Between the European Championships, the Atlanta Classic, the 2021 Sydney Open, and the Indianapolis stop of the 2021 Pro Swim Series, May showcased intense competition among the world’s top female backstrokers. Though they were dispersed throughout multiple competitions and continents, four of the the times posted were faster than Katinka Hosszu‘s gold medal performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where Hosszu won in 58.45.
This article is not meant to be a speculation on who is most likely to win gold in Tokyo–you have to wait another month or so for that one. Rather, this article is focused on the speed and depth that has developed in the women’s 100 backstroke since the 2016 Rio Olympics. Let’s take a look.
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown blasted a 57.63 in the 100 LCM backstroke, just missing Regan Smith‘s 2019 World Record by 0.06. Five months earlier in December 2020, McKeown became just the second woman in history to dip under 58 seconds with a 57.93 in the 100 back. Smith has been hitting 58s casually for years now though has only been under 58 once. Since setting the World Record in 2019, Smith’s fastest 100 backstroke has been a 58.18 in March 2020, which is tied as the 11th-fastest performance in history.
In Atlanta, Olivia Smoliga and Rhyan White blasted new lifetime bests of 58.31 and 58.43, respectively. Smoliga and White currently rank 3rd and 4th in the world following this performance. Adding to the onslaught of American depth in the event, Smith posted a 58.77 in Indianapolis, and 16-year-old Claire Curzan dropped a 58.82 in North Carolina.
At British Trials in April, Kathleen Dawson put up a 58.24 in the 100 backstroke, making her the 7th-fastest performer all-time. Dawson then swam the 100 backstroke 6 times at the European Championships in Budapest, producing 4 efforts that were faster than Hosszu’s 2016 gold-medal swim. Dawson ended the European Championships with a 58.08 lead-off for Britain’s 400 medley relay, shooting her up the ranks to the 4th-fastest performer all-time.
The table below shows only the fastest performance by each of the women that have been faster than Hosszu’s 58.45 in 2016. Smith, McKeown, Masse, and Baker have each been faster 58.45 on numerous occasions. Up to 5 of the women listed below could face off in the final of the 100 backstroke in Tokyo. Four of them–Smith, Baker, Smoliga, and White–are American, and the herd will be thinned in Omaha.
Japan’s Ai Soma also posted a 58.47 in December 2020, not quite as fast as Hosszu’s time in Rio, but still “on the podium.” Taylor Ruck (58.55 — CAN), Minna Atherton (58.60 — AUS), Phoebe Bacon (58.63 — USA), Kira Toussaint (58.65 — NED), Fu Yuanhui (58.72 — CHN), and Suzuka Hasegawa (58.74 — JPN) have also all been faster than the silver and bronze medal-winning performances in Rio since the Olympics 5 years ago.