Sizzling Times From Olivia Smoliga & Rhyan White in 100 Backstroke in Atlanta; Ryan Murphy in Control

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Sizzling Times From Olivia Smoliga & Rhyan White in 100 Backstroke in Atlanta; Ryan Murphy in Control

For Olivia Smoliga and Rhyan White, the 100-meter backstroke at the Atlanta Classic on Saturday night was a chance to reaffirm their contender status in what will be a stacked field at the United States Olympic Trials. For Ryan Murphy, the event was an opportunity to remind the world that he is the reigning Olympic champ and has every intent on retaining that crown this summer in Tokyo.

When the U.S. Trials open next month in Omaha, it will be difficult to find a stronger event that the women’s 100 backstroke. The discipline will feature Regan Smith, the world-record holder, former world-record holder Kathleen Baker and rising stars Phoebe Bacon and Katharine Berkoff – with others in the mix, too.

In Atlanta, Smoliga and White showed how they will be factors, too, as they finished first and second with respective times of 58.31 and 58.43. Those performances follow the 57.63 shot that was fired by Australian Kaylee McKeown at the Sydney Open. White had the lead at the turn with a 50-meter split of 28.21, Smoliga checking in at 28.47. Smoliga, though, rallied down the last lap to win. The fact that Smoliga was strong down the stretch was not a surprise, as she went a personal best of 1:57.04 in the 200 freestyle on Friday.

In the case of Murphy, the veteran followed in the path of Aaron Peirsol by cruising in prelims before getting serious in the final. Murphy recorded a winning mark of 52.95 to beat Daniel Carr, another Cal product who touched in 53.65. By going sub-53 a month out from Trials, Murphy showed he is on track for a big summer, one that may feature duels with Russia’s Evgeny Rylov in Tokyo.

While Murphy has won a handful of international medals since the 2016 Olympics in Rio, he has all along set his focus on the Tokyo Games and the importance of repeating as Olympic champ in both backstroke events. Based on this latest result, Murphy is positioning himself admirably for that pursuit.