Ryan Murphy will get the chance to defend the 100-meter backstroke title he won five years ago at the Rio Olympics.
The 25-year-old former Cal star won the event Tuesday night at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Now he is tasked with trying to extend an American winning streak in the 100 back at the Olympics that dates back nearly three decades.
Murphy swam 52.33 seconds to hold off runner-up Hunter Armstrong (52.48) and Cal’s Bryce Mefford, who clocked a personal-best time of 52.91 and finished fourth.
Mefford, who just completed his senior season with the Bears and was seeded 14th entering the meet, on Monday because just the ninth American to break 53 seconds in the event.
But it’s Murphy, the world-recordholder, who earned a trip to the Tokyo Olympics
“I mean, it’s incredible. It just means so much to make another Olympic team,” Murphy said in the pool-side interview with NBC. “To do it in front of a crowd, in front of my family, that’s really awesome to me.”
Two years removed from winning an NCAA title in the 200 freestyle as a Cal senior, Andrew Seliskar is headed to Tokyo after a fourth-place finish in the event Tuesday night.
Seliskar won’t swim the individual 200 at the Games but will be part of the U.S. 4x200 relay team along with Florida’s Kieran Smith, Townley Haas ad Drew Kibble, who finished 1-2-3 in the 200 final.
Seliskar, who won four NCAA titles for Cal, finished in 1:46.34 to become the first Golden Bear to earn a spot on the Olympic swim team.
Smith, who also won the 400 free title on Sunday night, said he’s excited for the 800 relay at the Games. “I think we have four guys for a really great 4x2 relay,” Smith said.
Isabelle Stadden, coming off her freshman season at Cal, missed out on an Olympic team spot after finishing fifth in the women’s 100 backstroke final with a time of 59.37. She improved one spot from her sixth-place effort in the semifinals on Monday. American record-holder Regan Smith won the 100 back in 58.35.
Trenton Julian, who was runner-up in the 200 butterfly at the NCAA championships as a senior this spring, stormed into the final of the same event after swimming a lifetime-best mark of 1:55.35 in the semifinals.
Julian went out fast, swimming 28.5 over his second 50-meter split to build a 1.5-second left at the halfway point. But he slowed at the finish, closing in 32.1, as Zach Harting scooted past him to win in 1:55.21. Harting and first-heat winner Luca Urlando tied for the fastest qualifying time.
Former Cal star Tom Shields, 29, finished 14th in the 200 fly semifinals (1:58.73).
The evening ended with the women’s 200 individual medley semifinals and more disappointment for former Golden Bears star Kathleen Baker. The 24-year-old finished 11th in the 200 IM semis in a time of 2:12.95 and did not qualify for the final.
Baker experienced the same fate Monday night in the semifinals of the 100 backstroke — an event where she once held the world record. She is far from her best right now, barely a month after suffering a broken bone and tendon damage in her right foot in what she described as a “freak walking accident.”
Baker has two days off before getting her final chance to make the U.S. team when she swims heats in the 200 backstroke on Friday morning.
Baker advanced into the 200 IM semis after finishing 13th in the morning prelims. Her time of 2:13.89 was more than five seconds slower than her entry mark.
Katie McLaughlin advanced to Wednesday night’s final in the women’s 200 freestyle by placing third in the semifinals with a time of 1:57.37. She actually was third in her heat, behind superstar Katie Ledecky (1:55.83) and runner-up Paige Madden (1:56.44), and was faster than second semifinal winner Allison Schmitt (1:57.53), the reigning Olympic champion in the event.
Cal’s Isabel Ivey placed 12th in the 200 semifinals (1:59.31) while former Golden Bears star Abbey Weitzel scratched from the race.
In the morning heats of the women’s 200 free, McLaughlin (sixth in 1:58.63), Weitzeil (13th in 1:59.53) and Ivey (14th in 1:59.60) all advanced to the semifinals while Ayla Spitz (22nd in 2:00.65) was sidelined.
Cal was represented by six entries in the men’s 200 butterfly heats, with two of them moving on to the semis: Julian (third in 1:56.42) and Shields (13th in 1:57.82). Jason Louser (18th in 1:58.76), Colby Mefford (28th in 2:00.12), Dare Rose (30th in 2:00.23) and Gabriel Jett (44th in 2:02.61) all failed to advance.
Cover photo of Ryan Murphy celebrating with 100 back runner-up Hunter Armstrong by Rob Schumacher, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo