Beijing Form Guide: Men's Backstroke
Craig Lord
Countdown to 08/08/08: SwimNews continues its preview to the Games with a look at how the seascape has changed in the past year, who is still in the race, who is out and where the medals are likely to go. Today: Men's Backstroke

Precisely a year before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, SwimNews put together a form guide for events in Beijing. It was August 2007. A year on, we start our preview build-up to the Games in Beijing with a look at how the seascape has changed, who is still in the race, who is out and where the medals are likely to go.

Men's Backstroke


The impact of you-know-what cannot be overstated. Backstroke events figure strongly, particularly the 100m, in the list of world records broken at the helm of a sports-wide surge in standards since February 2008. Those records are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the revolution that has taken place in the all-time performances and performers lists. Here's a snapshot of the numbers:

100m: 6/10 all-time performers from 2008 (the same as in 2007, full season - watch for another surge in Beijing); 17/30 entries from 2008
200m: 3/10 all-time performers from 2008; 10/30 entries from 2008
In the 100m, 40 per cent of the all-time top 100 times ever swum (one swimmer, one entry) stem from this year, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the figure is almost identical when it comes to performances (multiple entries per swimmer). Amazingly, five Americans in the current world top 10 will not race in Beijing, having finished behind Peirsol and Grevers at trials.

The burning question: Can Peirsol keep the gathering crowd at bay? His job may be easier than it was at trials. Success would sign him up to the the elite group of backstroke specialists who have retained titles and a medal of any colour for the American would double the number of members in the club of those who have visited the backstroke podium at three Games: Roland Matthes (GDR), double gold in 1968 and 1972, was the founder member with a bronze in 1976 at his swansong appearance just a few weeks after having endured an appendectomy. Peirsol won silver in the 200m aged 17 at Sydney 2000 and would become the first man to reach the podium in the longer event at three finals. Excellence will out.

And on that note, here's what's in store:




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

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Aaron Peirsol (USA); Ryan Lochte (USA); Liam Tancock (GBR)
2 Breakers: Phelps; Markus Rogan (AUT)
2 Bubbling Under: Randal Bal (USA); Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS)
1 On The Edge: Helge Meeuw (GER)
Don't forget: Tomomi Morita (JPN); Gerhard Zandberg (RSA)
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
New impact on all-time top 10: Phelps; Lochte; Tancock; Bal; Rogan

The picture in August 2008:

Nick Thoman (USA) has joined Peirsol in the sub-53sec club - with efforts of 52.92 and 52.91, the latter in a relay, at the US Open - but to no avail as far as Beijing is concerned: five Americans in the current world top 10 are numbers 3 to 7 back home and as such have stayed home or opted out (Lochte and Phelps). The dam is building in a bodysuit: 13 of the all-time 20 efforts come from this year.
The World Top 10, 2008:
52.89 Peirsol, Aaron USA, 2007 52.98
52.91 Thoman, Nicholas USA, 2007 54.41
53.09 Bal, Randall USA, 2007 53.54
53.10 Meeuw, Helge GER, 2007 53.85
53.19 Grevers, Matthew USA, 2007 55.31
53.37 Lochte, Ryan USA, 2007 53.50
53.42 Phelps, Michael USA, 2007 53.01
53.68 Hesen, Benedict USA, 2007 54.27
53.68 Delaney, Ashley AUS, 2007 54.34
53.78 Stoeckel, Hayden AUS, 2007 55.18
Danger just outside the top 10: down at 25th, Tancock, reselected in the 100m back in 2007, has yet to show where he can go, not having rested for a 100m long-course blast this year. Off the 50m world record he set in April, the answer suggests that he will be a very serious threat indeed.


The Battle:The reigning champion, Peirsol is favourite for the crown, particularly after that world-record blast at trials in Omaha. The danger beyond teammate Matt Grevers ... who stands 6ft 8in and sounds like a man everyone will want to be very polite to ... rests with European rivals Helge Meeuw, the German yet to prove he can stand up on the biggest of occasions, and Liam Tancock, double bronze medallist at the 2007 World Championships and yet to swim a fully rested long-course 100m this year, his success in Melbourne earning him Olympic pre-selection. Tancock took the world s/c title in Manchester but that can be seen as little more than a marker of speed: second to Tancock was Randall Bal, winner of every world cup backstroke race but fourth at US trlals in Omaha in the big pool. Best not to discount another giant-of-a-man Arkadi Vyatchanin (RUS), while Aussie teammates Ashley Delaney and Hayden Stoeckel have been making the right moves. Markus Rogan's focus has been the 200m but the Austrian could also surprise in the 100m.

