World Championships Preview — Women’s Backstroke: Kaylee McKeown, Regan Smith Set for All-Star Matchups (Predictions)

Kaylee McKeown -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships Preview — Women’s Backstroke: Kaylee McKeown, Regan Smith Set for All-Star Matchups (Predictions)

When Regan Smith broke Missy Franklin’s world record in the 200 backstroke with a dominant performance at the 2019 World Championships, the silver medal in that race went to Kaylee McKeown, although she was more than two-and-a-half seconds behind. Since then, however, McKeown has become the world’s premier swimmer in the event, capturing Olympic gold in 2021 and a world title in 2022 before breaking Smith’s world record earlier this year.

Ironically, during McKeown’s stretch of four-lap dominance, she and Smith have never faced off in the 200 back. Smith did not qualify to represent the U.S. in the event in either 2021 or 2022, so their only head-to-head matchups at all in that span were the 2021 Olympic final of the 100 back (McKeown took gold, Smith silver) and the 2022 World Champs final of the 50 back (neither won a medal). Smith did return to the gold-medal podium at last year’s Worlds in the 100 back, but McKeown scratched the event to concentrate on the 200 IM.

Currently, McKeown owns the top time in the world in both events, but Smith is just behind: 57.50 to 57.71 in the 100 back, 2:03.14 to 2:03.80 in the 200 back. It would be a surprise if those two swimmers do not occupy the top two podium spots at the World Championships in Fukuoka, and McKeown’s world records in both distances will come under serious threat. But in what order will they finish?

Previous Events:

Women’s 50 Backstroke
WR 26.98 Liu Xiang CHN Jakarta (INA) Aug. 21, 2018
CR 27.06 Zhao Jing CHN Rome (ITA) July 30, 2009
WJR 27.49 Minna Atherton AUS Brisbane (AUS) Feb. 7, 2016
Women’s 100 Backstroke
WR 57.45 Kaylee McKeown AUS Adelaide (AUS) June 13, 2021
CR 57.57 Regan Smith USA Gwanju (KOR) July 28, 2019
WJR 57.57 Regan Smith USA Gwanju (KOR) July 28, 2019
Women’s 200 Backstroke
WR 2:03.14 Kaylee McKeown AUS Sydney (AUS) Mar. 10, 2023
CR 2:03.35 Regan Smith USA Gwangju (KOR) July 26, 2019
WJR 2:03.35 Regan Smith USA Gwangju (KOR) July 26, 2019


Katharine Berkoff (USA): Berkoff is the fifth-fastest performer in history in both the 50 back (27.12) and 100 back (58.01). She swam the one-lap race at Worlds last year and won silver, and she added the 100 to her program with an impressive swim at U.S. Nationals, where she finished second to Smith and nearly cracked 58. Contending in: 50 back & 100 back

Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS): She is better known for her abilities in freestyle, as the reigning world champion in the 100 free and last year’s silver medalist in the 200 free, but O’Callaghan has a very impressive backstroke as well. She captured silver in the 50 back at last year’s Commonwealth Games and swam a time of 58.42 in the 100 back earlier this year to move to No. 13 all-time. Contending in: 50 back & 100 back

Medi Harris (GBR): Currently the top swimmer in the sprint backstroke events in Great Britain, Harris won bronze in the 100 back at the Commonwealth Games and silver at the European Championships after qualifying for 50 and 100-meter finals at Worlds. Contending in: 50 back & 100 back

Kylie Masse (CAN): If there is a “big three” of backstroke, Masse would be the third member behind McKeown and Smith. She was the 100 back world champion in 2017 and 2019 before winning silvers at the 2021 Olympics and 2022 Worlds. She also captured the 50 back world title last year. Masse was the Olympic silver medalist in the 200 back, but she has not recaptured that form in the longer race since. Contending in: 50 back, 100 back & 200 back

Kaylee McKeown (AUS): McKeown, who turned 22 Wednesday, swept the backstroke events at the Tokyo Olympics before winning 200 back gold last year. At worst, she is the co-favorite for gold in the 100 and 200 back and maybe the slight favorite over Smith. The 50 back is slightly short for her, but she tied for fifth at Worlds before winning bronze at the Commonwealth Games. Contending in: 50 back, 100 back & 200 back

Liu Yaxin (CHN): An outside contender for a 200 back medal in Fukuoka after going 2:07.35 earlier this year. Contending in: 200 back

Margherita Panziera (ITA): Panziera has never won a medal at the World Championships or Olympics, but she placed fourth in the 200 back final last year and has won three consecutive European titles in the event, along with a 100 back win last year. Panziera’s best time in the 200 back (2:05.56) ranks ninth all-time. Contending in: 100 back & 200 back

Peng Xuwei (CHN): This 20-year-old from China was a finalist at Worlds last year in the 100 and 200 back, and she swam a time of 2:07.11 in the 200-meter race earlier this year. Contending in: 200 back

Analia Pigree (FRA): Pigree, 21, burst onto the scene last year by collecting bronze in a star-filled 50 back field at Worlds, and she added a European title in the event later in the summer. Contending in: 50 back

Regan Smith (USA): Smith remains the second-fastest performer ever in the 100 and 200 back, and her times at U.S. Nationals were her fastest in years. She swam a 2:03 in the 200 back for the first time since 2009. Smith is also tied for sixth all-time in the 50 back and a solid medal possibility there. Contending in: 50 back, 100 back & 200 back

Kira Toussaint (NED): It would be silly to count out Toussaint, who has established herself as a presence in sprint backstroke finals over the past few years, although she has yet to capture an individual medal at a major meet. She is the third-fastest swimmer all-time in the 50 back and fastest active swimmer at 27.10. Contending in: 50 back & 100 back

Wang Xueer (CHN): Having a resurgent season at age 25, Wang won the 100 back at Chinese Nationals earlier this year in 58.99. Contending in: 100 back

Wen Letian (CHN): Another strong performer from China, Len edged Peng for the second Chinese spot in the 100 back at Worlds with her 59.19. Contending in: 100 back

Rhyan White (USA): American swimmers currently hold five of the top-six spots in the world rankings in the 200 back, with only McKeown breaking up that stranglehold. Three of those swimmers will not be in Fukuoka, including 2022 Worlds silver medalist Phoebe Bacon, after White edged them out at U.S. Nationals with a time of 2:05.77. White won bronze at Worlds last year, and she is the seventh-fastest performer in history (2:05.13).

Ingrid Wilm (CAN): Better known as a short course swimmer, Wilm scored an upset win over Masse in the 100 back at Canadian Trials, touching in 58.80, and she owns a season-best mark of 27.37 in the 50 back. She will be aiming for her first long course international medal after earning bronze at Short Course Worlds in December. Contending in: 50 back & 100 back


Women’s 50 Backstroke

Gold: Katharine Berkoff (USA)
Silver: Kylie Masse (CAN)
Bronze: Regan Smith (USA)

Anyone’s race in the 50 back, with McKeown, Wilm and Pigree sure to be in the mix.

Women’s 100 Backstroke

Gold: Regan Smith (USA)
Silver: Kaylee McKeown (AUS)
Bronze: Katharine Berkoff (USA)

It’s a coin-flip for the top spot, but we’ll say Smith goes out hard and hangs on to get the job done over McKeown, reclaiming the world record with a 57.3. Berkoff joins the 57-club to edge Masse for bronze.

Women’s 200 Backstroke

Gold: Kaylee McKeown (AUS)
Silver: Regan Smith (USA)
Bronze: Rhyan White (USA)

The finish here is reversed, with McKeown overtaking Smith but just missing the world record. White easily out-paces the rest of the field after earning the coveted No. 2 spot among Americans.

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