U.S. backstroke king Ryan Murphy was challenged, but not conquered at the world championships trials.
Murphy, a four-time Olympic champion, beat emerging rival Shaine Casas by .45 of a second as the two men clocked the world’s two best 200m back times this year. Murphy’s last loss to an American in a backstroke was in 2019. He has won every 200m back at trials meets dating to 2015.
“I’m seeing all these young kids coming up, so I think back to my first world trials in 2013 and how intimidated I was,” the 26-year-old Murphy said. “You never want to take it for granted trying to make these teams.”
Murphy, after sweeping the Olympic backstroke titles in 2016, took silver and bronze last year behind Russians who won’t be at June’s worlds in Budapest due to the nation’s ban.
“The field is going to be competitive, no matter what,” at worlds, he said.
Casas, 22, made his first long-course world team. He continued a stretch of fulfilling promise after missing the Olympic team by one spot.
After his biggest swimming failure, he became the first U.S. male swimmer to turn pro during an NCAA career since fellow backstroke star Aaron Peirsol in 2004. He won individual gold and silver at December’s world short course championships, a meet lacking many global stars.
He entered trials ranked No. 1 or 2 in the nation this year in five different events across three strokes and the individual medley, meaning he could just be starting to make a splash in Greensboro, N.C.
In other events, Katie Ledecky won her shortest race, the 200m freestyle, after taking the 800m free on Tuesday. Claire Weinstein, 15, was second, 1.93 seconds back, and will become the youngest U.S. swimmer to race individually at an Olympics or world championships since Elizabeth Beisel in 2007.
Ledecky is on an eight-year win streak domestically in freestyle events of at least 200 meters but hasn’t won a major international title in the 200m free since the Rio Olympics.
She was fifth in the 200m free in Tokyo. Her best time since — 1:54.66 — is tied for the fastest in the world in 2022 with Olympic gold medalist Ariarne Titmus. Titmus is among the Australians who will skip the world championships to prepare for the Commonwealth Games later this summer.
Phoebe Bacon, Ledecky’s Little Flower buddy, won the women’s 200m back in 2:05.08, the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool. She’s joined on the team by Rhyan White in a reversal of their Olympic Trials one-two. Bacon and White then went four-five in Tokyo. Regan Smith, the world record holder, finished third to miss the team by one spot, just as she did at Olympic Trials.
Lilly King, Kate Douglass and Annie Lazor posted the world’s three fastest times this year in the 200m breaststroke, with the Olympic bronze medalist Lazor squeezed out of a worlds spot by .48.
King, the Olympic silver medalist, and Douglass, the Olympic 200m IM bronze medalist, will be medal favorites at worlds given Tokyo gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa, plus the fourth-place finisher from Russia, will not be there.
Nic Fink and Charlie Swanson tied for the men’s 200m breast title in 2:08.84.
Kieran Smith matched his University of Florida training partner Ledecky by winning the men’s 200m free, edging Drew Kibler by .07.
Claire Curzan and Caeleb Dressel won the 50m butterflies, which are contested at worlds but not at the Olympics.
Trials continue Thursday, featuring the men’s and women’s 100m butterflies (Dressel, Curzan, Torri Huske) and 400m IMs (Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland, Emma Weyant, Hali Flickinger).
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