Tokyo Vision: Regan Smith Headlines Field in Women’s 100 Backstroke

Regan Smith
USA's Regan Smith celebrating a world record. Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Tokyo Vision: Regan Smith Headlines Field in Women’s 100 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 100 Backstroke
World Record: Regan Smith, USA (2019) – 57.57

Historical Note #1: Swimming glamour girl Eleanor Holm won her one and only gold medal in this event in Los Angeles in 1932 with a winning time of 1:19.4. Six years later, Holm took to the silver screen and starred in the 1938 film Tarzan’s Revenge alongside Olympic decathlete Glenn Morris.

Historical Note #2: American Natalie Coughlin is the only swimmer to win back-to-back gold medals in this event, first winning in 2004 at 1:00.37, and again in 2008 at 58.96. Both times she held off a hard-charging Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe.

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
  • Regan Smith, United States
  • Kira Toussaint, Netherlands

The Race

Ahead of 2020, the women’s 100 back looked to be extremely unpredictable, particularly in the two most dominant swimming nations – the United States and Australia. The United States has the top two all-time performers in Regan Smith and Kathleen Baker. Meanwhile, Australia’s Minna Atherton broke out in the fall with a world record in short course meters in the ISL, an effort that followed up her silver medal from the 2019 Worlds. Behind her is Kaylee McKeown, who has been better at the 200 but has had recent success in the 100.


Canada’s Kylie Masse. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The 100 back is a race rooted in technique and attention to detail, no swimmer has been as consistent the last few years than Canada’s Kylie Masse. She has won the last two world titles and had the fastest time in the world in 2018. Masse is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, and if she can touch the wall first after two lengths of the pool, she would be the first Canadian to win the 100 backstroke at the Olympic Games.

What is interesting about the 100 back is that out of the eight potential finalists listed above, four have been known as primarily 200 backstrokers. The winner of this race will be charging home, and it will be about who can manage their legs the best.

Kira Toussaint, Atherton, Masse and Baker are known to have more speed on the way out and will push the pace from the start, while Smith, McKeown, Margherita Panziera and Taylor Ruck have been known to storm home on the back 50.

Smith is the favorite, thanks to her world-record time of 57.57 off the front of the United States’ 400 medley relay at last year’s World Championships. Also the world-record holder in the 200 backstroke, Smith seems to be the athlete who possesses the best mix of speed and endurance.

Who can combine those traits perfectly to win the gold medal? An American has won four of the last six gold medals while Australia has only been as high as silver on two occasions (1932, 2012). The Netherlands has two gold medals from 1928 & 1936, while Italy and Canada have never won gold in the 100 backstroke.