Performance of the Week: U.S. International Team Trials: Hunter Armstrong Takes Down World Record in Men’s 50 Backstroke With 23.71 (VIDEO)

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Hunter Armstrong after setting the world record in the men's 50 backstroke -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. International Team Trials: Hunter Armstrong Takes Down World Record in Men’s 50 Backstroke With 23.71

Performance of the Week, Sponsored by Luma Lanes

One year ago, Hunter Armstrong came out of nowhere when he placed second in the 100 backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials to qualify for the Tokyo Games. In 2022, he was on the radar coming into the U.S. International Team Trials in the backstroke events, but then he pulled off another surprise on day one to qualify for the U.S. team in the 400 freestyle relay when he tied for fourth in the 100 free. Surely, Armstrong’s backstroke events would be good.

Well, not just good. World-record level.

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In the 50 back prelims, Armstrong became the second-fastest performer in history as he lowered Ryan Murphy’s American record with his time of 24.01. But Justin Ress was just behind in the morning at 24.05, also well under Murphy’s previous record, and both Shaine Casas and Murphy loomed.

At night, Armstrong left no doubt. Murphy had the fastest start, and he initially emerged ahead, but he could not keep pace with Armstrong’s incredible tempo. Armstrong pushed away from the field and touched in 23.71 seconds, downing the world record of 23.80 set last year by Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov.

“It means the world. Pun intended,” Armstrong said. “I have always been better with less underwaters, so I knew that if I was going to break any records, it would be the one with the least turns and least underwaters, but I definitely didn’t expect it this soon. I’m just extremely honored to represent the U.S. and be able to fight Kolesnikov for this one.”

Entering this meet, Armstrong felt a need to prove himself. Because qualifying for the Olympics had been such a surprise, he wanted to prove that he deserved his place on the highest level of his sport.

“I wanted to show that making the Olympics wasn’t the mistake. That was my biggest worry going into this meet. I had to prove to myself and to others that I deserved to be on that team, and hopefully I back that up at Worlds,” Armstrong said. “Getting that (relay) spot meant that I could just have fun with still pressure but less. I didn’t feel like I was letting anyone down if I failed in the 50 or 100 back. It was just a big weight off my chest that I didn’t have to prove myself anymore.

Armstrong got the win, the world record and the spot on the World Championships team, but he did not have much margin for error. Ress finished second in 23.92, and Casas checked in at 24.00. Both swimmers were under the American record that Armstrong had set in prelims.

Murphy ended up finishing fourth in 24.57, while Michael Andrew placed fifth in 24.80, an especially impressive result given that the 50 back was his third race in just over a half-hour after he finished second in the 100 butterfly and set an American record of his own in the 50 breaststroke.

The 50-meter stroke events are not contested in the Olympics and generally considered secondary races, but Armstrong’s stunning world record and the amazing performances by Ress and Casas have turned the 100 back into a highly-anticipated four-swimmer showdown. Murphy holds the world record in that event, and he captured bronze in the event at the Tokyo Olympics, but he is set to face a challenge in simply qualifying to swim the event at a major competition for the first time in six years.

Armstrong believes he is capable of producing a special performance in that 100 backstroke if he can combine the raw speed and quickness that he showed in the 50 back with the closing speed he produced on his way to that Olympic team berth 10 months ago.

“I’m a back-halfer, so this swim proved that I have a little bit more easy speed than I had thought, so hopefully I can take it out a little bit faster than I did at Olympic Trials and bring it back just as fast as I have trained for,” Armstrong said. “I really look up to Murph, and there’s quite a strong field of backstrokers, but that’s what makes it fun. I enjoy being part of this legacy that the United States has built. But as far as expectations, I have learned that it’s best to just go in and have fun with it, and your body will do what it’s trained to do.”

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DrewDu
7 months ago

Go Bucks!