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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Swimming

Lochte Misses; Kalisz, Jaeger, DiRado Score

It’s a changing of the guard. After tonight’s finals, 6 passports were stamped to Rio, four of them first time Olympians, and the 16 more swimmers advance to finals tomorrow night.

[If you missed the reactions to prelims, read here]

The night began with a highly touted race between College Champion Chase Kalisz and Olympic Champion Ryan Lochte in the 400IM, but the way in panned out would have spoiled many bets. Lochte opened the race with a strong fly and back, but was passed on the breaststroke by Kalisz. Not only was Lochte’s breast split atypically slow, he didn’t have the strong and composed freestyle he’s so known for, and he was overtaken by Jay Litherland. The third for Lochte must come as a disappointment, and hopefully not a sign of injury, but Kalisz dazzled with a 4:09, not the fastest US time by far but a strong effort that could stack up competitively with the current world leaders.

kalisz lochte

Kalisz and Lochte enter the water together in Omaha as the two favorites to compete in Rio in the 400 Individual Medley.

The women’s  100 fly progressed more according to script. Dana Vollmer still has her incredible speed and technique, but besides Kelsi Worrell nobody else can hang. The pair were the only swimmers to break 58 today. Claire Donahue and Hellen Moffitt both cemented their spots in the top 8, the young Cassidy Bayer posted another impressive time, 58.11, but was bested by Sarah Gibson of Texas A&M, who dropped from 59.19 to 58.02. Gibson might just be the wild card to topple the establishment, if she pulls deep again and sticks it out with Worrell and Vollmer. The finals are tomorrow night.

For the 400 free there was one heck of a show. Remember when Paul Biedermann of Germany set the World Record in 2009 wearing a tech suit? Well, Texas’s Clark Smith put Biedermann to shame for about 150-200 yards. Smith was as much as 1.5 seconds under World Record pace, and he pulled the field forward with him. Clark fell off his incredible pace and wound up finishing fifth, but as Smith faded, the battle between Connor Jaeger, Conor Dwyer, and Zane Grothe emerged to the forefront. Dwyer was looking strong all race, holding a sensible second behind Smith, but right around mid-way Jaeger fired the jets and didn’t look back. Jaeger closed the gap on Dwyer, and passed him in the final 50. Meanwhile, NCAA Champion Townley Haas finished strong and grabbed third place, almost overtaking Dwyer, but sinking Grothe back to 4th. It was an electric race, and the entire pool light up as Jaeger posted the third fastest time in American History behind only Larsen Jensen and Peter Vanderkaay, passing Eric Vendt in the history books. As many predicted, Conor and Connor made it through.

The women’s 400 IM also fell to the favorites coming into the meet. Despite a great morning swim by Sarah Henry, Maya DiRado did what she does and locked down the 400 IM. Elizabeth was hanging just about a second back for the whole race until the last 50, but held on to second place, despite a charge by Bethany Galat early on the freestyle leg. Cox, who finished 4th, and Galat both turned in great swims, besting Olympian Caitlin Leverenz, but ultimately fell short to DiRado and Beisel. DiRado, who has a full schedule of events this week, will have tomorrow to rest and revel in being an Olympic Athlete.

dirado

Maya Dirado, the first female swimmer to earn a spot in Rio, will compete with Elizabeth Beisel in the 400 IM at the Olympic Games.

Finally, the men’s 100 breaststroke ended the evening with a bang. The story-line is great, Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes, two titans of breaststroke, set to face off tomorrow in the final. Cordes upped the ante by breaking the American Record, posting a sizzling 58.94. Cody Miller turned in a 59.09 ahead of Josh Prenot who is third. Prenot may benefit from not having the 400IM prelim as he fights with Miller and Cordes tomorrow in the final. Behind Prenot, three swimmers clustered between 59.85 and 59.88 – rising star Michael Andrew, Texas grad Andrew Wilson, and Georgia’s Nic Fink. It is unlikely any of the three can break into the top two, but Michael Andrew again lowered his Junior World Record. The final tomorrow will decide all.

A quick shout-out to Brendan McHugh (Penn alumnus) and Alex Evdokimov (Cornell undergrad). McHugh posted a lifetime best 1:00.46, and Evdokimov managed to tie his prelims PR, 1:01.14. It isn’t often two Ivy League guys make it to the semi-finals but it was great to watch. More great swims coming tomorrow!

