, USA
  4. 2:06.38, Emily Seebohm, AUS
  5. 2:06.46, Phoebe Bacon, USA
  6. 2:07.60, Kylie Masse, CAN
  7. 2:07.74, Cassie Wild, GBR
  8. 2:07.87, Katalin Burian, HUN
  9. 2:08.14, Kathleen Dawson, GBR
  10. 2:08.19, Lena Grabowski, AUT

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