Most consistent: Peirsol has three times in the top 12 performances; Bal was the other very consistent performer but could not get past trials.

History: Americans have won not far short of half of all medals ever claimed over 100m: of the 22 finals contested since 1904 (the event was dropped at the 1964 Games in Tokyo), the USA has claimed 10 gold, 11 silvers and six bronzes, for 27 podium visits out of a possible 66. 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). Matthes is also the only man to ever medal on backstroke at three Games, his swansong marked by a bronze medal over 100m at Montreal in 1976 two weeks after an appendectomy. Aaron Peirsol (USA) looks set to become the first man to join the German's club of one should he make the USA team for Beijing and defend the 2004 200m title four years after taking silver over four laps at Sydney 2000. 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.

Fastest: Fastest: 53.72 (final): Lenny Krazelburg (USA), 2000
World Record wins: Bierbestein, 1908; Kojac, 1928; Naber, 1976
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.
Most controversial: Igor Polianski (URS), set three world records over 100m on the road to Seoul, 1988, clocking 55.00 in July. On August 13 at the US trials, David Berkoff set world records of 54.95 in heats and 54.91 in finals using a submarine start. In Seoul, Berkoff blasted a 54.51 world record in the in the heats. But Daichi Suzuki (JPN) had been practising the submarine start in secret for seven years. Berkoff led the nervy final at the turn but on the way home, Suzuki drew level 10m from the finish wall and snatched the crown by 55.05 to 55.18, with Polianski third on 55.20. FINA banned submarinery immediately after Seoul, first with a rule limiting underwater action to 10m before extending that to the current 15m. Berkoff survived the rule change, finishing third at the 1992 Games behind Tewksbury and Rouse.



World record: 3:40.08 - Ryan Lochte (USA), Melbourne, 30.3.07; Aaron Peirsol (USA), Omaha, Nebraska, 4.7.08
2004 Olympic champion: Peirsol, 1:54.95
2007 World champion: Lochte, 1:54.32

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Lochte; Peirsol; Rogan
3 Breakers: Chris de Jong (USA); Thiago Pereira (BRA); Benjamin Stasiulis (FRA)
1 Bubbling Under: Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS)
1 On The Edge: James Goddard (GBR)
Don't forget: Razvan Florea (ROM); Morita; Gregor Tait (GBR); Phelps if he wants it
All-time top 10, end 2007:
1:54.32 Lochte USA)
1:54.44 Peirsol (USA)
1:54.65 Phelps (USA)
1:55.44 Vyatchanin (RUS)
1:55.74 Rogan (AUT)
1:55.87 Krayzelburg (USA)
1:56.34 Meeuw (GER)
1:56.57 Lopez-Zubero (ESP)
1:56.69 Cseh (HUN)
1:56.75 DeJong (USA)
New impact on all-time top 10: Lochte; Phelps; Rogan; De Jong

The picture in August 2008:

Peirsol faces the teammate with whom he now shares the world record, Ryan Lochte. They have company in the sub-1:55 club: in June at the Japan Open, Kosuke Kitajima's 200m breaststroke world record and LZR campaigning, overshadowed a phenomenal leap from a 1:56.53 best to a 1:54.77 Asian record by Ryosuke Irie. Progress in the ranks of this event has been calmer than in many other events this year. For how much longer?
The World Top 10, 2008:
1:54.32 Peirsol, Aaron USA 2007 1:54.77
1:54.34 Lochte, Ryan USA 2007 1:54.32
1:54.77 Irie, Ryosuke JPN 2007 1:57.30
1:55.84 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 1:54.65
1:55.85 Rogan, Markus AUT 2007 1:55.74
1:56.66 Vyatchanin, Arkadi RUS 2007 1:57.14
1:56.67 Tait, Gregor GBR 2007 1:58.86
1:56.75 Stoeckel, Hayden AUS 2007 2:01.72
1:56.82 Goddard, James GBR 2007 1:58.36
1:57.22 Delaney, Ashley AUS 2007 1:59.31

Danger just outside the top 10: hard to see anyone stepping up from beyond 1:57 to challenge for medals that may require a mid 1:54 or better.