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Uncategorized

Olympic Trials Day 1- Prelims Reactions

M400IM, W100Fly, M400Fr, W400IM, M100Br

Men’s 400 IM

Reactions

Michael Phelps did not throw his hat in the ring this time around, but defending Olympic Champion Ryan Lochte did. Lochte had a dominating fly and back, but the breaststroke leg was owned by Chase Kalisz of North Baltimore, splitting a 1:10.3, besting Lochte by 2.3 seconds. Kalisz hung on to finish first in prelims ahead of Lochte, both touching in 4:11. Cal Breaststroke star Josh Prenot also surged ahead of Lochte with his blistering breaststroke split of 1:07.91 (I did the math 3 times because that’s FAST), but Prenot couldn’t hold on in the freestyle and finished 6th. He swam again later as well, and scratched from the final to focus on his 100 breaststroke.

Olympic medalist Tyler Clary, who is the third fastest American of all time in the 400IM from 2009, had a notably off race. Front-loading his strong strokes such that he had the lead at the 200, Clary looked beat on the breaststroke leg, and a lack-luster freestyle finished got him into the wall 8th overall. Clary, who many thought would qualify in this event, scratched from the final, conserving his energy for other races.

After scratches, the top 8 are listed below. Expect Lochte to drop time in this event tonight, but look for recent graduate Kalisz to fight hard. Dynamo’s Jay Litherland was less than a second behind Lochte this morning as well.

1 – Chase Kalisz
2 – Ryan Lochte
3 – Jay Litherland
4 – Gunnar Bentz
5 – Sean Grieshop
6 – Abraham Devine
7 – Austin Snyder
8 – Charlie Swanson
Alt – Andrew Seliskar

Women’s 100 Butterfly

The 100 fly was an event that progressed largely as predicted, but one take-away was that Kelsi Worrell came out swinging. Kentucky’s Worrell took the top seed in an all-around beautiful swim, (26.35, 56.84), besting Cal veteran Dana Vollmer y three quarters of a second. Yuungster Cassidy Bayer was a distant third, but with her, Vollmer and Worrell were the only women to swim faster than 59 seconds. Worrell’s time is the second fastest in American history, eclipsed only by Vollmer’s 55.98 to clinch gold in London and become the then-world record (which has only been surpassed by Sweden’s Sara Sjostrom, though several times).  Vollmer already churned out a 56.98 this season at Mesa, so expect fireworks (literal and figurative) in semi-finals and finals!

In the top 8, and top 16, there are still plenty of contenders who would want to take Worrell or Vollmer out of the picture. 4th place Kendall Stewart’s lifetime best is a 57.82; Felicia Lee, currently in 9th, has clocked a 58.4; 16-year old Eva Merrell is the other high-school aged contender; Claire Donohue is also sitting pretty in 13th, ready to step up and make top-8 tonight. The start list for semi finals is here:

Heat 1
Ln  Place   Name
1       14       Ivy Martin
2      10       Lauren Case
3       6        Katie McLaughlin
4       2        Dana Vollmer
5       4        Kendyl Stewart
6       8        Hali Flickinger
7      12       Cammile Adams
8      16       Natalie Labonge

Heat 2
Ln   Place    Name
1        13       Claire Donohue
2        9        Felicia Lee
3        5         Eva Merrell
4        1         Kelsi Worrell
5        3         Cassidy Bayer
6       7          Sarah Gibson
7      11          Kaitlyn Jones
8      15          Hellen Moffitt

Mens 400 Freestyle

The 400 freestyle has a lot of familiar looking names as the 2012 final: Conor Dwyer, Michael McBroom, Connor Jaeger. This morning’s top finisher, Zane Grothe, was just outside with a 3:52.8 and 14th place in 2012. Today, Grothe showed a strong 3:47, just over a second off his best. Close behind him were Dwyer, McBroom and Jaeger, all 3:47s as well. But then came the young-guns: NCAA champion Townley Haas, True Sweetster, and Clark Smith all showed strong 3:48s, all swimming personal bests and making it on the list of top 20 fastest Americans ever. Grant Shoults rounds out the final.  The questions for tonight: will Haas take his NCAA championship attitude to finals and steal a spot? Will Grothe hang on to the top spot against the unflappable Conor/Connor mid-distance block? Will youth triumph over experience with the likes of Sweetster or Shoults? Starting list here:

