10 Things We Learned from the 2023 Pro Swim Series – Knoxville

PRO SWIM SERIES – KNOXVILLE

The 2022 Pro Swim Series in Knoxville marked the revival of the series in many ways. Even with many stars not at the meet, the event featured bigger and deeper fields than we’ve seen since that last fateful pre-pandemic stop in Des Moines in 2020.

As we begin the March toward Paris 2024 (yeah, those are next year, again, already), swims by elite athletes will become increasingly scrutinized. Here are my 10 big takeaways from this meet.

1. Simone Manuel Was Fine, But Has Work To Do

The much-anticipated return to racing by Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel was fine. It neither blew anyone away, nor was cause for much panic. She finished 3rd in the 50 free in 25.19 and 3rd in the 100 free in 54.81. That 50 free time would have made the A-final at Trials last May, though it would have been at the bottom of that A-final, and the 100 free would have been 10th at the same meet.

There’s no real hot-take here. If your expectation is that Simone to roll in and rescue the American free relays, she didn’t show us convincing evidence of that. If the expectation is that she’ll make the team and swim a leg in Fukuoka, she probably did about that.

From interviews with her teammates, it sounds like the Arizona State pro group is in a massive workload right now.

2. Abbey Weitzeil, on the Other Hand…

After a down year last season, Cal pro Abbey Weitzeil swam results that did excite me. She won both the 50 free in 24.74 and had the day’s best time in the 100 free in 53.65 (though she scratched finals). That 100 free time is her best result, at any meet, by half-a-second since the Tokyo Olympics.

Combined with a good 54.15 in the 100 free from Erika Brown, and Manuel being pretty good, the American women’s sprint group is in better shape coming out of this meet than they were going in. The ceiling of this group still feels like silver, but they again feel more like a solid silver than a bronze-behind-Canada like they were at Worlds in 2022.

3. David Curtiss Is All-In on the 50 Free

David Curtiss swam 21.97 in the 50 free but just 51.12 in the 100 free. That is about as wide of a gap as we’ve ever had in American swimming in those events.

Curtiss, only 20, has the kind of talent that we often see in other countries, but that the NCAA system usually weeds out in the United States. He fits that Ben Proud or Bruno Fratus mold of a guy who just swims drop-dead 50s, does it as well as anyone, and is unashamed about it.

Curtiss is the defending ACC Champion in the 50 free, there’s a real argument for NC State to leave him off their ACC Championship roster. And results continue to indicate that there’s no real plan to do much about his specialization. And good for them. Let’s all collectively lean into that.

4. SC Worlds Was an Anomaly for Hunter Armstrong

American backstroker and World Record holder Hunter Armstrong is a long course swimmer. He has not been shy about that fact, and missing semi-finals in two of his three individual events at SC Worlds was indicative of that preference.

But this week in Knoxville, he was really good. He swam 24.70 in the 50 back and 52.68 in the 100 back (beating Ryan Murphy by 8-tenths of a second. That 100 back time is the second-fastest swim by anyone in the history of the month of January.

It’s hard not to read too much into results from an event called “World Championships,” but this swim was probably a much better indication of how Armstrong’s new training at Cal is going.

5. Henry McFadden Has Been Slept On

USA Swimming has a golden generation working their way through the high school ranks right now. With swimmers like Thomas Heilman and Maximus Williamson leading the way, this group is on a path to do some serious damage in Los Angeles and Brisbane, if not sooner.

But 17-year-old Henry McFadden showed at this meet that we’ve been overlooking him, in spite of the fact that he’s always right there. That might be because he doesn’t have quite the same versatility as the guys named above, who can do crazy things across five or six or seven events. But in the middle-distance freestyles, and especially in this 200 free, he’s as good as any of them in anything.

He swam an electric 200 free on Thursday, winning in 1:47.23 – that knocks a full second off his best time from last summer’s Junior National Championships. It was the way he swam it too: he was almost a second back of Olympian Kieran Smith at the final turn, but a 26.66 closing 50 overtook that gap.

That closing 50 (with a different set of opening splits) is competitive in any global final in the world.

As David Popovici has reset the 200 free bar in the 1:42 range, the US needs a new talent to come in and push the American front in this race. McFadden looks like he’s going to be it.

6. But the US Men Are Not Deep in the 200 Breaststroke

When US men are painfully thin in the 200 breaststroke when Nic Fink isn’t present, and at 29, he’s not the 10-year plan.

The top American in the 200 breast was Brandon Fischer, at age 34, in 2:14.02. Tommy Cope was next in 2:15.83, and Will Scholtz was behind that in 2:17.81.

That’s a tough look for Team USA headed toward Paris. If I’m a talented young American breaststroker and am looking for a way onto the US National Team, I’m spending a lot of time working on this 200.

Here’s a comparison: the Edinburgh International, which to me is a similar-scale of meet to this, saw four Brits go 2:14-or-better, including a winning 2:10.83 from James Wilby and a 2:11.52 from Gregory Butler. And Wilby was 10th at Worlds in the event.

This men’s 200 breaststroke is progressing wildly across the globe, but in the US it has been stagnant.

7. Ella Jansen Is the Real Deal

Still a season-and-a-half away from her first collegiate meet at the University of Tennessee, Canadian teen Ella Jansen further cemented her status as the head of the follow-on wave to the Canadian resurgence in women’s swimming.

She swam best times in the 100 fly (58.92) and 100 free (56.21), and won the former of those events.

