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Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
The field in the women’s backstroke events was arguably the deepest of any discipline across the FINA World Cup series. But at the final leg in Indianapolis, one swimmer came out of nowhere to pull off a shocking win that no one saw coming.
Bella Sims, the 17-year-old rising star out of the Sandpipers of Nevada, had emerged as one of the best freestylers in the United States last summer, making the Olympic team in the 800 free relay at the age of 16, but her backstroke ability was something that flew under the radar until last weekend.
The women’s 100 back field in Indianapolis featured a loaded lineup. Coming in, only 10 women had been under 55.75 in the event over the last five years, and four of them were racing: Kylie Masse, Kira Toussaint, Ingrid Wilm and Beata Nelson. Nelson was also coming in having won the event in both Berlin and Toronto, and if she completed the sweep in Indy, she would pick up an extra $10,000 for the triple crown bonus.
In the prelims, however, it was Sims securing the top seed in a time of 56.76, followed closely by Wilm (56.87), Nelson (56.89) and Masse (56.96).
In the final, Sims faced a quick turnaround that none of her competitors did, as she had the final of the 200 freestyle just minutes prior. Short course or not, that’s a difficult double. But Sims executed it flawlessly.
First, she placed fourth in the equally-stacked 200 free field, breaking the World Junior Record in a time of 1:52.59. Then, in the 100 back, she stunned the big names, roaring to victory in 55.75 to set her second World Junior Record in 12 minutes.
Nelson touched second in 55.90, while Wilm (56.00) was third and Masse (56.13) was fourth.
Sims had not only never raced in short course meters prior to this competition, there wasn’t much evidence she was capable of being anywhere near the level she showed in Indy based on what she had done previously in the 100 back.
Her best time in short course yards is 53.26, a time that ranks her 72nd all-time in the girls’ 15-16 age group (U.S. swimmers), and in the long course event, her 1:01.33 PB has her ranked 41st in the 17-18 age group.
Now, all of a sudden, Sims is the 15th-fastest swimmer in history in the SCM pool, and fourth among Americans. All of this done in an early November swim a few minutes after clocking a 200 free time that ranks her 22nd in history.
All-Time Performers, Women’s 100 Back (SCM)
Minna Atherton (AUS), 54.89 – 2019
Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 55.03 – 2014
Olivia Smoliga (USA), 55.04 – 2020
Kira Toussaint (NED), 55.17 – 2019
Louise Hansson (SWE), 55.20 – 2021
Kylie Masse (CAN), 55.22 – 2021
Shiho Sakai (JPN), 55.23 – 2009
Emily Seebohm (AUS), 55.31 – 2014
Katharine Berkoff (USA), 55.40 – 2021
Daryna Zevina (UKR), 55.54 – 2014
Ingrid Wilm (CAN), 55.61 – 2021
Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 55.68 – 2020
Gao Chang (CHN), 55.72 – 2009
Beata Nelson (USA), 55.74 – 2022
Bella Sims (USA), 55.75 – 2022
Sims followed up that swim with another impressive backstroke showing the following night, placing second to Nelson in the 200 back in a time of 2:01.64, becoming the 22nd-fastest performer of all-time.
Sims has sky-high potential—we already knew that. But the unforeseen versatility she showed in Indy raises that bar exponentially, and while she might not be thrilled about it, not only is she now a rising freestyle star, but one of the country’s top backstrokers.
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