| Tuesday, July 31, 2018American men’s backstroke has a rich tradition of Olympic success. Scan any historical results page of the past thirty years of gold medal performances, and legendary American backstroke names emerge: Richard Carey in 1984. Jeffrey Rouse in 1996. Lenny Krayzelburg in 2000. Aaron Peirsol in 2004 and 2008. Matt Grevers in 2012. Ryan Murphy in 2016.
These are some of the names who have represented the United States atop Olympic podiums, and who have also pushed the American medley relays out in front and into clear, open water — and onwards to Olympic golds.
There’s a will in backstroke that’s American in spirit. Backstroke is about details and perseverance (and excellent dolphin kicking). It is also about old-fashioned hard work, grit, and elbow grease. Backstrokers must exude confidence, as any stroke that demands its participants to swim blindly toward the wall requires. Over the years and the past several Olympics, the sprint backstroke gold medal has time and time again gone to a swimmer wearing the red, white, and blue. It is a rich tradition that now carries with it huge, and perhaps even unfair, expectation.
This week, we may see another swimmer become a potential heir to the American backstroke throne. At the Speedo Junior National Championships in Irvine, California, we will see a plethora of teenage swimmers on their career-long ascent. Some are farther along their journey than others, with faster seed times and higher expectations. But this is a meet where new names and new swimmers suddenly burst into the limelight like a firework. A meet where significant time drops occur and season-long journeys end in unprecedented success. Perhaps no other meet contains such unpredictable excitement, especially in the preliminaries. It is a meet where young swimmers become future legends.
Could we see the next great American backstroker emerge from this meet?
Perhaps. While time will tell, in this week’s 100-meter backstroke, several names stand out as up-and-coming sprint backstrokers. The favorite is a 16-year-old from Ohio named Carson Foster. Foster is one of those swimmers who can seemingly do it all, a swimmer with swift IM times and an older brother who may be as well-rounded and fast. The younger Foster, however, aims to take this week’s Speedo Junior Nationals backstroke titles. In the sprint, he’s seeded ahead of the field at :55.61, an impressive time considering Foster’s age.
Foster could have competition: Jack Kirby, 18, is seeded less than a second away. Keep your eyes on Tim Connery, seeded fifth but only 15-years-old and hailing from a team that has produced a number of fast swimmers, SwimMAC Carolina. There are also five swimmers seeded at :48 (yards times), including Foster’s teammate from the Mason Manta Rays, 16-year-old Adam Chaney. These long course championships give swimmers who excelled in yards but haven’t had the opportunity to swim a championship long course meet just that chance. A chance at long course. A chance to prove themselves in the longer, and arguably more formidable, meters format.
We’re entering August. The long course swimming season is nearly over. Soon, swimmers will return to their high schools and those graduated seniors will move on to NCAA swimming and its yards format. But legends are crowned in long course. This week, we could see the next heir to the American backstroke throne emerge from Irvine and, with that old-fashioned backstroke grit and perseverance, begin the trek towards Omaha.