1 – Zane Grothe
2 – Conor Dwyer
3 – Michael McBroom
4 – Connor Jaeger
5 – Townley Haas
6 – True Sweetster
7 – Clark Smith
8 – Grant Shoults
Alt – Kevin Litherland

Women’s 400 IM

The women’s 400 IM, much like the men’s, is grueling. That’s perhaps why Sarah Henry, well established for her stamina, sits atop the finalists. Her 4:36.93 makes her the 8th fastest American ever; Elizabeth Beisel, who was less than a second behind her today,Mira Dirado, and Caitlin Leverenz, who finished 2nd, 4th, and 5th today respectively, are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fastest all time behind retired Olympian Katie Hoff. Making an appearance in a big was Bethany Galat, posting a 4:38.39 to beat Dirado to the wall. The real test will be if momentum and personal bests will hold up against time-tested speed. The rest of the heat will be in the race, but expect your two qualifiers to be among those 5. The starting list is here:

1 – Sarah Henry
2 – Elizabeth Beisel
3 – Bethany Galat
4 – Maya Dirado
5 – Caitlin Leverenz
6 – Madisyn Cox
7 – Kate Mills
8 – Lindsey Clary
Alt – Ella Eastin

Men’s 100 Breaststroke

The 100 breast is a fun race to watch. There are so many different tempos and styles, and the best of the best have so much polish on such a strange stroke. This event is fresh: Nic Fink, Kevin Cordes, Brendan McHugh and Marcus Titus are the only swimmers who made top 16 in 2012 – neither 2012 qualifier is in the water (though I’ve definitely seen Brendan Hansen walking around as a coach). Cody Miller (currently 2nd,  with a 59.33, PR) has become a dominant force in the Pro scene, but Kevin Cordes (currently 1st, with a 59.05, PR) has been one of the most dominant collegiate swimmers in any set of events ever, and Will Licon (currently 8th) killed his perfect sweep! Add to that mix the youngest swimmer to ever go pro – now 17, Michael Andrew impressed, crushing the junior  world record and busting onto the all-time US list at 9th!

Ln  Place   Name
1       14       Connor Hoppe
2      10       Ian Finnerty
3       6        Marcus Titus
4       2        Cody Miller
5       4        Andrew Wilson
6       8        Will Licon
7      12       Sam Tierney
8      16       Chuck Katis

Heat 2
Ln   Place    Name
1        13       Reece Whitley
2        9        Nic Fink
3        5         Michael Andrew
4        1         Kevin Cordes
5        3         Josh Prenot
6       7          Brendan McHugh
7      11          Alex Evdokimov
8      15          Brandon Fiala

MORE TO FOLLOW 1BR

 

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Swimming

Go the Distance at Olympic trials: 400, 800, 1500m

There are no locks in Olympic Swimming – anything can happen. But there hasn’t been so dominant a force in the freestyle arguably ever before Katie Ledecky came along. Ledecky made waves at 2012 US Olympic Trials as the 15-year-old prodigy threatening the veterans in crowded events like the 200 and 400 (where she finished 9th and 3rd respectively), and ultimately clinching the top spot in the 800, beating distance pro Kate Ziegler and breaking the USOT record.

Ledecky went on to win the 800 in London, set the American Record, and come just tenths off Rebecca Adlington’s World Record. Everyone said she had the potential to be the next Janet Evans, the US women’s distance swimming legend – suffice it say, that was an understatement!

Ledecky

Star swimmer, 19-year-old Katie Ledecky holds 11 separate world records in various freestyle events in Long and Short Course pools, and is the undisputed queen of freestyle.

Ledecky went on a tear over the last four years, breaking American and World records unrested, in mid-season, toppling giants and separating herself from the rest of swimming world in an amazing way. She is a once in a lifetime talent, with unmatched endurance, but most incredibly of all she has speed. Ledecky is the heavy favorite in the 800m freestyle for both Trials and the Games in Rio, however she could earn herself a spot in the 4×100 freestyle relay, an unprecedented move! She could potentially sweep the 200, 400 and 800!

She has no parallel on the men’s side. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have famed versatility in several strokes, but Ledecky is no slouch there either. She has a top-4 time for the 400 individual medley (once one of Phelps’s and Lochte’s signature events). So I’ll present the other potential qualifiers on the women’s side, but the heavy assumption is that Ledecky is going all the way. For the men, there are still heavy favorites, but it’s a bit more of a contest.

