Ryan Murphy was the only man to earn 100m and 200m backstroke medals at worlds, but neither was gold like in Rio, leading to a frank assessment.
“I’m definitely not the best backstroker in the world at this point,” Murphy told media in Budapest after taking silver in the 200m back Friday. “It’s a title I want. So I’m going to do everything I can to get that back.”
The U.S. returned to the world podium in the 200m back, its most storied individual event, but a Russian is at the top.
Evgeny Rylov held off Murphy and Jacob Pebley in the last 50 meters to win Russia’s first men’s global title since Alexander Popov swept the 50m, 100m and 4x100m free titles at the 2003 Worlds.
The Olympic bronze medalist Rylov clocked 1:53.61, topping Murphy by six tenths despite having the slowest final split of the top six swimmers. Pebley was a further .85 back, edging Russian Kliment Kolesnikov for bronze by .08.
The U.S. used to own the 200m back, winning 20 straight major international meets (Olympics/Worlds/Pan Pacific Championships) from 1995 through 2014.
But Americans were shut out of the medals entirely at the 2015 Worlds before Murphy restored order in Rio.
Murphy swept the backstrokes in 2016, including breaking the 100m back world record. But the 22-year-old relinquished both titles in Budapest by going six tenths slower in the 100m and 200m than a year ago and taking home silver and bronze medals.
Murphy pointed to a more taxing academic slate as a senior at California, where he took a lighter class load in the Olympic year.
“No one’s going to outwork me the next three years,” said Murphy, who turned pro after the last NCAA season. “I just didn’t have that same level of focus, that same amount of motivation to be great [this year].”
Pebley, 23, improved upon his fifth-place finish in the Olympic 200m back by going .46 faster in Budapest.
Rylov, 20, lowered his European record by .36 this year and figures to be a major rival for Murphy and Pebley for years to come.
Men’s 200m Backstroke Results
Gold: Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:53.61
Silver: Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:54.21
Bronze: Jacob Pebley (USA) — 1:55.06
4. Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) — 1:55.14
5. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:55.26
6. Peter Bernek (HUN) — 1:55.58
7. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:56.35
8. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 1:56.96
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