2022 World Champs Previews: McKeown Eyes Title Unification In Women’s 200 Back


June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
Budapest, Hungary
Duna Arena
LCM (50-meter format)
Meet Central

By The Numbers:

The 2019 World Championships saw a breakout swim from American Regan Smith in the 200 backstroke, as she destroyed the world record in a time of 2:03.35, becoming the first swimmer sub-2:04 in history.

Going into 2020, Smith looked primed for Olympic gold, but Australian Kaylee McKeown had other plans. With the one-year delay of the Games to 2021, McKeown had a breakout of her own, scaring Smith’s world record on several occasions and throwing down the thrdo-fastest time in history (2:04.28) at the Australian Olympic Trials. In Tokyo, McKeown dominated both backstroke events, collecting double Olympic gold in the process.

With her breakout season last year, McKeown appears primed to repeat her feat at the 2022 World Championships, chasing the world records in both events. This season, McKeown has already been as fast as 2:04.64 in the 200 backstroke, leading the world rankings by about a half-second. However, there are several strong competitors eyeing her down and looking for their own chance to claim the World Championship title.

At the 2022 U.S. International Team Trials, the aforementioned Smith failed to qualify for the World Championships in this event after a repeat of last summer’s Olympic Trials that saw Rhyan White and Phoebe Bacon have their own breakthrough performances. The duo finished fourth and fifth in Tokyo, respectively, and look to be swimming even better this season.

At the U.S. Trials in April, Bacon threw down a sizzling time of 2:05.08 to shatter her own personal best and the U.S. Open Record, moving up to second in the world rankings behind McKeown. White, meanwhile, touched just behind Bacon in a time of 2:05.13, also dipping under the U.S. Open Record previously held by Missy Franklin (2:05.68). With those times, both Bacon and White would have made the podium at the Olympic Games last year, setting themselves up to potentially challenge McKeown for gold.

With reigning Olympic bronze medalist Emily Seebohm electing not to compete at the Australian Trials, 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan managed to grab the second Worlds qualification spot in this event behind McKeown. O’Callaghan is coming off of a fantastic performance at that meet that saw her qualify for Worlds in all 3 backstroke races plus the 100 free and 200 free individually, the women’s 4×100 free relay, 4×200 free relay, and 4×100 medley relay, adding in potential mixed relays as well. With her busy schedule, O’Callaghan recently announced she will not be racing any backstroke events at Worlds, leaving the second Australian spot in this event vacant.

The other member of the podium from Tokyo, Canadian Kylie Masse, should also be a strong competitor here. This season, Masse has already been as fast as 2:07.66 at the Canadian Olympic Trials, putting herself sixth in the world. With two of the swimmers ranked ahead of her (Smith and Claire Curzan) not contesting the event at Worlds, Masse is a heavy favorite to appear on the podium again, especially if she has momentum from a strong performance in the 50 and 100 backstroke.

She’ll be joined by countrymate Taylor Ruck, who placed second in the event at the Canadian Trials. At that meet, Ruck, who just came off of a strong NCAA season at Stanford, swam to a time of 2:09.63 to rank 16th in the world this season. However, there are six people currently ranked ahead of her that will not be competing in this event at Worlds, giving her a solid chance of making the final. In addition, her lifetime best stands at a 2:06.36, which would put her in podium contention if she can match it.

Margherita Panziera. Photo: Giorgio Perottino/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Italian superstar Margherita Panziera is also a threat as she is the sixth-fastest performer in history in this event with her time of 2:05.56 from last year. Panziera was well off her best at the Tokyo Olympics, placing ninth in the semis in 2:09.54. However, she has already been as fast as 2:08.63 this season, a sign she’s timing her taper better than last year.

Both China and Hungary will also be sending strong duos to compete at Worlds in the 200 backstroke. China will send Olympic finalists Peng Xuwei and Liu Yaxin to race the event as the pair finished seventh and eighth, respectively, at the 2021 Olympic Games. Peng and Liu rank ninth and 10th in the world this season, posting times of 2:08.54 and 2:09.33 at the Chinese National Games last September. Neither athlete has posted results since the 2021 Short Course World Championships last December, making it difficult to predict where they’ll be later this month. However, both Peng and Liu have the international experience to throw down strong swims at Worlds.

Hungary’s duo of Katalin Burián and Dóra Molnár should also push the field. Burian is coming off of a strong summer where she narrowly missed making the final at the Olympics, finishing 10th.


Darkhorse Pick: Anastasia Gorbenko (ISR) – Israel’s Gorbenko is currently one of the most versatile athletes in the world and she has a large slate of potential races to swim at Worlds. Although Gorbenko was not sure if she would be competing in the 200 backstroke at the meet, she will be in the mix for the final if she elects to do so. Currently, Gorbenko’s season best of 2:10.84 ranks her 26th in the world this season. However, there are 14 people ranked ahead of her who will not be contesting the event at Worlds, leaving a lot of room for her to sneak into the final.

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