Four years ago, Ryan Murphy just missed out on the Olympic Team. At 16 years old, he was already labeled the future of American backstroke. In those four years, Murphy evolved into the most dominant backstroke specialist in collegiate swimming.
After the finals of the 200-meter backstroke, Murphy, as a first-time Olympian, proved he was the most dominant backstroke specialist in the world as well. By finishing first, .34 seconds ahead of the runner-up, Murphy became the first swimmer to sweep the backstroke events since Aaron Piersol did it in Athens in 2004.
Murphy’s race strategy is simple: dominate the underwater dolphin kicks off the start and turns. Murphy masterfully used the underwater to create momentum and accelerate through the second of four laps. After touching fourth 50 meters into the race, Murphy surfaced in first and never relinquished that lead.
Australia’s Mitch Larkin, the world champion in both backstroke events last year, started the race fast but could not hold off Murphy. Larkin finished in 1:53.96 to Murphy’s 1:53.62.
Jacob Pebley, Murphy’s teammate at Cal and the other American in the race, placed fifth. In the last couple of months, Pebley has been rapidly improving. He dropped a significant chunk of time to upset defending Olympic champion in this event, Tyler Clary, at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Since then, Pebley hasn’t reached a best time, but he’s been relatively consistent. Although Pebley is known for his ability to finish races, he faded in the last 25 meters of the race.