U.S. International Team Trials: Ryan Murphy Rallies To Claim Title in 200 Backstroke; Posts Top Time In the World (VIDEO)

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U.S. International Team Trials: Ryan Murphy Rallies To Claim Title in 200 Backstroke; Posts Top Time In the World

Since 2016, backstroke supremacy in the United States – and frequently the world – has gone through Ryan Murphy. Aside from winning double gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, Murphy is a world-record holder, multi-time World Championships medalists and a leader for Team USA.

But when Shaine Casas earned the top seed for the final of the 200-meter backstroke at the USA Swimming International Team Trials on Wednesday morning, a sub-1:56 marker doing the job, one had to wonder: Was Murphy beatable?

That answer was delivered at the Greensboro Aquatic Center several hours later, as Murphy generated a perfectly executed race and qualified for the World Championships in a time of 1:55.02, good for No. 1 in the world. Murphy sat behind Casas through the first half of the race, but upped the tempo during the back half to comfortablt edge Casas, the former Texas A&M standout who is now training at the University of Texas. Casas posted a time of 1:55.46.

“I’m always pretty hard on myself, so I can give you a lot of things that I did poorly. So that’s a positive,” Murphy said. “There are things to learn from and most of those are technical. We’ll look at the video and hone in on my rhythm and try to be better at Worlds…I felt a little scattered and it took me time to get into the rhythm of the race. I wanted to push the third 50 and felt like I was a little soft. I knew that third 50 was going to be (important).”

Throughout his career, Murphy has been known to manage his programs in an efficient manner, doing what is necessary to maneuver through the prelims and, when required, the semifinal rounds. In Greensboro, Murphy was third during the morning heats, aware that he needed only to secure a middle lane before coming to play at night. Really, Murphy manages his races in a fashion reminiscent of another all-time great in the backstroke, Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol. Peirsol was a master strategist, exerting just enough energy to advance to the next round. Then, when the stakes were highest, the American shined.

Casas took the lead during the early stages of the race, as he split 26.84 and 56.00 at the 50- and 100-meter marks, respectively. Murphy was in second place at those stages, but had the lead by the 150-meter mark, thanks to a third-length split of 29.20, compared to the 29.72 of Casas. On the last lap, Murphy added .12 to his margin. Following Casas in third place was Jack Aikins, who touched the wall in 1:56.29.

This summer, Murphy will chase the only missing honor from his resume – an individual world title. The Cal star has collected three individual medals between the 2017 and 2019 competitions. When the World Champs roll around, the event will have a much different look than it did in Tokyo, when Evgeny Rylov captured the gold medal ahead of Murphy. Not only is the Russian ineligible to compete due to FINA’s ban of Russian athletes over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Rylov is serving a nine-month suspension for appearing at a recent Russian political rally.

Murphy weighed in on Rylov’s absence, and the impact of sports on world issues.

“The field is going to be competitive no matter what,” he said. “We’re going to race and the U.S. won’t hold anything back… I think sports can be a force for change and we’ve seen that, especially over the past few years. Coming off COVID, the Olympics was a great thing for the world to see we can have these big events. We want to use sports in a positive direction and that ‘s how I approach it.”

In Casas, the United States will have another medal contender in Budapest, and the 200 backstroke might not be the only event he races at Worlds. Casas is still slated to contest the 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley in Greensboro, and he is a strong contender in each discipline. Since moving his training grounds to another part of the Lone Star State, Casas has looked sharp, the evidence found in several performances from the TYR Pro Series.

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