U.S. International Team Trials: Katharine Berkoff Blasts American Record in 50 Backstroke; Regan Smith Also Under Old Mark (VIDEO)


U.S. International Team Trials: Katharine Berkoff Blasts American Record in 50 Backstroke; Regan Smith Also Under Old Mark

Just a month ago, Katharine Berkoff flourished at the NCAA Championships, the highlight an American record in the 100-yard backstroke. The North Carolina State standout can now add a long-course American record to her portfolio, as she established a new standard in the 50-meter backstroke at the USA Swimming International Team Trials on Thursday night.

Blazing to a time of 27.12, Berkoff shattered the American mark in the event, which formerly belonged to Olivia Smoliga. Berkoff was just .14 off the world record, and she needed every bit of the speed she flashed with Regan Smith and Smoliga providing pressure throughout the sprint. Smith also dipped under the former national record, going 27.25, while Smoliga equaled her old record at 27.33. Meanwhile, Rhyan White posted an impressive swim of 27.45 en route to fourth place.

Berkoff has been one of the United States’ top backstrokers for the past few years, but with the nation’s depth in the event, she has not always received her proper due. More, Berkoff’s primary excellence has arrived in the small pool, as opposed to the 50-meter rectangle that determines legacies. Berkoff can now point to her performance from Greensboro as proof that she is equally adept in both of the sport’s formats.

“I think one thing I’ve been trying to focus on is keeping my head still, which is something that has been a problem,” Berkoff said. “My underwaters have definitely improved, and my stroke in general. Just trying to keep my form good in practice when I’m fading.”

Berkoff looked powerful and smooth throughout her historic lap and was able to pull away from Smith at about the 35-meter mark. At the wall, there was no doubt about the outcome as Berkoff owned a clear advantage. She’ll next take her sprint talent to the World Championships in Budapest in June, where Berkoff figures to be among the top contenders for gold.

Berkoff, as has been previously noted, is a second-generation member of Team USA, with her father, David, a 1988 and 1992 Olympian for the United States – also in the backstroke. The elder Berkoff was the silver medalist in the 100 backstroke at the 1988 Games in Seoul, and then returned four years later to pick up a bronze medal in the event. He was also a two-time Olympic champion as a member of the United States’ 400 medley relay.

The younger Berkoff will try to double when the 100 backstroke gets underway on Friday, the top-four finishers from the 50 back all capable of prevailing. More, red-hot Claire Curzan is expected to join the fray and look to pick up a fourth event for her World Champs schedule. Given the speed that was shown in the 50 backstroke and the 200 backstroke a day earlier, it may take a sub-58 effort to win the 100 backstroke.

“I felt really good about my race. I really love the 50,” Berkoff said. “It’s definitely a big relief. I put a lot of pressure on muyself, especially in long course to get success.”

For Smith, who qualified for the World Champs in the 200 butterfly on the opening night of the meet, her swim was a second straight impressive outing in the backstroke. On Wednesday, she was third in the 200 backstroke with a 2:05 clocking. This time around, she was faster than the existing American record. The 100 backstroke might be her sweet spot for the week, as she is clearly carrying plenty of speed and endurance.


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