Also, a note – this is where short course yards (SCY) and long course meters (LCM) events diverge drastically. Below is a table of what events are swam in each pool. This will confound comparisons between NCAA collegiate swims and International swims, but I’ll try to lay out the 400, 800, and 1500 events as best I can.

Distance Swimming Table

Men

2012

In 2012, NCAA distance events were swept by German swimmer Martin Grodzki. The fact that Grodzki was denied admission to the Olympic Games by the German Federation based on the German’s highly selective qualifying times is a story for another day, but Grodzki would have been fairly competitive on the world stage had he been given the chance.

In the 500 free, Grodzki  was followed by Southern Cal’s Christian Quintero Valero, who finished 16th for Venezuela in London, not far behind Germany’s Paul Biedermann. In third, the first American to the wall, was Chad La Tourette of Stanford. Zane Grothe (Auburn), Connor Jaeger (Michigan), Sean Ryan (Michigan), and Michael McBroom (Texas) also all finaled. Georgia’s Andrew Gemmell finished 17th (we’ll get back to him later).

At 2012 Olympic Trials, The 400m free looked similar. The pack was led by veteran Peter Vanderkaay, who was followed closely by Conor Dwyer (the 2011 University of Florida graduate, and 2010 NCAA Champion in the 500 freestyle). Behind the two qualifiers (both 3:47), Michael Klueh, Charlie Houchin and Ryan Feely filled out the top 5, and among the NCAA finalists Jaeger finished 6th, McBroom finished 8th, La Tourette 10th, Ryan 11th and Grothe 14th. The majority of swimmers in the top 16 were in or recently out of college, but the two qualifiers were 28 and 23 respectively.

At the Olympics, Vanderkaay and Dwyer both made the finals and finished 3rd and 5th respectively. China’s Yang Sun won in a 3:40.14, South Korea’s Taehwan Park grabbed 2nd, and Vanderkaay found bronze with a 3:44.69. In this event, no American is in the top 8 all time swimmers (Vanderkaay is 10th, just behind American Larsen Jensen). The world has the edge on the US in this event, but gold is still within reach, with no individual ever going faster than 1:40.

Now looking at the field, Jaeger and Grothe have the top two American times since London, followed by Dwyer and McBroom. Jaeger’s 3:44 is the most competitive time by a good amount, but depending on which of these swimmers step it up the most any one of them could qualify. From the collegiate side, Townley Haas, the freshman from ___ won this year’s NCAAs with a 4:09.00, just tenths off of Peter Vanderkaay’s SCY record. Haas, and Mission Viejo’s True Sweetser are two new faces sitting amid a sea of veterans in the top seeds for Trials. If Haas has what it takes to make a big drop here he could easily nab one of the two spots, but field is distinctly more experienced than in 2012.

As for the mile, Grodzki also won that event at 2012 NCAAs, setting an NCAA record along the way. He was followed there by La Tourette, Jaeger, and Grothe. Andrew Gemmell of Georgia grabbed 5th ahead of Ryan and McBroom. Quintero-Valero finished 9th.

Olympic Trials were a wholly collegiate affair in this event though, as Gemmell upset the field and won with a 14:52, touching out Connor Jaeger. La Tourette missed the games by 5 seconds, and in fourth with a swim almost 20 seconds off his best was Vanderkaay. At the Olympics, Yang Sun took gold with a 14:43, and Jaeger managed to finish 6th with a 14:52. Gemmel just missed the final, snatching 9th.

Jaeger is currently the only American man within 20 seconds of the world record, held by Sun at 14:31. This seems impossibly far off for an American this time around. The NCAA Champion, Chris Swanson, the pride of the Ivy League, is almost 10 seconds off the times of Grodzki and Jaeger in the 1650 – he is currently ranked 45th with his LCM time.

(Fun fact – people think the mile can be boring but in both 2012 and 2016 the race at NCAAs came down to the last 50. Grodzki managed to hold off a surge by Chad La Tourette to win in 14:24.08, with a final split of 24.96 against La Tourette’s 24.06; For Swanson it was the opposite, as he overcame a nearly three-second deficit out-splitting lead Akaram Mahmoud 24.38 to 27.17 to win by .12)!

