World Championships Day Three Preview and Predictions: Kaylee McKeown, Kylie Masse, Regan Smith Set for 100 Back Rematch

Kaylee McKeown breaks Commonwealth and Australian Record, 100m BACKSTROKE Final, 2021 Sydney Open, Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre , May 15 2021. Photo by Delly Carr / SOPAC. Pic credit is mandatory for complimentary editorial usage. I thank you in advance.
Kaylee McKeown -- Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

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World Championships Day Three Preview and Predictions: McKeown, Masse, Smith Set for 100 Back Rematch

Last year, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown established herself as the world’s premier female backstroker when she took down two-time world champion Kylie Masse and former world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100 back Olympic final and then added another gold medal in the 200 back later in the week. Those three swimmers are the headliners for the two-length backstroke final in Budapest, while the men’s version of the 100 back will likely feature breakout star Hunter Armstrong racing in his first major international final against world-record holder Ryan Murphy.

Also on day three, Katie Ledecky will take aim at the 1500-meter freestyle, while Lilly King is favored to return to the top in the women’s 100 breaststroke.

Men’s 200 Freestyle

The Olympic final of this event saw South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo open up a huge lead over the first 100 meters as he was well under world-record pace, but he faded badly on the last 50 as British swimmers Tom Dean and Duncan Scott surged to the front. Dean ended up touching out Scott for gold, 1:44.22 to 1:44.26. Expect to see more lead changes in the Budapest final, and the swimmer who best executes his race strategy will win gold. Scott is the slight favorite here because of his consistency over the past year, but there will plenty of challengers.

Three of those men are teenagers: Hwang, 19, won the short course world title in the event in December, while David Popovici, 17, barely missed a medal in the Tokyo final as he finished just four hundredths behind bronze medalist Fernando Scheffer. Added to the mix is 18-year-old South African Matt Sates, who rose to prominence last fall with repeated impressive efforts on the World Cup circuit. Meanwhile, Americans Kieran Smith and Drew Kibler own the top two times in the world so far in 2022, while the third-ranked swimmer is Lukas Martens, the favorite in the 400 freestyle.

Update 6/14: Scott announced that he was withdrawing from the World Championships because of struggles in his recovery from a recent bout of COVID-19. Scott was our initial pick for gold prior to his withdrawal.

Gold: Hwang Sunwoo, South Korea
Silver: David Popovici, Romania
Bronze: Tom Dean, Great Britain

Women’s 1500 Freestyle

Katie Ledecky took down the world record in the 1500 freestyle on her way to a world title in 2013, and she has not lost the race since. However, she withdrew from the Worlds final in the event in 2019 when she was sick, and at the Olympics, she won by only four seconds after racing in the 200 free final earlier in the evening. This time, Ledecky will be completely off in between the 1500 free prelims Sunday morning and the final Monday evening, and she should cruise to another gold. Her top time this year is 15:38.99, and she could swim in the low-15:30-range or even under 15:30 if she is on top of her game. The margin of victory might not be 19 seconds like at the 2017 World Championships, but she will likely dominate.

Four other swimmers have broken 16:00 this year, American teenager Katie Grimes, Australia’s Lani Pallister, Russia’s Anastasia Kirpichnikova (who will miss Worlds) and Italy’s Simona Quadarella. Quadarella won gold in this race in Ledecky’s absence in 2019, and she is the fourth-fastest swimmer in history. Germany’s Sarah Kohler, the Olympic bronze medalist in this race, has not posted any world-ranked times in 2022, while silver medalist Erica Sullivan did not swim at the U.S. Trials.

Gold: Katie Ledecky, USA
Silver: Katie Grimes, USA
Bronze: Simona Quadarella, Italy

Women’s 100 Backstroke

When Kylie Masse won her second consecutive world title in the 100 backstroke in 2019, no one had cracked the 58-second barrier. That accomplishment would come five days later when Regan Smith, who had only been scheduled to race the 200 back in Gwangju, obliterated the world record with a time of 57.57 leading off the U.S. women’s medley relay. That record stood until June 2021, when Kaylee McKeown swam a mark of 57.45 at Australia’s Olympic Trials, and she finished just off that mark as she claimed Olympic gold ahead of Masse and Smith.

The three Olympic medalists are the three fastest swimmers in history and the favorites to occupy the three podium spots at the World Championships. The order? We’ll find out. Smith leads the world rankings with her brilliant 57.76 from the U.S. International Team Trials, and she is followed by McKeown (58.31), American Claire Curzan (58.31) and Masse (58.41). It’s tough to imagine anyone else in this race getting to the 57-second performance likely required to win a medal.

Gold: Regan Smith, USA
Silver: Kaylee McKeown, Australia
Bronze: Kylie Masse, Canada

Men’s 100 Backstroke

Less than one year after a shocking second-place finish in the 100 back at U.S. Olympic Trials earned him a spot at the Olympics, Hunter Armstrong became a world-record holder in the 50 backstroke (23.71) at the U.S. International Team Trials. That set him up to threaten Ryan Murphy in the 100-meter event, and Armstrong got the better of the 2016 Olympic champion, 52.20 to 52.46. Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov and Olympic silver medalist Kliment Kolesnikov will be absent from Worlds along with all Russian swimmers, so the two Americans enter as the favorites. Murphy will be going for the first individual world title of his career and his first gold medal at a global-level competition since the 2016 Olympics.

Only two others slated for the Budapest World Championships have broken 53 yet this year, Japanese veteran Ryosuke Irie and Italy’s Thomas Ceccon. Ceccon missed a medal in Tokyo by just a tenth, so he is a solid bet here. It’s unclear if two-time world champion Xu Jiayu of China will be in Budapest, but he has not shown medal-winning form in a few years, and it would be a surprise if a swimmer such as Robert Glinta or Apostolos Christou made the jump into contention.

Gold: Ryan Murphy, USA
Silver: Hunter Armstrong, USA
Bronze: Thomas Ceccon, Italy

Women’s 100 Breaststroke

The Olympic final marked Lilly King’s first loss in a 100 breaststroke race in five years as American teenager Lydia Jacoby and South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker claimed the top two spots. But at this year’s World Championships, King will be the only one of the top five finishers from Tokyo to race in Budapest with Jacoby missing the U.S. team, Schoenmaker skipping Worlds and Russians Evgeniia Chikunova and Yuliya Efimova absent. So King will be favored, and she has stated her hopes of returning to 1:04 territory for the first time in three years, although approaching her world record of 1:04.13 seems unlikely.

The other swimmers to post times under 1:06 so far this year include Japan’s Reona Aoki, Germany’s Anna Elendt, South Africa’s Lara Van Niekerk, Italy’s Benedetta Pilato and King’s American teammate and training partner Annie Lazor. Any of these women could find their way to the podium in a relatively open field behind King, and Olympic finalist Sophie Hansson of Sweden and short course world champion Tang Qianting of China could also factor in.

Gold: Lilly King, USA
Silver: Reona Aoki, Japan
Bronze: Benedetta Pilato, Italy

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