Swimming

Monday: Leah Smith Rocks; Women’s Back and Men’s 2 Free Uncertai

There were plenty of events Monday night, each with its own exciting narrative. 6 more swimmers reserved spots in Rio, and the majority of those were favorites coming in – however, tomorrow night’s finals have a a scarcity of favorites  and an excess of tight races!

Women’s 100 Fly

The evening began with college stud Kelsi Worrell nabbing the top spot in an electric 56.48, besting Olympian Dana Vollmer who also qualified. Kendyl Stewart showed up with her best swim so far, and a powerful first 50, but couldn’t keep the pace of Worrell
and Vollmer to close the race. This was Vollmer’s fifth Olympic Trials and will subsequently be her third Olympic team (2004, 2012, 2016). Worrell and Vollmer had such a lead on the pack that Stewart and Sarah Gibson had little chance of breaking up their momentum.

Women’s 100 Back SemiFinals

The women’s 100 back prelims saw favorites place well, while leaving some contenders outside the top 16. While Olivia Smoliga, Amy Bilquist, and Missy Franklin grabbed the top 3 spots, and Natalie Coughlin found her way into the top 8, Rachel Bootsma and Elizabeth Pelton missed the callback. The semi-finals were  a test for mid-pack swimmers like Couglin and Kathleen Baker – Baker stepped up in a big way to grab the #2 spot with a 59.36, just behind top seed Olivia Smoliga; Coughlin just managed 8th. Also of notice, Missy Franklin fnished a less-than-Olympic 7th. The fourteen-year-old had Regan Smith just slipped in with a 1:01.17, a PR, but she was dealt out of this event as well. Can Franklin or Coughlin drop big time to take one of the two spots? At the moment it doesn’t look like it, with Smoliga holding great speed and Baker now firing on all cylinders. Amy Bilquist is set to have the best chance to upset one of them – we’ll see Tuesday.

Men’s 200 Freestyle SemiFinals

The 200 freestlye, the confluence of speed and endurance, was and remains a dogfight.
There has never been so much parity in an event for USA swimming. The top 8 during
prelims were all clustered between 1:46.6 and 1:48.1, with a little separation between top
finisher Conor Dwyer and the rest of the pack. In the semi final, Townley Haas, coming
off a third place finish in the 400 the night before opened strong with a 52.1; on the
third 50 John Roberts charged up into 2nd place, but it was Jack Conger who ultimately
prevailed, out-touching Haas by .03 with a 1:47.15 – Tyler Clary grabbed 3rd in the
heat (1:47.66). The second heat had a faster top time out of Dwyer (1:46.96); despite a
charge by Ryan Lochte off the final turn, Dwyer hung on to win that heat.
Incredibly, Maxime Rooney’s 1:47.98 didn’t make it back, making this the deepest 200 in Olympic Trials history. The semi-finals left a lot of 400 swimmers on the side, excluding Olympian Connor Jaeger, Zane Grothe, Michael Klueh and Michael Weiss. It’s down to Dwyer, Conger, Haas, Clark, Lochte, Clary, Bentz, and Roberts for tomorrow night, and no one is a lock.

Women’s 100 Breast SemiFinals

The women’s 100 breast pitted SwimMAC rising star and Columbia graduate Katie Meili against college standout and NCAA Champion Lilly King. In the semi’s, King posted the top time ahead of Meili. In the semi-finals though, Molly Hannis posted a 1:06.24 to grab second ahead of Meili. None of the top swimmers have done a best time,  but King is the only to break 1:06 at this meet. Meili and King have swum 1:05s this year, and Hannis and Haase have posted 1:06.1 and 1:06.3 respectively since January. Also in the final, 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson, who qualified with a 1:05.9 then. This heat has favorites for sure, but the breaststroke event will go to whoever can shed the shackles of their previous best time: 1:05 mid will be good to win, and 2 or 3 swimmers should be able to put up that kind of time. Some great contenders fell in the semi-finals including Micah Lawrence and Annie Lazor. This event could go to anyone, but I favor Meili and King, with Haase and Hannis with the best position to steal the South America trip.

