Of the ten swimmers definitely going to Rio from Tuesday night’s swimming (excluding Gunnar Bentz and Clarke Smith, the presumptive 5th and 6th men for the 4×200 freestyle relays) only two (Conor Dwyer and Ryan Lochte) have been before. Many are calling it a changing of the guard, a symbolic rejuvenation of a sport heralded for career longevity (Natalie Coughlin, who made top-8 in the 100 back, was 12-years senior to the next youngest swimmer). Thus far, the mid-career pros have been dealt out by the high power college-age athletes. Wednesday’s events promise more age and experience (look for Adrian, Feigen, and other returning Olympians in the 100 free, Allison Schmitt in the 200 free, and Phelps in the 200 fly). Here’s a recap of Tuesday.
Women’s 200 Free Semi-final
In a race essentially signed, sealed, and delivered to Katie Ledecky, there was still plenty of excitement. The race for second is always a dire one, but for the 200m free (like the 100m free) the top 4 and usually top 6 are guaranteed a spot on the relays. The semi-finals saw faceoffs between headliners like Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin, and Leah Smith, NCAA champion Simone Manuel, distance stars like Cierra Runge and Shannon Vreeland, and Melanie Margalis, swimming the first of two semi-final swims. The sprint sensation Manuel took the race out hard, faster than even Ledecky through the first 150m, but she suffered on the last 50 for it. Schmitt was overtaken by Leah Smith time-wise, as the pair grabbed 2nd and 3rd. Missy Franklin put up a respectable swim for fourth, which would ensure a relay spot, and Manuel grabbed fifth ahead of Runge. Based on Smith’s finish, just tenths off her best, and her ability to track down Ledecky in the 400 she holds the favorite status going into the final. Schmitt still holds the American Record, although Ledecky was only 3 seconds off that time 200m into her 400, so if she feels like it that record will fall. Only Ledecky looks poised to face the competitive world-wide field with Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and the Netherland’s Femke Heemskerk, but Smith and Schmitt both have the potential, and Franklin may yet shine in this meet like so many believe she can.
Men’s 200m Free
There has rarely been so hotly contested a race as this year’s 200 freestyle. Every member of this heat had some incredible distinction (including 3 Olympic medalists and the NCAA record holders in the 500y free, 1000y free, and 200y fly), and everyone wanted the ride to Rio. With a ticket already punched in the 400m free, Conor Dwyer opened strong, leading the field at the 100m mark. That was when veteran Ryan Lochte turned it on with back to back underwater performances that put him out in front, coming off the final turn. But as the last 50 meters elapsed, college sensations Townley Haas and Jack Conger brought it home. Haas clinched first, ahead of Dwyer, with a 1:45.66 making him the 7th fastest American in history. Conger, finishing 3rd, blew past Lochte who had the second slowest final 50 in the field and looked tired coming into the wall. Those four have guaranteed passes to Rio to compete in the 4×200 freestyle relay, and Haas and Dwyer will compete in the individual 200m event.
Women’s 100m Back
The women’s 100m backstroke resembles the 2012 Olympic Trials heat, except perhaps
flipped. Back then, Missy Franklin was the top finished, posting a 58.85, followed by
Rachel Bootsma, and Natalie Coughlin was heartbreakingly close to an individual swim in
London finishing third – 17-year-old Olivia Smoliga finished fourth. This time around,
Smoliga lead the charge to Rio, winning with a 59.02; behind her SwimMAC’s Kathleen
Baker snatched second – Franklin and Coughlin finished 7th and 8th with unimpressive
swims (and Bootsma failed to make the semi-finals). Coughlin’s 2nd 50 was fatigued, and
Franklin never really got going, raising concerns about her preparedness for this meet.
The Brazil-bound duo of Smoliga and Baker will have a tough event against international
stars like Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who may herself break Franklin’s world record
Men’s 100m Back
The 100 back offered two spots to three contenders: Matt Grevers, the 2012 top
qualifier; Ryan Murphy, the hot college prospect from Cal, who was 6th in 2012; and
David Plummer, the father of two who finished a disappointing third in 2012. This time
around, Grevers will be staying home. Ryan Murphy and David Plummer were with .04
seconds the entire race, holding back Olympian Grevers by half a second. The rest of
the heat was a step further back, but many of them should be back in 2020, but for
Grevers this was not outcome he wanted facing retirement. Plummer and Murphy will be on
even footing with Australia’s Mitch Larkin and perhaps France’s Camille Lacourt looking
for a hotly contested gold in Rio.
Women’s 100m Breast
The 100 breast was similarly a 3-woman race – SwimMAC’s Katie Meili, Indiana’s Lilly
King, and Tennassee’s Molly Hannis have been slugging it out for 3 sessions, ahead of
big names like Breeja Larson and Jessica Hardy. But in this final King went out fast
and never looked back; she has been the only swimmer to achieve a time faster than 1:06
at this meet. Meili grabbed second, swimming a 1:06.07, edging out Molly Hannis by half
a second. Larson moved from 8th to 4th in the final, boding well for her 200
breaststroke later this week. Come Rio, the American ladies will face a tough Eastern
block of the Lithuanian Ruta Mielutyte and Russian Yulia Efimova.
Men’s 200m Fly Semi-final
The 200 fly is largely considered a race for second behind a rejuvenated Michael
Phelps. His two swims so far have put him well in front of the field, giving him a
second of cushion before the next American. Well off his own record, Phelps posted a
1:55.17 last night, looking a little tired in the home stretch. College stand-out Jack
Conger grabbed 7th, impressive after swimming the 200 freestyle less than an hour
before. Conger is less than 2 seconds behind Phelps now, and with more rest he might be
a good sleeper pick. However he’ll be stacked up against Olympian Tom Shields,
currently in third, 400IM champion Chase Kalisz, and fellow-200 swimmer Gunnar Bentz
who will benefit from the extra rest as well. The 7 swimmers behind Phelps all touched
within under a second of each other, so this race is going to be incredibly tough.
Phelps dropped a 1:52.94 last August so he is capable of greater swims, and he is
perhaps saving his taper for Rio, but whichever other American makes it will face a
competitive global field, led by Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh who is faster than Phelps since
Women’s 200m IM Semi-final
The final event of Tuesday night was the women’s 200m individual medley, and it is also
a hotly contested race. Maya DiRado, the top qualifier in the longer 400 medley and
fourth place finisher in this event in 2012, is the top seed going into Wednesday night
after a strong swim of 2:10.09. Behind her, finalist Melanie Margalis, who is also in
good position to qualify in the 200m free, is looking to complete the grueling 400-
yard-double Wednesday night and come away with two Olympic tickets. Hoping to spoil her
achievement are Madisyn Cox and Caitlin Leverenz, both about one second back. Leverenz
has the second fastest US swim of all time from her trip to London, and DiRado holds
the third (hundreds of a second apart) from her swim at 2015 World Championships. The
rest of the field is further back. In an Olympic Trials where returning Olympians are
time and time again missing their old marks, can Leverenz ward off Margalis, Cox and
DiRado, or will fresh blood reign?
Tune in tomorrow to see it play out, along with a fresh new batch of semi-finals after the morning events!