By Sharon Robb
OMAHA, Neb., June 12, 2021—The long hours of hard work, dedication and sacrifice come down to the next eight days when swimmers from across the nation, including South Florida, compete in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center.
After a year delay because of the pandemic, all eyes will be on stars Caeleb Dressel, Katie Ledecky, Ryan Murphy, Simone Manuel, Michael Andrew, Lilly King, Ryan Lochte and Regan Smith.
Dressel, 24, former Clay High School, Bolles Club and University of Florida standout and 13-time world champion, qualified for seven events and is the top seed in the 50-meter freestyle (21.04, US record), 100-meter freestyle (46.96, US record) and 100-meter butterfly (49.50, world record), all three of which he is the reigning world champion.
Dressel also qualified 11th in the 200-meter freestyle (1:47.31), ninth in the 200-meter butterfly (1:56.29) and 14th in the 200-meter individual medley (1:59.97).
Bolles alum Ryan Murphy, 25, who swept the backstrokes at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is looking to regain his world’s best role after being beaten at world championships. He is looking to extend the U.S. streak of winning every Olympic men’s backstroke title dating to 1996.
Ledecky, 24, can make the Olympic team in five events including relays with an eye on making history in Tokyo. She is a favorite in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyles. She holds the world record in the 400, 800 and 1500.
No American woman has won more than four gold medals at one Olympics. In the 800 freestyle, Ledecky owns the 23 fastest times in history and every Olympic and world title dating to her Olympic debut in 2012 at age 15. In the 1500, she owns the 10 fastest times in history.
At age 36, Ryan Lochte, who has been training with Gregg Troy in Gainesville for the past three years, is trying to tie the record (of Michael Phelps and Dara Torres) for most Olympic appearances by a U.S. swimmer. Dressel has also been training with Troy.
“I’d give him a very serious chance of medaling and winning at the Olympics, not just making the U.S. team,” Dressel said. “I’m not really buying the whole old-man thing anymore. He knows how to get up and boogie.”
Lochte is seeded 15th in the 400-meter individual medley, which opens the trials. He’s entered in six events over the eight-day meet, although it’s unlikely he will swim all six. The 200 IM, which he still owns the world record set in 2011, could be his best chance. He’s seeded fifth.
“I don’t have that target on my back anymore,” he said. “I know I’m hunting them instead of being the hunter. I’ve changed my life around completely. I’m a better person, I’m more grown up. I’m a family man, I’m a dad and husband. At the pool, they will be like, ‘Oh, come on, old man, you can do it. I’m like, ‘Grrr, if you only knew how hard this is.’”
Lochte has not had many stellar swims at meets or dropped any impressive times.
“We haven’t seen in competition what we see in training,” Troy said. “He’s done a good job training.”
Other qualified swimmers with University of Florida or Gator Swim Club ties are: Talia Bates, 20; Clark Beach, 21; Ethan Beach, 21; Caitlin Brooks, 20; Adam Chaney, 19; Jace Crawford, 19; Mitch D’Arrigo, 26; Will Davis, 21; Sherridon Dressel, 22; Robert Finke, 21; Trey Freeman, 21; Brennan Gravley, 20; Julian Hill, 20; Dillon Hillis, 20; Natalie Hinds, 27; Isabel Ivey, 20; Alena Kraus, 21; Drew Loy, 23; Tylor Mathieu, 20; Vanessa Pearl, 21; Allie Piccirillo, 20; Amanda Ray, 18; Grant Sanders, 23; Kieran Smith, 21; Jonathan Tybur, 25; Kevin Vargas, 19; and Tyler Watson, 20.
Many coaches believe the year delay has added to the build-up of the Trials. Meets and training were shut down during portions of the pandemic.
“I think the kids are dying to race,” said Ray Looze, who coaches breaststroker Lilly King. “If anybody sets a world record, that’s a phenomenal accomplishment. But I think there’s going to be some world records that go down because there’s been some people that have had to go through a great deal and they really, really want it bad.”
Unlike the Wave I shorter format where 49 swimmers qualified for Wave II, the regular format for team selection at the Trials will be used.
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.
Sunday’s events are: (Morning Session)men’s 400 individual medley prelims, women’s 100 butterfly prelims, men’s 400 freestyle prelims, women’s 400 individual medley prelims and men’s 100 breaststroke prelims; (Evening Session) men’s 400 IM final, women’s 100 butterfly semifinal, men’s 400 freestyle final, women’s 400 IM final and men’s 100 breaststroke semifinal.
Swimming is one of the top sports for the U.S. at the Olympics. In the 2016 Rio Games, 33 of the 121 medals won by the Americans came from swimming, just ahead of 32 from track and field. Sixteen gold medals out of the 46 won by the U.S. also came from swimming.
In other highlights:
Hall of Famer and Arizona State coach Bob Bowman will be coaching at this first U.S. Olympic trials without his former swimmer Michael Phelps, 35, now married with two sons and retired from swimming.
ASU has 20 qualifiers, up from four in 2016. He is also coaching veterans Matt Grevers, Allison Schmitt, Hali Flickinger and Leah Smith, who have been training in Tucson.
“It’ll be strange,” Bowman told the Arizona Republic. “When Michael was with me [since age 15 in 2000], I had had an idea of what was going to be happening at the trials and after the trials. It will be a completely different experience, but I’m excited to go with these guys. They have prepared well and want to get better.”
Florida Gold Coast will be well-represented by five talented swimmers. They are:
Kathleen Golding, 20, University of Florida All-American, seeded 28th, 400-meter freestyle, 4:12.38; 37th, 400-meter individual medley, 4:46.12, and 35th, 200-meter individual medley, 2:15.48.
Julia Podkoscielny, 16, Pine Crest Swimming, seeded 24th, 400-meter individual medley, 4:44.83; seeded 49th, 200-meter individual medley, 2:16.36 and 48th seed, 200-meter backstroke, 2:14.16.
Josh Zuchowski, 17, of King’s Academy and Flood Aquatics Swim Team (FAST), seeded 44th, 400-meter individual medley, 4:25.79; 48th, 100-meter backstroke, 55.99 and 29th, 200-meter backstroke, 2.00.76.
Alex Evdokimov, 25, Pinnacle Racing (VA), formerly Coral Springs Swim Club, seeded 10th, 100-meter breaststroke, 1:00.47 and 16th, 200-meter breaststroke, 2:12.10.
Erika Pelaez, 14, Eagle Aquatics and South Florida HEAT, seeded 53rd, 100-meter backstroke, 1:01.85; seeded 40th, 100-meter freestyle, 55.51; seeded 57th, 50-meter freestyle, 25.83.
Seeds were taken from pre-meet psych sheet for the qualifying period (Nov. 28, 2018-May 30, 2021).
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, Sunday’s schedule is 11 a.m. on NBC Stream at 5:30 p.m. on NBCSN and June 14-19 11 a.m. on NBC Stream and 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN. For finals, Sunday 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.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com