World Championships, Day Eight Finals: This Time, Hunter Armstrong Gets to Keep Gold in 50 Backstroke


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World Championships, Day Eight Finals: This Time, Hunter Armstrong Gets to Keep Gold in 50 Backstroke

At last year’s edition of the World Championships, controversy reigned in the men’s 50-meter backstroke. After believing he won the gold medal, American Justin Ress was disqualified for being fully submerged at the finish. That decision vaulted teammate Hunter Armstrong to the title – at least temporarily.

Eventually, and after the medals ceremony, officials overturned Ress’ disqualification and reinstated his gold, with Armstrong in the silver-medal position. It was a chaotic turn of events that tested patience and pushed Ress through a range of emotions. The controversy also led to a rule change allowing athletes to be fully submerged at the touch.

Well, Ress and Armstrong again dueled in the 50 backstroke at the World Championships, but Sunday’s matchup in Fukuoka was much less tumultuous. However, it did produce similar results, as the American duo again swept the gold and silver medals. This time around, Armstrong got to the wall first, thanks to a time of 24.05, and he gets to keep the title he had for a handful of minutes last summer. Ress earned the silver medal in 24.24.

“It’s a little weird because I kind of got half of one last year,” Armstrong said. “A lot of the emotions are last year, but this is still my first world title, and I cherish it. The fact that I was able to do it with Justin again is incredibly special…Justin and I always go 1-2. Whoever wins, depends on the day. Especially in a 50 backstroke where every detail matters, it’s rarely a reflection of talent. It is who can put together the best race that day, and fortunately, I was able to get my hand on the wall first this night. I have a feeling that Justin and I will be doing this for many years down the road.”

China’s Xu Jiayu got off to a quick start and was in front halfway down the one-lap sprint, but the Americans asserted themselves and were battling heading into the wall. Xu stayed strong enough post a time of 24.50, which was good for the bronze medal. Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk was fourth in 24.57, .01 ahead of Italy’s Thomas Ceccon.

Armstrong’s medal was his second of the meet, following a bronze in the 100 backstroke. In the longer event, Armstrong flirted with elimination in both the preliminaries and semifinals, only to produce his best outing when it mattered most. Ress, meanwhile, earned a silver medal on the opening day of the meet for his efforts in the prelims of the 400 freestyle relay.

“It’s cool to be on there with an American teammate,” Ress said. “Saying you go 1-2 as a country at an event like this is always great. Of course, you’re always upset and you always want to win. That’s always the goal, and as a competitor, that’s how it goes. You can’t win every race, so just keep your head up and have fun.”

The final of the 50 backstroke was held just days after Russian Kliment Kolesnikov blasted a mark of 23.55 at the Swim Cup of Russia. That meet is serving as a racing opportunity for Russian and Belarusian athletes who are banned from the World Champs due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, and Belarus’ support.

For now, the world record officially remains the 23.71 of Armstrong from last year’s International Team Trials, but Kolesnikov’s performance awaits ratification as long as the meet followed proper procedures, including the measurement of the pool and doping control.


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