By Sharon Robb
OMAHA, Neb., June 13, 2021—Chase Kalisz became the first swimmer to make the U.S. Olympic team Sunday night at the Olympic Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center.
Trailing by three seconds in the 400-meter individual medley going into the breaststroke, Kalisz, 27, of Athens Bulldogs powered his way back to win in 4:09.09, second fastest time in the world this year, and make his second consecutive Olympic team.
Training mate Jay Litherland, a dual U.S. and Japan citizen, reeled in early leader Carson Foster in the final 20 meters to finish second in 4:10.33.
Kalisz was hugged by good friend and legendary Michael Phelps after he climbed out of the pool.
“This is the Olympic Trials, times don’t matter, it’s all about racing,” Kalisz said. “I knew where I needed to be. I made my move right where I needed to make my move and I’m happy how it played out.
“It’s been a rough year, I guess a tough two years, but to make the Olympic team with my teammate Jay who I get to train with every single day, that’s the coolest part.”
In the second final of the night, Kiernan Smith, 21, of University of Florida, not only had to win but had the pressure of having to swim FINA’s “A” qualifying time of 3:46.78. He did just that, winning in a personal-best 3:44.86, fastest time in the world this year. No other swimmer in the field made the qualifying cut.
Smith took it out hard in the first half of the race and had at least a body length lead and was on American record pace for the first 200 meters.
“I knew there was a little pressure to make that time considering no Americans had made it so far this year,” Smith said. “I was confident with myself after a pretty relaxed morning swim. I really just wanted to pounce on the first 200 and stay out there and make it a one-man race if I could.
“All that was going through my head in the last 100 was I am about to be an Olympian,” Smith said. “It sounds incredible to make my first Olympic team. I couldn’t imagine that five years ago when I was first here.”
In a thrilling women’s 400-meter individual medley race, 19-year-old Emma Weyant of Sarasota Sharks making her Trials debut, came on strong in the final 50 meters against two veterans to pull off the shocker and win in a best time 4:33.81 and earn a spot on the team.
Flickinger led after the butterfly and backstroke legs with Weyant in striking distance. St. Petersburg’s Melanie Margalis, down five seconds, surged back into contention after the breaststroke leg. All three were even on the final 50 turn with 1/10th of a second separating them. Weyant turned it on in the final 20 meters with Flickinger just behind her.
“I just put my head down in the last 50, it hurt a lot but having all those amazing girls to race was awesome,” said Weyant, who deferred going to school at Virginia for a year to train for the Trials in Sarasota. “I had to learn about making a race plan and today was just about racing. To hear I am an Olympian is crazy, I can’t even believe it.”
In the women’s 100-meter butterfly semifinal, 18-year-old Torri Huske of Arlington Aquatics broke the American record in 55.78, erasing Dana Vollmer’s mark of 55.98.
In a span of eight hours, Michael Andrew, 22, broke the American record twice in prelims and semifinals of the 100-meter breaststroke. With two explosive starts, Andrew broke Kevin Cordes’ 2017 American record of 58.64 by nearly a half second in 58.19, in morning prelims. He came back at night to break it again in the semifinals in 58.14.
Four of the five qualified Florida Gold Coast swimmers competed on opening day with only one advancing into the semifinals.
In the morning prelims of the 100-meter breaststroke, Alex Evdokimov, 25, of Pinnacle Racing (VA) and formerly Coral Springs Swim Club, finished eighth in a best time 1:00.22 to qualify for the semifinals where he finished fifth in 1:00.64 and failed to make finals by two spots placing tenth. He was seeded tenth in 1:00.47. He has the 200 breaststroke left to swim.
In other Florida Gold Coast results:
South Florida Aquatic Club’s Kathleen Golding, 20, of University of Florida was 21st in the 400 IM in 4:47.94 off her best time of 4:46.12. She has the 400 freestyle and 200 IM left to swim.
Julia Podkoscielny, 16, of Pine Crest Swimming, was 25th in the 400 IM in 4:48.72, off her best time of 4:44.83. She has the 200 IM and 200 backstroke remaining.
Josh Zuchowski, 17, of FAST, was 37th out of a field of 38 swimmers in 4:32.24, off his best time of 4:25.79. He has the 100 and 200 backstroke events left to swim.
Erika Pelaez, 14, of Eagle Aquatics will start racing on Monday. She has qualified in the 100 backstroke, 50-and 100 freestyles.
Before Sunday’s prelims, 36-year-old Ryan Lochte scratched from the 400 IM. It is the first time since 2000 he has not competed in the event.
Two surprises in morning prelims were Zane Grothe (400 freestyle) and Madisyn Cox (400 freestyle) failing to make finals. Grothe had competed in the event in two World Championships and under 3:46. He struggled to a 3:50.80 to place 11th. Cox was 10th in 4:44.36, off her best time of 4:36.61, that would have placed her second seed in finals.
The top two finishers of most events will most likely become 2021 US Olympians. Relay only spots go to places 3-6 (though not completely guaranteed for 6th place) of 100- and 200-meter freestyle events. The maximum roster size for Team USA is 26 men and 26 women.
All races 200 meters or shorter will have three stages at Trials: a prelim in the morning, followed by a semifinal that evening. The final of the top-8 qualifier will take place on the following night.
Monday’s events are: (Morning Prelims Session), women’s 100 backstroke, men’s 200 freestyle, women’s 100 breaststroke, men’s 100 backstroke, women’s 400 freestyle; (Evening Session), women’s 100 butterfly final, men’s 200 freestyle, women’s 100 breaststroke semifinal, men’s 100 breaststroke final, women’s 400 freestyle final, men’s 100 backstroke semifinal and women’s 100 backstroke semifinal.
Daily finals coverage will be broadcast across NBC channels. Along with live finals coverage, 24 hours of preliminaries will be available on NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports App.
For prelims, today through June 19, 11 a.m. on NBC Stream and 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN. For finals, today through June 16 on NBC at 8 p.m., June 17 NBC at 10 p.m. and NBCSN at 8 p.m., June 18-19 NBC at 9 p.m. and June 20 NBC at 8:15 p.m. All times are Eastern Standard Time for South Florida.
AUSTRALIAN SWIMMING TRIALS
Ten months after her father died from a brain tumor, Kaylee McKeown, 19, broke the women’s 100-meter backstroke world record in 57.45. The previous mark was 57.57 set by Regan Smith in 2019. Emily Seebohm, 29, swimming next to her, was second in 58.59 and qualified for her fourth Olympic team.
400-meter individual medley: 1. Emma Weyant, Sarasota Sharks 4:33.81, 2. Hali Flickinger, SUN 4:33.96, 3. Melanie Margalis, SPA 4:34.08.
400-meter individual medley: 1. Chase Kalisz, Athens Bulldogs Swim Club 4:09.09, 2. Jay Litherland, Dynamo 4:10.33, 3. Carson Foster, RAYSOFH 4:10.86.
400-meter freestyle: 1. Kiernan Smith, UFlorida 3:44.86, 2. Jake Mitchell, CSC 3:48.17, 3. Ross Dant, NCS 3:48.30.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org