2023 World Champs Preview: Can Ress Rule in 50 Back? Not If Armstrong has a Say (Part 2)


By Mark Wild on SwimSwam


By the Numbers – Men’s  50 Backstroke

  • World Record: Hunter Armstrong, United States – 23.71 (2022)
  • World Junior Record: Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia – 24.00 (2018)
  • Championship Record: Liam Tancock, Great Britain – 24.04 (2009)
  • 2022 World Champion: Justin Ress, United States – 24.12

Deja Vu anyone? Much like the event preview for the 50 back for US Trials, if everything holds to form, the top two spots should fall to the American pair of Justin Ress and Hunter Armstrong.

The Hunt for Ress’s Gold

Last year, Armstrong was nabbed to be the favorite. After all, he was coming off of a World Record performance at U.S. Trials. However, much like a gripping novel, the finals of the 50 back at the 2022 Worlds was an edge of you seat page-turner filled with numerous twists and turns and most importantly left you wondering what you had just seen.

Armstrong seemed to have ended up with the silver medal touching in 24.14, only .02 behind compatriot Justin Ress. Twist! Ress was disqualified for re-submerging at the finish and Armstrong was bumped up to gold, which represented his first individual World title.

However, just one twist was not enough for this storyline. The DQ was overturned and instead standing alone at the top of the podium with his first individual world title was Ress. A new rule and roughly 12 months later, we start the sequel to this thrilling saga.

Atop the world rankings sits Ress with his 24.10, which was fast enough for 1st place at the 2023 US Nationals. Right behind him is Armstrong, who placed second at Trials and sits third in the rankings with a time of 24.16. (Armstrong earned the roster spot by nature of his win in the 100 back)

Compared to last year, Ress and Armstrong had a sleepy 2023 Trials. In 2022, Armstrong emerged with the World Record of 23.71 and Ress’s 23.92 would have broken the American Record had it not been for Armstrong. But this year the order was reversed and neither dipped under 24.00. Despite this downward trend, there should be little cause to worry. Armstrong admitted post-race that the goal was to peak at worlds and Ress swam a personal best in the 100 free. The Americans should be far and away (or as far and away as one can be in a 50) ahead of their competition, eligible competition that is.

The Silence of the Russians

Perhaps the stiffest competition to the American duo would be the Russian backstroke group if they were allowed to attend. Holding down four spots in the top 16, including the 2nd (24.12) and 4th (24.28) places overall, the Russians would have posed a serious threat to Ress and Armstrong’s desire to repeat atop the podium, if it were not for the ban put into place by World Aquatics due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Also missing from this meet, but by personal choice, is South Africa’s Pieter Coetze. Coetze, who currently ranks as the fifth fastest in the 50 back this season, opted out of the 2023 Worlds stating,

My coach and I decided it would be best for my preparation for 2024 to skip this World Champs and train through with the next World Champs being so early next year too

Coetze has yet to make an appearance at long course Worlds as he opted to swim at last year’s Commonwealth Games (winning the 100 back) and Junior Worlds (placing 2nd in the 50 and 100 back) instead. Despite choosing not to attend this meet, Coetze was initially selected for the South African team by nature of his sweeping the backstroke events at his nation’s Senior Championships (24.36 in the 50, 52.78 in the 100, 1:56.66 in the 200).

Veterans on the Plane

Amongst the contenders for the medals are a slew of returning finalists from last year. Leading the charge is last year’s 4th-place finisher Thomas Ceccon. The Italian, while most likely disappointed in his bronze medal being taken away by the Ress overturn, walked away from Budapest with 2 golds, a bronze, and a World Record in the 100 back (51.60). Despite being the fastest ever in the 100, Ceccon sits just 14th in the 50 World Rankings for the 2022-23 season with a time of 24.69 from the Sette Colli Trophy.

Finishing 2nd behind Ceccon in Rome was Greece’s Apostolos Christou in a time of 24.92, a time that ranks him 26th in the world this season. Christou also placed one spot behind Ceccon at the 2022 Worlds finishing in a tie for 5th (24.57) with the now-retired Romanian Robert Glinta.

Finishing behind Christou at Worlds but sitting ahead of him in the season’s rankings this year are a pair of wily veterans. Leading the pack is China’s Xu Jiayu, who currently ranks 8th in the world with a 24.54. While not as fast as the American’s times, Xu’s 24.54 is a marked improvement on the 24.90 that he swam in the semi-finals at worlds, a swim that placed him 13th overall.

