Tokyo Vision: Will Ryan Murphy Continue America’s Dominance in Men’s 100 Backstroke

Ryan Murphy - Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Tokyo Vision: Ryan Murphy Looks to Continue His, America’s Dominance in Men’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.

League Of Olympic Swim Legends: Roland Matthes Tops The 100m Backstroke Podium With Peirsol & Kealoha

Event: Men’s 100 Backstroke

World Record: Ryan Murphy (2016) – 51.85

Historical Note #1: One of the older Olympic events, the 100 backstroke has been dominated by Americans. The U.S. has won the last six titles and 15 of the 24 total. Both American swimmers have medaled in the last three Games – gold and bronze in 2016; 1-2 finishes in 2012 and 2008. Out of 18 possible medals since the 1984 Games, the Americans have earned 14. Only one of those 18 Americans has finished worse than sixth.

Historical Note #2: Ryan Murphy is chasing inclusion in a historic group of repeat winners in the 100 back: American Warren Kealoha won in 1920 and 1924; Australia’s David Theile claimed the titles in 1956 and 1960, followed by East Germany’s Roland Matthes in 1968 and 1972; Aaron Peirsol claimed titles in 2004 and 2008.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Thomas Ceccon – Italy
  • Matt Grevers – USA
  • Ryosuke Irie – Japan
  • Kliment Kolesnikov – Russia
  • Mitch Larkin – Australia
  • Ryan Murphy – USA
  • Evgeny Rylov – Russia
  • Xu Jiayu – China

The Race

The final was a mishmash of generations. On one end were a pair of 30-somethings in Matt Grevers, making his glorious return to the Olympics after missing the 2016 Games, and the home-country hope Ryosuke Irie, in his third Olympics. On the other end of the age spectrum were a pair of kids born in the 2000s, Thomas Ceccon and Kliment Kolesnikov, who’ve ridden a wave of good times into the Olympic final.

The reigning Olympic champion, Ryan Murphy, entered the final looking like anything but the favorite, despite a strong showing at the Olympic Trials. But Murphy is a lot like Aaron Peirsol, in that he is measured through the rounds. Xu Jiayu, the two-time reigning world champ, earned the top seed in the final. Evgeny Rylov, the two-time reigning world champ in the 200 back, channeled his strength over the longer distance into greater speed for the 100. Mitch Larkin progressed into the final with two workmanlike swims. Murphy, who finished fourth in the event at Worlds in 2019, entered finals with just the fifth-fastest time, managing his way through semifinals.

In the final, a detachment of four swimmers formed just off the 50-meter wall, about a body-length ahead of the field. Xu pulled ahead by a bit, he and Murphy going stroke-for-stroke. Rylov gained, with the Aussie Larkin holding his position just a sliver behind and Grevers further back, fighting his way back into contention, and hoping to put his 6-foot-8 frame to use in the final reach for the wall.

The world-record line hovering near the racers’ fingertips, it was evident early that it would take something close to a record to get the gold medal; it might take a time under 52 seconds to garner a medal of any kind. As the field hit the flags, it was going to come down to the finish and who was able to take the most speed into the wall, not just for gold but for a spot on the podium.