The real ‘newcomer’ on the field is open water sensation Jordan Wilimovsky – his time of 14:53 in the mile puts him third among active swimmers behind only Jaeger (14:41) and Gemmell (14:52). Wilimovsky was 2015’s “Breakout Swimmer of the Year” and his in-pool times have continued to drop. This Olympic Trials could be the stage where Wilimovsky ignites and puts himself in real contention in Rio.

Wilimovsky also has the dubious honor of being the Olympic 10K open-water favorite, allowing him to navigate the less-than-pristine Brazilian waters. Sean Ryan also grabbed the 10K qualification with strong swims at Worlds in Kazan last fall.

Women

Back in 2012 Katie Ledecky was not the dominant factor she is now, and the race for the 400 free was wide open. NCAA 500 freestyle champion Haley Anderson of Southern Cal, along with Georgia’s Amber McDermott (2nd), UNC’s Stephanie Peacock (3rd), Georgia’s Shannon Vreeland (5th), and Ashley Steenvoorden (6th) all were in the melee for a spot. However, experience and professionals prevailed as Allison Schmitt and Chloe Sutton nabbed the top two spots. The young Ledecky managed 3rd ahead of fellow teenagers Gillian Ryan (then 16), and Becca Mann (14). Veterans Elizabeth Beisel and Kate Zeigler also made the final ahead of the collegiate pack, led by Amber McDermott, who finished 8th. Vreeland, Steenvorden and Anderson finished 9-11 respectively.

At the Olympics Games, Schmitt was edged out by France’s Camille Muffat and found Silver, while Sutton finished 10th. Canadian Brittany MacLean, who would later swim for Georgia, finished 6th as an excited high schooler.

The 2016 scene is an exciting one. Leah Smith of UVA, the NCAA 500 champion, posted a time 4 seconds faster than Anderson’s in 2012. Finishing behind Smith was the Canadian MacLean, followed by Georgia teammate Hali Flickinger. MacLean won the 200 for Georgia, and also claimed silver in the mile.

Looking at the OT qualifiers, Smith has the edge over Cierra Runge (4:03 vs 4:04), who both have faster times than the Silver-medalist Schmitt, though she posted a 4:01 back in London. Becca Mann, still among the youngest in the group 4-years later, is in the mix with veterans like Beisel and Vrooman. Flickinger and Peacock both boast 4:07s to stay on the cusp of possible. But this is Katie Ledecky’s race. She has swum 8 of the top 10 times in history, and seems tireless! Whether Smith, Runge, Schmitt or someone else can nab second is up in the air, but Ledecky should have the first spot locked down.

Whoever makes it with Ledecky will be fighting for medal contention. After Ledecky who can push out a blistering 3:58.37, the Netherland’s Sharon von Rouwendaal and Canada’s MacLean pose the biggest threats, both turning in times around 4:03.

Scaling up to the 800m race, we can first turn to the NCAA mile. In 2012, the mile went to Peacock (who broke Janet Evans’s NCAA record, but was 14 seconds of Katie Hoff’s American Record). Georgia’s Wendy Trott was close behind, followed by Anderson, Steenvoorden, and McDermott. At Trials, Ledecky grabbed the top spot followed by Ziegler, keeping Anderson, Sutton, and Mann at bay. That final heat of the 800 was marked by incredible youth. Four of the eight finalists were under 18, and only Ziegler had graduated college! Ledecky went on to win her first and only Olympic Gold Medal, soundly defeating Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain, and Britain’s Adlington.

Now, four years later, Ledecky has the 9 fastest swims in history, and among active swimmers, Great Britain’s Jazmin Carlin is the closest, 9 seconds back. Sutton is not entered in this Olympic Trials so Becca Mann is sitting in a comfortable 2nd, ahead of Runge and Smith, but they’re close enough to make a race out of it. But Ledecky is in a league of her own. Her best time of 8:06 is a mere 5 seconds off of the Men’s World Record set by legend Bobby Hackett in 1976, the last American man to hold the record. Her mile time qualified for US Olympic Trials…by 24 seconds. She would be ranked 25th among the men. Ledecky is truly incredible, and it’s hard not to gush as a writer and as a fan.

In short, the men have their work cut out for them against a very competitive world stage, led by Yang Sun of China; but on the women’s side, it’s a race for second behind the dynamo that is Ledecky.

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Swimming

US Olympic Trials – 200 Freestyle

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!

TELECAST
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

200 Free

Men

2012 

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.

2016

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.

Women

2012

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).