Just behind Xu, at #9 in the world is the German Ole Braunschweig. Last year he placed 7th overall in a time of 24.66. Like Xu, he has already surpassed that time by swimming a personal best of 24.57 at the Berlin Swim Open back in April.

New Zealand’s Andrew Jeffcoat finished just 13th at the 2022 Worlds touching in a 24.91. But like many athletes, his focus may have been on the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which were held in the United Kingdom a few weeks later. At those games, he set a new national record of 24.65 on the way to winning the gold medal.

And Then There Were The Young

With the absence of the Russians and Coetze, the remaining threats (but possibly the largest) to American dominance in this event are a pair of young guns hailing from Poland and Australia.

Hungry to reclaim the silver medal that he held for 20 or so minutes last summer is the bronze medalist Ksawery Masiuk. The Pole finished in a surprising 3rd last year in a time of 24.49, more than .3 away from Ress and Armstrong’s times. However, he has already surpassed the national record of 24.48 that he set last summer in the semis. In February, he set a new mark of 24.44 at the Arena Grand Prix meet in Lublin, a swim that ranks him 7th in the world but 4th amongst swimmers attending the meet.

On spot ahead of him, this year in the rankings is fellow teenager Isaac Cooper. The Aussie posted a time of 24.38 at the New South Wales State meet in early March of this year. This time is a marked improvement upon his 8th place in the 2022 final, in which he touched in 24.76. One caveat, however, is that Cooper did not break the Swimming Australia qualifying time to make the team, but was named to the team after, so one cannot know his exact event schedule, but presumably will enter the 50.

Unknown Island

Like Cooper, without a psych sheet to see the exact entrants, most of these entrants are informed guesses. The following group of swimmers also could also me in the mix to make the final should they swim the event.

Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, placed 8th in this event out of prelims last summer but ultimately withdrew before the semis. His countryman, Takeshi Kawamoto has a time of 24.88 this season, which is good for 21st in the world, but is more likely to focus on the fly events.

France put 2 swimmers into the semi-finals last year: 9th-placed Yohann Ndoye-Brouard (24.79) and 13th-placed Mewen Tomac (24.91). Tomac has already been faster than that this year putting up a 24.80 at the French Championships, a time that has 17th in the worlds rankings. The only issue is it was not under the French-mandated qualifying time.

Other unknowns are Canada’s Javier Acevedo, who despite swimming at the 2022 World Champs did not enter the 50. He currently ranks 23rd in the world with a 24.90, a time that stands as a new national record. Sitting 25th in the world is Brazil’s Guilherme Basseto with a time of 24.91. Last year he finished 10th in the 50 back (24.85) This year however Basseto is listed as a relay swimmer on his nation’s roster, which casts doubt if he will have a chance to swim it.

Of this lot, Tomac and Acevedo seem to be locks to swim. Tomac qualified for the French team in the 100 and 200 back and has been in great form. Acevedo won a bronze medal in this event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in a national record time of 24.97 and has since lowered it to 24.90. It would not be surprising to see Ndoye-Brouard or Bassetto swim this event, but based on their recent form one should not expect them to make the final.

Irie did swim the 50 back at the Japanese Trials winning in a time of 25.06. A time that currently ranks outside of the world’s top 25. While he may swim the 50 as the meet is on home soil, he may also focus on the 100 and 200, events in which he is ranked inside the world’s top 16.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Swimmer Personal Best Season Best
1 Justin Ress 23.92 24.10
2 Hunter Armstrong 23.71 24.16
3 Thomas Ceccon 24.40 24.69
4 Ksawery Masiuk 24.44 24.44
5 Isaac Cooper 24.38 24.38
6 Apostolos Christou 24.36 24.92
7 Xu Jiayu 24.42 24.54
8 Ole Braunschweig 24.57 24.57

Dark Horse: Oliver Morgan, Great Britain – Morgan had a breakout British Swimming Trials in April, becoming the first man in over a decade to sweep all of the backstroke events. His winning time in the 50  of 24.84 was a new personal best and a time that ranks him 19th in the world, but seven of those ahead of him are either Russian or Americans who are not in the 50. At a meet in the West Midlands a few weeks after British Trials, he lowered his 100 back personal best again from his previous best swum at the Trials, proving he may have more time to drop in Fukuoka.

SwimSwam: 2023 World Champs Preview: Can Ress Rule in 50 Back? Not If Armstrong has a Say (Part 2)

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