Women’s 400 Freestyle Finals

Leah Smith swam a PR 4:03.14 to grab 2nd in the prelims behind Katie Ledecky, ahead of
reigning Olympic Champion Allison Schmitt (4:06.66). Ledecky cruised to a 4:02.62 to lock
down the top seed. Distance specialist Cierra Runge, Stephanie Peacock, and Hannah Cox all made it back in the top heat as well. Open water specialistsHaley Anderson, Ashley Twitchell and Becca Mann were also cast out of the top 8, which took a 4:10.5 to return. The race everyone expected to see was Schmitt vs Smith: the battle for the second spot. What the headlines will likely read instead is how Ledecky took the heat for a roller coaster ride with her aggressive splits early on. My theory: Ledecky watched Clark Smith open his 400 in self-immolative glory, going as much as two seconds below world record pace before falling back tremendously, and Ledecky thought, “I want to try that.” Ledecky opened with a 56.3, and then stabilized with 30s for the rest of the race, which in and of itself is awesome.

LeahSmith_OG.jpg

Decorated ACC and NCAA Champion and proud UVA Cavalier Leah  Smith is now the second fastest American woman in the history of the 400 free, and she can hang with heavy favorite and world champion Katie Ledecky.

But the buried lead here is that Leah Smith became the second fast American and third fastest woman of all time, with the 10th fastest swim in history. Leah Smith turned in an incredible 4:00.65 and out-split Katie Ledecky for each 50 of the last 200 yards – she CAUGHT UP to Katie Ledecky! Expect a lot from this fresh new talent! I feel a little bad for Allison Schmitt – she would have had to have dropped 3 seconds from her best to make the cut, but she got her chain yanked by Ledecky’s aggressive hi-jinx and Smith’s brilliant repartee; Schmitt was over a second faster at her 200 than in the morning, likely feeling pressure of the lead pair. Ledecky and Smith will be a mean pair at the Olympics, and expect Katie to buckle down and really put on a show there!

 

Men’s 100 Breast

This event didn’t produce any upsets – Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes were the favorites
coming in, the top seeds in the prelims, and the semi-finals, and they clinched the top
two spots. Cordes had the edge on Miller for all three swims, garnering a new American
Record in the semi-finals. This isn’t to say their swims weren’t impressive, just
predictable. Moreso, the other swimmers in the event were also noteworthy, just
outmatched. Josh Prenot wowed with his 59s, Michael Andrew obliterated the age-group
record and had three sub-minute swims, and Andrew Wilson inhabited the sub-minute space as well, but they couldn’t get as close to the sun (or the 59 second mark) as Miller or
Cordes. As I mentioned yesterday, there was a lot of talent lost in the 9-16 finishers
like high school giant Reece Whitley. America still hasn’t caught Great Britain and the
likes of Adam Peaty, but we have a strong squad of breaststrokers to watch develop.

Men’s 100 Back

For the mens 100 back prelims, David Plummer grabbed the top spot with an impressive
53.22, ahead of Cal’s Jacob Pebley. Matt Grevers and Ryan Murphy made the top 8 with
ease, but high-schooler Michael Taylor posted a fantastic 53.77 to grab 3rd. Beyond
them, the 100 back had two prolific swim-offs – a three-way tie for 15th (so 2/3
swimmers can advance) and a 2-way tie for 18th, such that one could be the second
alternate. The three-way resolved with all swimmers posting about the same time,
around 55.4; however, in the unexpected second swim for 18th place, Luke Kaliszak and
Bob Glover both took the opportunity to shine in Omaha. Tied with a 55.43, Kaliszak
dropped a hot little 54.56 to best Glover’s 54.96, earning him nothing except respect.
54.58 would have been good for 8th overall. In the evening though, Murphy and Grevers
kicked it up to drop to 52.28 and 52.64 respecitively, but neither could catch Plummer
who cruised in at a 52.12 – the fifth fastest swim of all time! In American history
only Grevers (once) and American Record holder Aaron Piersol (once) have been faster.
(France’s Camille Lacourt and Australia’s Mitch Larkin fill out the top 5). Larkin
poses the first legitimate threat to the US’s backstroke dynasty in a while, but we’ll
see tonight as Plummer, Grevers and Murphy duke it out just how strong US backstroke
is. Expect pressure from Pebley and Taylor, but count on two of Plummer, Grevers, and
Murphy to migrate south this summer.

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