2016

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.

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Defending Olympic Champion, American Record Holder, and Georgia Bulldog Allison Schmitt, one of the most dominant freestylers out there, will be fighting a pair of titans in Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin in the 200.

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!

 

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Swimming

US Olympic Swimming Trials – 100 Freestyle

The 100 freestyle has a much more storied history at the Olympics than the 50, dating back to 1896 for men.  For years, the US had the 100 and the 4×100 Freestyle Relay locked down – we had swimming legends Duke Kahanmoku, Johnny Weissmuller  (AKA Tarzan from the silver screen), and other Americans peppering the list of  Men’s 100m Olympic Champions. Going into the 1992 Olympics the US had never gone more than 2 Olympics without a gold; since 1992, America has only won once (Nathan Adrian 2012).

On the Women’s side, despite strong showing sweeping the podium in both 1920 and 1924, and grabbing every gold from 1920-1932, the US has only won gold TWICE since then. We’ve been competitive, but the rest of the world has kept America’s women looking almost pedestrian in the 100m freestyle. The US has grabbed bronze in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and the young Missy Franklin finished 5th in 2012.

So let’s look at who’s likely going to represent the US in 2016, and how they might do.

Men

2012

In 2012, Texas’s Jimmy Feigen won the 100 y freestyle at NCAAs, followed by Brazilian Marcelo Chierighini of Auburn and SoCal’s Vlad Morozov. Feigen went on to finish fifth at 2012 Olympic Trials, in an incredibly competitive heat behind Nathan Adrian with Cullen Jones, Matt Grevers, Ricky Berens, and Jason Lezak. Feigen was the only collegiate-aged swimmer in the final (and even he had already finished school). Adrian went on to win gold in London, just touching out Australian power-house James Magnussen by .01. Neither of them were particularly close to Ceasar Cielo-Fihlo’s 2009 world record.

Feigen swam in the heats of the 4x100m Free relay where the USA won a silver behind France. The USA had never lost the 4x100m Free relay from its inception in 1964 through 1996, however they’ve only had one gold since, part of Michael Phelps’ 8-Gold Medal effort in 2008 on the back of a blistering anchor leg by Jason Lezak to out-touch Alain Bernard of France.

2016

Feigen’s NCAA time of 41.95 would have placed 6th in 2016 NCAAs. The college swimmers are poised to make a big impact on the final heat of Olympic Trials. Caeleb Dressel’s 40.46 that won him the 100y freestyle at NCAAs is projected to break the long-standing world record. Dressel’s detractors point to him losing 2 turns in the 100m free, which could take away from his hard-won advantage from underwater kicking. He has never swam the 100 LCM free in a time under 49 seconds.

Behind Dressel, Simonas Bilis of Lithuania and Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece took 2nd and 3rd at NCAAs, but the 4th-6th were taken by US swimmers with times about or better than Feigen’s 2012 time (NC State’s Ryan Held, Texas’s Brett Ringgold, and Missouri’s Michael Chadwick). Adrian’s 47.5 in London is the fastest US time since 2009, and of collegiate swimmers, Chadwick has the fastest recorded LCM time at 48.87. Expect the regular crowd led by Adrian, Jones, Josh Schneider, and perhaps Lochte, Phelps, and Berens.

And, lest we forget, there’s another young gun in the mix. Ryan Hoffer burst onto the National scene in December 2015, annihilating the previous National Age Group record for 17-18 year olds, dominating a very fast heat, and posting a time of 41.23 – a time that would have placed third at NCAAs this year, and would have won many of last 10 year’s NCAA Championships. His conversion, somewhere around 48.0 seconds, would have finaled at the 2012 Olympics, been the top qualifier at 2012 US Trials, and would be third or fourth among all-time best swims by active American swimmers. Again, though, Hoffer derives his advantage from incredible underwaters – his start is certainly formidable, but at every turn Hoffer pulled further ahead in the race, and with two less turns this could damage Hoffer’s dominance. Like never before, the 2016 US Olympic Trials will be a comparison of short-course-yards underwater-based sprinters, and long-course meters International-focused swimmers.

Women

2012

The 100 SCY freestyle was won at the 2012 NCAAs by the Bahamas’ Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, who would go on to finish 10th at the Olympics. Behind her, Georgia’s Megan Romano and Arizona’s Margo Geer took 2nd and 3rd.

At Olympic Trials, there was a unique combination of swimmers in the 100LCM final: 2 high school swimmers (Missy Franklin and Lea Neal), 5 post-graduate swimmers (Champion Jess Hardy, Amanda Weir, Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Madison Kennedy) and Allison Schmitt, who took the 2011-12 school year off to train for the Olympics, in which she would ultimately win 5 medals. (When she returned to Georgia, they won the 2013 NCAA Championships).

Franklin went on to finish 5th, and Hardy 8th, in the Olympic finals.

2016

The absence of college swimmers in the 2012 100LCM freestyle finals lead many to think designating a year to training may be important. That’s one reason this year’s top seed, Simone Manuel, didn’t compete at the collegiate level for the 2015-2016 season. Manuel’s 53.25 would have finished 2nd in London, and the women’s 100 freestyle is full of young talent, compared to the veteran-heavy brigade on the men’s side. Also foregoing a collegiate career, Abbey Weitzeil is a top sprinter, vying for a spot in the 50 and the 100 freestyle, focusing her training on meters to be better prepared for Trials and the Olympiad.

manuel swim

Stanford’s Simone Manuel, who won the 100y Freestyle at 2015 NCAAs as a Freshman by over a second, defeating teammate and Olympic medalist Lia Neal, did not compete for the 2015-2016 season to focus on the Olympics.

Franklin, Schmitt, Couglin, Vollmer and Weir will all be back, as will collegiate talent Lia Neal, Kelsi Worrell, Shannon Vreeland, and Olivia Smoliga. Geer and Romano are both back in the mix, and 2015’s NCAA bronze medalist Natalie Hinds, who had an off NCAAs in 2016, is also further down the list and could pull out a big drop for Trials.

Finally, one of the most electric names in swimming right now, Katie Ledecky, who has deftly dismantled the stroke of freestyle and put it back together in a whole new way by rewriting the record boards from the 1500 down, has a blazing-fast time of 53.75 (4th fastest this cycle). No woman has ever qualified for the 800LCM freestyle and the 100LCM freestlye – in fact, Allison Schmitt’s versatility from 100-400 is considered prodigious, but Ledecky has defied expectations for years, and is in a rare position to stake her claim to being to un-contested best female freestyle swimmer in history.

China, Australia and the Netherlands have impressive squads of sprint freestyle swimmers, and in 2012 the finals was a sampling of 7 different countries, so the next Olympic Champion could be from anywhere; however, Cate and Bronte Campbell of Australia have had this even locked town, with 7 of the top 10 times ever swum between them (the other three, including the world record, all belong to Britta Steffen from 2009). The US will need to put up quite a fight to even have a chance against that 4×100 freestyle relay. The US women have always made the podium, but haven’t clinched a gold since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Expectations are high for Manuel and Franklin, but there are a lot of names fighting to make the top 6, and this should be quite a race.

 

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Swimming

Thinking About Swimming’s Olympic Trials – 50 Free

Olympic Trials is a place where the best swimmers in the US concentrate their efforts. No meet has the elite turnout of Olympic Trials – no Nationals, Grand Prix, or NCAA Championship collects raw talent like this one special meet. It’s where age-group standouts face college champions, all stacked against a growing army of US National Team veterans. The feeling is electric – there is nothing like Trials.

But how do we look forward to this meet? Who is truly a “favorite” here? Let’s look at history, the NCAA Championships, and the field at large to get an idea of how we can analyze this meet. Today, I’ll break down the 50 Free.

Men’s 50 Free

 

2012

In 2012 the NCAA Champion was Texas’s Jimmy Feigen, who turned in a 19.01 to edge Vlad Morozov (who swam for Southern California). Feigen trained LCM leading up to Olympic Trials in 2012, and when it came to the showdown in Omaha Feigen finished 5th behind top qualifier Cullen Jones and the Olympic Veteran 31-year-old Anthony Ervin. US favorite Nathan Adrian and Josh Schneider finished 3rd and 4th respectively.

From the NCAA final heat, Jason Schnur of the Ohio State University also made the top 8 in Omaha, but neither he, Feigen, nor Morozov for Russia made it to the Olympics in 2012. Feigen also took the NCAA title in the 100 free, which I’ll get back to another day.