The Battle: the duel is one all - Lochte inflicted the wound in Melbourne last year, Peirsol struck back at trials and got the touch, by 0.02sec. World champion in 2001, 2003 and 2005, Peirsol, reigning Olympic champion and silver medallist at 17 in 2000, suffered his first major defeat since his teens in that battle Down Under in 2007 but he is clearly still hungry. With multi-talented Lochte pressing for regime change, the Olympic gold may demand a world record. The danger to both is overshadowed Ryosuke Irie (JPN), with that phenomenal leap from a 1:56.53 best to a 1:54.77 Asian record in June. Silver medallist last time - in that controversial 2004 final that saw Peirsol DQ'd for turning over too soon at the turns, then reinstated when the paperwork looked like the product of a fun-with-paints session at the local kindergarten - Austria's Markus Rogan, European champion, believes he will be in the mix again, but will need to step up a second and more.

Most consistent: Peirsol - an amazing seven out of 11 of the best performances this year

History: Americans have won half of all gold medals, and almost half of all medals since in the 12 finals contested in 1900 and then since 1964. The USA has claimed six gold, six silver and four bronze medals. Matthes (GDR) alone is the second most successful 'nation' with the two gold medals won in 1968 and 1972, when he also won the 100m. He remains the only man ever to win the double twice and is one of only three men to win the Olympic final in a world record, his 2:02.82 in Munich, 1972, registered as equal to his hand-held record of 2:02.8 before the advent of electronic timing to a hundredth of a second. The other world records were established by Jed Graef (USA), 1964, and Naber, 1976. If Matthes was the first man to race inside 2:10 in Olympic waters (1968), then Naber was the first to crack the 2-minute mark, his 1:59.19 among the most stunning of Olympic victories: if the mark survived as a world record for seven years, until Carey in 1983, then the Olympic record of Montreal would survive the next three Games before falling to US-trained home-Games-hero Martin Lopez-Zubero in Barcelona, 1992, at the helm of the first sub-2-minute podium. Naber's 1976 effort would still have challenged for medals until Sydney 2000, and been good enough for seventh in Athens 2004. The first sub-2-minute final was led by Krazelburg at Sydney 2000, that race remaining unique in Olympic history: eighth place at Athens 2004 was 0.06sec over 2 minutes. Just 13 nations have placed a swimmer on the podium since 1968. Peirsol was the first to break the 1:55 mark in Olympic waters.

Fastest: 1:54.95, Peirsol (2004)
World Record wins: Graef, 1964; Matthes (1972); Naber (1976).
Biggest margin: Peirsol?s 1:54.95 in Athens 2004 left him 2.4sec ahead of Markus Rogan?s silver for Austria, a margin of victory significantly greater than all others in the modern era. The one pre-War final over 200m dates back to 1900, when Ernst Hoppenberg claimed the crown for Germany by nine seconds while guided by the clouds over Paris and the ducks on the Seine.
Closest shave:Graef beat teammate Gary Dilley by 0.2sec in 1964, while from the era of electronic timing, Igor Polianski (URS) defeated Frank Baltrusch (GDR) by 0.23sec at Seoul in 1988.
Most controversial: at Athens 2004, Peirsol was disqualified by French judge Denis Cadon for allegedly turning on to his front too soon before the turn. The scoreboard demoted Peirsol to the bottom of the pile but after frantic discussions between the judge, US officials and members of the FINA Bureau, Peirsol was reinstated as champion on the basis that 'the DSQ of the swimmer in lane 4, Peirsol Aaron (USA) was not accepted due to the detail of the reason being inadequate'. While Cadon, a judge of 25 years experience, maintained that his decision had been correct, the accompanying paperwork was a disgrace.

The statistics used in our previews are the work of Nick Thierry, the SwimNews founder whose work on world rankings for the past 30 years has provided an invaluable resource for the sport and the media who cover it