No man or woman has ever won the Gold in the Olympic 200m Freestyle more than once, and plenty of greats have done it (Phelps, Thorpe, Spitz). So the gauntlet has been thrown – can Allison Schmitt of the US or Yannick Agnel of France fight their way back to the top of the podium? Between the event and the 4×200 Free relay the US sent 13 swimmers to the Olympics, so this is the event where the most swimmers get a chance to swim on the world’s biggest stage!
Men: Tuesday, June 28: 7pm (recorded trials) NBC-Sports Network; 8pm Finals NBC
Women: Wednesday, June 29: 7pm (recorded trials) NBC-Sports Network; 8pm Finals NBC
The NCAAs were not a harbinger of Olympic Trials in 2012 – no one from NCAAs made it to the OT finals. Daxon Hill of Texas put up a time that won by half a second, but would have gotten smoked and placed 5th at the 2016 NCAAs. Of the heat, Joao de Lucca made it to London for Brazil and participated in the relays. The 200, as you can see in the table above, was dominated by experience. Conor Dwyer was the young hope for the future, but now four years later…there are still a lot of veterans in this race.
However, the rest of the world has the jump on the US men. Yannick Agnel of France won the 2012 Olympics by almost 2 seconds over Tae Hwan Park of South Korea. Lochte finished 5th (1:45.0) and Berens pulled a disappointing 9th (Berens made the team as the 3rd qualifier, but Phelps chose not to compete in the individual 200 so Berens earned the spot). Phelps is the only American to ever break 1:44, and while only France’s Agnel is currently under that mark many came before him. American men need 1:43s, if not better, to clinch the 200 freestyle this time around.
On the list of qualifiers for Olympic Trials, the top three all swam in London: Lochte, Dwyer an McLean. Also vying for a 200-spot are veterans Michael Phelps, Connor Jaeger, and possibly Tyler Clary and Charlie Houchin. College sensations Townley Haas and Caeleb Dressel are on the list though, with Texas’s Jack Conger. Expect further challenges from Junior World Record-holder Maxime Rooney (declared to Florida), Indiana’s Zane Grothe, USC’s Reed Malone, and Indiana’s Blake Pieroni. In 2012, Phelps and Lochte were the only two men under 1:46; Dwyer and Lochte are the only two under that barrier now. But who will win those coveted relay spots? And once the two qualifiers make it, can either defeat Agnel, Australia’s Thomas Fraser Holmes (1:45.08), or Great Britain’s James Guy (1:45.14). Perennial threat Tae Hwan Park of South Korea (the only Korean to win any Olympic Medals) is currently suspended for doping in the fall of 2014, a ban imposed by Korea, ruling him out of this race.
The NCAA champion, Georgia’s Megan Romano, was tussled up in the top 8 at Trials: finishing 6th in the prelims and 4th in the semi-finals, Romano was one place away from a ticket to London, finishing 7th! From her NCAA heat, 5th place finisher and teammate Shannon Vreeland made the cut finishing 5th at trials. Texas’s Karly Bispo, 2nd at NCAAs, finished 12th, only a few places behind then 15-year-old Kathleen Ledecky (you may know her as Katie). Once at the Olympics, Allison Schmitt dominated the field, putting up the second fastest time in history, defeating world-record holder Francesca Pelligrini. Missy Franklin finished .01 out of bronze in an impressive 1:55.82 (also beating the WR-holder).
Schmitt and Franklin are both back, but Katie Ledecky has thrown her imposing hat into the mix – and is the top seed. Ledecky does not like losing, and she now has the 6th fastest time in history, behind only Schmitt, Pelligrini and Sweden’s Sara Sjostrom. Besides Franklin and Ledecky, only Vreeland and Leah Smith, the distance specialist from UVA, have broken into the top 10 US all-time 200 swimmers since the last Olympics.
At this year’s NCAA finals, Smith finished 6th with a 1:43.5, a time which does not convert to her impressive LCM 1:56.6 from earlier this month, evidencing that she’s gotten into high-gear leading up to OTs, or that she is a much stronger LCM swimmer. Georgia’s Brittany McLean took 1st in a 1:42.42, ahead of Louisville’s Mallory Comerford and Standford’s Lea Neal, but all well behind Missy Franklin’s record of 1:39.10. Franklin who is a very strong SCY swimmer puts their times into perspective; but then you have to wonder, if Leah Smith can make that jump, who else can?
Hali Flickinger, though smaller than many of her teammates, comes from the Georgia pedigree of incredible 200 swimmers. Her best time now is a 1:58.1, but she could definitely drop into relevance. In 2016 it took a 1:58.40 to make top 6 (despite even swimmers like Romano swimming 1:57 in the semi-finals to have a slightly off final). Swimming under a 1:58.0 is where the bar will be set this year.
As mentioned, Schmitt, Franklin and Ledecky are poised to dominate the event, and guessing which two of those three will qualify for the individual is harder than picking lottery numbers. But to round out the relay, expect the likes of Cal’s Katie McLaughlin, Standford star Maya DiRado, Vreeland, and another Bulldog Melanie Margalis (all under 1:58 already) to fight with Flickinger, Cal’s Elizabeth Pelton, Cierra Runge (previously of Cal, later Wisconsin), and sprint sensation Simone Manuel. (Of interest: Pelton, Runge, and Franklin were all teammates at Cal, but by next season only Pelton will remain of the three).
So in some ways, this event breaks down to Georgia Bulldogs, Cal swimmers, and Katie Ledecky – and it’s hard to bet against any of the three!