2016

This year, you haven’t been paying much attention to swimming if you don’t know the name Caeleb Dressel. Competing for Florida he shattered the world record in the 50 Freestyle at NCAAs this March (foreshadowed by his dominance at SEC Championships just weeks before). His 18.23 was the fastest swim ever, and discounting times from the infamous ‘tech-suit era’ (with two amazingly fast swimmers, Brazil’s Cesar Cielo and Australia’s Matt Targett) Dressel’s is the fastest time by .4 seconds, soundly besting international stars Vlad Morozov of Russia, Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece, and Nathan Adrian of the USA.

Now that time, like Feigen’s above, is for a collegiate SCY (25 short course yard) pool; the Olympics are 50 long course meters (LCM). Conversions put his time around a 21.0, though Dressel derives much of his advantage from superhuman underwater kicks off the turn, which is absent in LCM. France’s Florent Manaudou won London’s 2012 Olympics with a 21.34, so there’s reason for excitement.

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2016 NCAA Champion, Olympic hopeful, and World Record Holder Caeleb Dressel.

Dressel is considered a strong contender to make it to the big show this year (his LCM time of 21.53 from last summer is the 2nd fastest this cycle and would have won 2012 Trials), but the field is full. Of the contenders in 2012, look for both qualifiers (Jones and Ervin) along with Schneider, Feigen, Adrian, perennial threat and backstroker Matt Grevers, and more to vie for a place on Team USA. Around the world, France’s Manaudou, Bruno Fratus of Brazil, and Australia’s Cam McEvoy pose the most immediate threat for the medal stand; although 2nd and 3rd place 2016 NCAA finishers Simonas Bilis of Lithuania and Gkolomeev of Greece will both be hoping to make the Olympic final as well. It should be a good fight – the US has won 3x since the 50’s introduction in 1988 (1988 – Matt Biondi, 2000 – Gary Hall Jr & Anthony Ervin tie, 2004 – Gary Hall Jr).

Women’s 50 Free

2012

On the Women’s side, 2012 NCAA Champion Liv Jensen of Cal had a disappointing prelims, finishing 11th going into semi-finals where she was disqualified. The NCAA runner up, Margo Geer of Arizona, fought her way into an experienced Final Heat at trials in which she lost to qualifiers Jessica Hardy and Kara Lynn Joyce, and the prestigious likes of Christine Magnuson and Dara Torres (then 45). Rounding out the NCAA’s podium was Bahamanian swimmer Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace from Auburn. Despite having the top two NCAA finishers, the USA’s women didn’t fare particularly well that Olympics, with Hardy grabbing 7th just ahead of  Vanderpool-Wallace. The Olympic Finals in the 50 was a runaway by the Netherland’s Ranomi Kromowidjojo, clocking in at a 24.05, faster than Dara Torres’s American Record set in 2008.

2016

The 2016 NCAA Champion, Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga, had a definitive win, though not as dominant as Dressel’s. Outside of the collegiate world, Stanford standout Simone Manuel took this year off from NCAA swimming to train for the Olympics; she currently has the 4th fastest time in US history behind the retired Torres, Amanda Weir, and 5th-place finisher from 2012 Trials Madison Kennedy. Manuel and Kennedy are already faster than both Hardy and Joyce in recorded LCM times. So where will Smoliga fit? Her converted time puts her right in the mix, and her SCY time is a couple tenths faster than 2012’s Jensen, so it’s going to be a tough fight.

The 2016 NCAA runner-up,  Cal’s Farida Osman, expects to represent Egypt this summer; also in that NCAA heat were London-2012 sprinter Lea Neal who finished 6th, and Kelsi Worrell. Worrell, who we’d expect to make the biggest splash in the 100 fly, grabbed 4th behind the Ohio State’s Liz Li. Worrell has the 10th fastest qualifying time for trials as of June 14th.

Besides Kennedy, look for Olympic Trials veterans Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer,  Geer,  Neal, Hardy and Weir to be in the mix. Missy Franklin also has the cut.

No matter who qualifies, they’ll have their work cut out for them in Rio fighting Australia’s Cate Campbell with the second fastest time ever (23.84) behind Britta Steffen’s 2009 World Record. Campbell is the only woman with multiple swims under 24.00. The US has only won one Olympic gold on the women’s side, with Amy van Dyken in 1996. Of the other 4 medals won by US women in the 50, 2 belong to Dara Torres (silver and bronze), and the last two are both bronze, won by Angel Martino in 1992 and Jill Sterkel in the inaugural women’s 50 in 1988.

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