Buckle up. The women’s 100-meter backstroke is finally (almost) here.
The U.S., both on the men’s and women’s side, has had a long history when it comes to the 100-meter backstroke. American men hold half of the top-10 performances in world history, while four American women hold places in the top-10 performer list in world history.
Even with all the history, this year’s women’s 100 back field at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming may just be one of the most historic races ever swum on American soil.
“Eighth place at our Trials could final at the Olympic Games,” Rowdy Gaines said in the Olympic Trials preview episode of Kick Set podcast
. “That is how good our country is in the women’s 100-meter backstroke, and that is how good our country is in the sport of swimming.”
Before diving into those who are in contention for tonight’s finals, it is mind-blowing to compare this year’s field to the last Trials.
In 2016, only three swimmers broke the 1:00 mark in the 100 back semis. Of those three swimmers, Olivia Smoliga’s 59:16 was the top semifinal time. This year, seven swimmers broke 1:00 in the semis, five of whom broke :59, and Regan Smith broke :58.
In the finals of 2016 Trials, times ranged from 59.02 to 1:00.48. In 2021, 16 athletes came into Trials with a faster seed time than 1:00.48, 10 of whom bested the mark again in yesterday’s semis.
Since those 2016 Trials, the U.S. women have bean on a tear in the event, medaling in every long course international competition. However, since 2018, the event has taken a whole new twist.
Kathleen Baker set a world record in 58.00 in 2018. Regan Smith then broke it with a 57.57 in 2019. Then, in 2021 alone, three athletes made time or placement changes to move up the list of top-10 100 backstrokers in U.S. history.
Now, let’s look at the events of the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, six of the seven fastest Americans ever in the event competed in the Omaha waters – no other event on the pre-scratch psych sheet featured more than five of the top seven Americans in history.
In last night’s semifinals, the top-three finishers—Smith in 57.92 (good for a new U.S. Open record), Smoliga in 58.50 and Katharine Berkoff in 58.62—all posted times that would have medaled at the 2016 Rio Olympics. These top-three finishers all swum faster than the previous U.S. Olympic Trials course record of 58.85, set by Missy Franklin in 2012.
After much anticipation, the A final of the Trials 100 back is finally set: Smith, Smoliga, Berkoff, Isabelle Stadden, Rhyan White, Phoebe Bacon, Catie DeLoof and Lisa Bratton. There are now eight Americans inside the top-10 in the world this year in the event, four of whom (Smith, Smoliga, White and Berkoff) hold top-5 times.
“It’s crazy how deep the event has become over the past two years,” White said after finishing second in her semifinal heat yesterday – she is tied with Stadden for fourth seed heading into tonight’s final. “I’m just really excited to race against a bunch of girls that I used to look up to. I used to think, ‘wow, that girl is so fast, she is so amazing and she is so nice,’ but now it is kind of like I am in the mix. It’s really exciting.”
White’s comments touch on another mind-blowing component of the event’s depth: how young the field is. Tonight’s final features five athletes born in 2000 or later, three of whom are teenagers (Smith, Stadden and Bacon). In addition, yesterday’s semifinal of the event featured two 16 year olds, Jo Jo Ramey and Berit Berglund, who went 1:00.93 and 1:01.14, respectively.
The momentum of the women’s 100 back in the past few years will finally reach a peak tonight. The final of the women’s 100 backstroke will undoubtably be one of the fastest fields the Trials stage—and possibly the world—has ever seen.