Tokyo Vision: Regan Smith Aiming to Overwhelm Field in Women’s 200 Backstroke

Regan Smith of the United States of America (USA) reacts after winning in the women’s 200m Backstroke Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.
Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Tokyo Vision: Regan Smith Aiming to Overwhelm Field in Women’s 200 Backstroke

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not shaken the world, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be unfolding right now, titles and podium finishes earned by the finest athletes from around the world. Instead, we are in a competition lull and hopeful that the Games will be held next summer, with COVID-19 neutralized.

As we reach the nine days over which the swimming competition of a delayed Olympiad would have taken place, Swimming World is taking a glimpse at what might have unfolded this summer, had the Olympics not been postponed. Following the official schedule, we offer our virtual fields of eight finalists for each event and take a brief look at how the racing might have panned out until a few strokes away from decision and a result that will not be known until July/August 2021.

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Event: Women’s 200 Backstroke
World Record: Regan Smith, USA (2019) – 2:03.35

Historical Note #1: This event has been contested at every Olympics since 1968, when American Lillian Watson won the first gold in Mexico City in 2:24.8 over Canada’s Elaine Tanner and USA’s Kaye Hall.

Historical Note #2: Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi is one of three swimmers to win the same event at the Olympics three times. She won her first gold as a tiny 14-year-old in Seoul in 1988 over two East Germans. She returned four years later in 1992 to win one of her three golds in Barcelona in 2:07.06, and won again in Atlanta in 1996 at 2:07.83. Egerszegi has the most individual Olympics gold medals of any female swimmer with five.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Minna Atherton, Australia
  • Kathleen Baker, United States
  • Kylie Masse, Canada
  • Kaylee McKeown, Australia
  • Margherita Panziera, Italy
  • Taylor Ruck, Canada
  • Rio Shirai, Japan
  • Regan Smith, United States

The Race

The United States has had a rich history as of late in the men’s and women’s 200 backstroke. The American men have won every Olympic crown since 1996, while the women have won the last two with Missy Franklin breaking the world record in 2012 and Maya DiRado upsetting Katinka Hosszu for gold in 2016. Leading into 2020, the U.S. again had the top backstroker in the world as teenager Regan Smith smashed the world record en route to gold at the 2019 World Championships.

kaylee-mckeown-

Australia’s Kaylee McKeown. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Lining up alongside her are two decorated backstrokers themselves in Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, the fastest swimmer in the world in 2020, and Canada’s Kylie Masse, the bronze medalist in 2019. Each of them are expected to push Smith, as Italy’s Margherita Panziera and USA’s Kathleen Baker are coming back from injuries that hindered their 2019s.

Smith eagerly jumped to the lead at the first 50 with fellow American Baker following. The Canadian duo of Masse and Taylor Ruck were out comfortably, biding their time to make their move on the middle 100. Australia’s Minna Atherton was also out quickly, using her 100 speed to her advantage.

At the 100 turn, it was still Smith and Baker, leaving the rest of the field to play catch up on the second 100. McKeown looked smooth and it appeared like she, Masse, Panziera and Ruck were still within striking distance of gold. McKeown, Panziera and Masse tried to make moves on the third 50, but Smith remained in command.

If Smith or Baker touches first, it would be the U.S.’s third straight Olympic gold in the event. If McKeown or Atherton touch first, it would be Australia’s first medal since Nicole Livingstone won bronze in 1992. If Masse or Ruck win, it would be Canada’s first gold medal, after three bronzes and a silver since the event was introduced in 1968. If Panziera wins, it would be Italy’s first gold medal in the event.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Maddy

    Kaylee McKeown not listed in the finalists list.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thanks Maddy… Kaylee in the race, of course… list oversight corrected.

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