Analysis: Men's 100m Backstroke
Craig Lord
In Beijing, Peirsol joined Roland Matthes as only the second man to ever medal on backstroke at three Games; rivals were caught like rabbits in headlights as the defending champion kept up his unrelenting search for uncharted waters

Beijing 2008

  • 1. Peirsol (USA) 52.54 wr
  • 2. Grevers (USA) 53.11
  • 3. Vyatchanin (RUS) 53.18
  • 3. Hayden Stoeckel (AUS) 53.18
  • Fastest field - Beijing 2008: 52.54 - 53.99
  • Fastest qualification - Beijing semi: 52.97 - 53.76

 Comparison fields: 

  • Melbourne 2007: 52.98 - 55.04
  • Athens 2004: 54.06 - 55.27

Facts going into the race:  

  • World record: 52.89 - Aaron Peirsol (USA), Omaha, 1.7.08
  • Olympic champion: Peirsol, 54.06
  • World champion: Peirsol 52.98

Impact of morning finals:

Minimal, though half of the finalists swam a slower final than their semis times. What it took to qualify for semis:

  • Beijing 2008: 53.41 - 54.62
  • Melbourne 2007: 54.34 - 55.63
  • Athens 2004: 54.41 - 55.80

Notes from the race:

Aaron Peirsol (USA), experience dripping from his fingers along with with the droplets of water he sprayed heavenward with every solid stroke on his way to a fifth world record, mesmerised his rivals. They were caught like rabbits in headlights as Peirsol kept up his unrelenting search for uncharted waters. Two world records to go before the American catches up with the record of seven world records held by Matthes. Winning, said Peirsol, did not get any easier. You would never have known it. He was high-riding control personified on his way to a 25.69 split and returned in a decisive 26.89, the only sub-27sec effort in the final. The 25-year-old carved 0.35secs off previous world mark. He made his first Olympic appearance as a 17-year-old in 2000, taking silver behind Lenny Krayzelburg (USA) in the 200m. "It doesn't get any easier, to be honest," said Peirsol. "The knowledge and experience you have done it once and can probably do it again does help. That is what I tried to keep in mind, but I really wanted to race and the guys around me pushed me to what I did today. The best thing about it was having Matt right behind me, we wanted an American one-two finish." Grevers paid his teammate a massive compliment when he said: "I have been fortunate enough to get some private lessons from Aaron and some of the things he does are just perfect. I don't know if it is his shoulder strength or what, but the amount of water he is able to hold is incredible. He has got a great mind, he can perform when it matters." The nail on the head. Arkady Vyatchanin improved, setting a European record of 53.06 on the way to the final, while Australians Hayden Stoeckel and Ashley Delaney have made a giant leap forward: Stoeckel, 24, had a best of 55.18 last year, while Delaney has stepped up from a 54.34 best.

Impact on the all-time top 10:

  • 52.54 Peirsol, Aaron USA BEIJING F
  • 52.91 Thoman, Nicholas USA
  • 52.97 Stoeckel, Hayden AUS BEIJING S
  • 52.99 Grevers, Matthew USA BEIJING S
  • 53.01 Phelps, Michael USA
  • 53.06 Vyatchanin, Arkadi RUS BEIJING S
  • 53.09 Bal, Randall USA
  • 53.10 Meeuw, Helge GER
  • 53.31 Delaney, Ashley AUS BEIJING F
  • 53.37 Lochte, Ryan USA

 All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 52.98 Peirsol (USA) 2007
  • 53.01 Phelps (USA) 2007
  • 53.46 Meeuw (GER) 2006
  • 53.46 Tancock (GBR) 2007
  • 53.50 Vyatchanin (RUS) 2006
  • 53.50 Lochte (USA) 2007
  • 53.54 Bal (USA) 2007
  • 53.60 Krayzelburg (USA) 1999
  • 53.78 Welsh (AUS) 2004
  • 53.78 Rogan (AUT) 2007


Americans have won not far short of half of all medals ever claimed over 100m: of the 23 finals contested since 1904 (the event was dropped at the 1964 Games in Tokyo), the USA has claimed 11 gold, 12 silvers and 6 bronzes, for 29 podium visits out of a possible 69. During that time there have been four clean sweeps: Germany in 1904, the United States in 1928; Japan in 1932; and Australia in 1956. The title has been retained three times: by Warren Paoa Kealoha (USA), 1920, 1924; David Thiele (AUS), 1956, 1960; and Roland Matthes (GDR), 1968, 1972 (along with wins over 200m at both Games). In Beijing, Peirsol joined Roland Matthes as only the second man to ever medal on backstroke at three Games. The East German's swansong brought a bronze medal over 100m at Montreal in 1976 two weeks after an appendectomy. Five men, all American barring Matthes, have claimed the 100 and 200m double since the four-lap race was introduced in 1968: Matthes (68, 72); John Naber (USA, 76); Richard Carey (USA, 1984); Lenny Krayzelburg (USA, 2000); Aaron Peirsol (USA, 2004). Matthes was the first and only swimmer to race inside the minute in Olympic waters in 1968, while four years later his 56.58ec led a field that saw seven men crack the minute. Naber led the first sub-minute final sweep in 1976, his 55.49 a time that would still have still made top eight at Sydney 2000 but no longer in Athens, 2004. Just 15 nations have placed swimmers on the podium since 1904. Hayden Stoeckel (AUS) was the first man to race inside 53sec in Olympic waters, clocking 52.97 in the semi-final in Beijing 2008.

Fastest: 52.54: Aaron Peirsol (USA), 2008

World Record wins: Bierbestein, 1908; Kojac, 1928; Naber, 1976; Peirsol, 2008

Biggest margin: The 1:13.2 Olympic record of Warren Paoa Kealoha (USA) took the crown by 2.2sec, while Roland Matthes (GDR) leads the field in the modern era, his 58.7sec victory at altitude in Mexico City in 1968 the first sub-minute Olympic triumph and 1.5sec ahead of the nearest challenger. 

Closest shave: The God of fingernail finishes shone on Mark Tewksbury (CAN) at Barcelona in 1992 when the Canadian's Olympic record of 53.98sec left him 0.06sec ahead of world record holder Jeff Rouse (USA). Four years on, Rouse left no room for doubt, taking the crown by 0.88sec, though Tewksbury's Olympic mark survived Atlanta.