With Kayla Sanchez off to represent the Philippines and Penny Oleksiak’s injury issues mounting, she gives the Canadians crucial depth toward Paris, if only to save Maggie MacNeil that extra prelims swim that she took on last year in Budapest.

8. The Legend of Katie Grimes Grows

She won the 800 free. She won the 400 IM. She won the 200 fly in 2:09.58, which knocked almost three seconds off her lifetime best.

I don’t have any great observations. Katie Grimes‘ versatility is stupid. She’s the IMX-Factor. Watching her and Summer McIntosh square off for the next decade is going to be a thrill.

9. Will This Convince Katie to Return to the 200 Free?

Katie Ledecky opened her meet with a thunderous 1:55.47 in the 200 free, which leads the world in the event this season by a second-and-a-half. She followed that with wins in the 400 free (4:00.20), the 1500 free (15:37.99), and a runner-up 4:36.09 in the 400 IM that missed her personal best from July by three-tenths of a second.

Ledecky reaffirmed did something she’s done before – a very fast early-season 200 free. Her third-best 200 free ever was in January 2016 (1:54.43), she was fast in March 2020 (1:54.59) and February 2022 (1:54.66). It’s not unusual at all for her to swim fast early in the season, especially in this 200 free.

But it’s been a while since that has translated to a big success at a major championship. She dropped her earned spot in Budapest last year. She was only 1:55.21 for 5th place in Tokyo. She dropped the race at 2019 Worlds.

She skipped the 800 free this week, which she does from time-to-time. At some point, she must get bored with just winning the 800 all the time, right? It’s a tough double at Worlds because the 200 free semi-finals come about an hour after the 1500 free final, which explains why she usually drops the race. But might she chase ‘the battle’ in the 200 free in Paris? I don’t mean to imply that she’ll drop the 800 or 1500 at the Olympics, but she can probably shift her training focus without much closure of the gap in those events.

10. Ahmed Hafnaoui‘s IU Training is Going Well

Hafnahoui won the 800 free in 7:53.10, the 400 free in 3:47.41, and was 2nd behind Bobby Finke in the 1500 free in 15:07.07, which is a new personal best for him.

None of those things are earth-shattering, but it shows that he has been able to get some good training in while working hard in the classroom to clear NCAA eligibility (he was ruled a partial qualifier this year, which means no NCAA swimming).

The big best time in the 1500 free, which historically has been outside of his primary scope, is indicative of a good volume of training.

So his move away from the training that won him an Olympic gold medal hasn’t been a disaster. The academic load hasn’t crushed him. He’s been able to handle the intensity of the training environment in Bloomington. He beat some good swimmers like Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith and Michael Brinegar. That still leaves him in the conversation for a couple of Olympic medals in 2024.

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Coco
21 days ago

Deleted

Last edited 21 days ago by Coco
Tea rex
22 days ago

Any indication of college for grimes? I usually assume kids who commit late are going to Stanford, but has she said if she wants to do NCAA?

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Tea rex
22 days ago

Both Stanford and UVA aren’t known for distance swimming so I doubt she’d go to either of those. The odd thing is there isn’t really a powerhouse distance college women’s program right now so who knows. Florida’s mens team is known for distance but not their women. Maybe that will start to change but they aren’t there yet.

Chris
Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
22 days ago

DeSorbo is like the mad scientist though when it comes to developing great swimmers.

MCH
Reply to  Chris
22 days ago

More like mad recruiter of great talent.

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Chris
21 days ago

Grimes is already developed though.

Chris
Reply to  Tea rex
22 days ago

UVA would be a nice fit.

Chris
Reply to  Chris
22 days ago

#1 in the nation. Why all the daggers from everyone?

ClubCoach
Reply to  Tea rex
22 days ago

UF has Ledecky to train with but Sandpiper teammate Bella Sims will be there as well. Has Claire Weinstein verbally committed anyplace?

Angela Mudd
Reply to  ClubCoach
22 days ago

Claire is younger. She’s only sophomore and class of 2025

Katie
Reply to  ClubCoach
22 days ago

Swimmers can’t commit until June 15th after sophomore year, right? And Claire is probably a current sophomore since she’s 15, turning 16 on March 1st according to wikipedia?

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  Tea rex
22 days ago

I am assuming pro.

Chris
22 days ago

I still cant figure out what happened to Kathleen Baker…

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  Chris
22 days ago

She has

Swimmer
Reply to  Chris
22 days ago

I would she has or is leaning towards retirement.

Chris
Reply to  Swimmer
21 days ago

she missed over a year and half of meets. I know she got married and stuff but if you are out then announce it.

dscott
22 days ago

Interesting observations all.

I’m particularly intrigued by Curtiss. Based on 50 v 100 analysis, he seems a standard drop dead sprinter. But he’s not. You’d think he was a Dressel type, busting out earlly and holding everyone off approaching the wall. Not so. If you watch his race pattern, he’s NOT the early leader. His studly section in the one length LCM race is the SECOND 25. In the 26-50 Meter segment he went from even with this field to a dominant win. He was dominant in the skill of surface swimming speed in the back half of the 50. Then, like so many other in the drop-dead sprinter category, he does die off thereafter in the back half of… Read more »

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Braden Keith
22 days ago

aw see you made him need to defend himself.

check out this bully over here!

(nothing wrong with being a 50-only guy! those are the coolest guys!)

Chris
Reply to  Braden Keith
22 days ago

I guess its all relative because hes pretty damn good at different events. Just not “elite.”

Steve Nolan
Reply to  dscott
22 days ago

If the comp is simply just “how do they swim the 50” I’m with you – Ervin was still elite as hell in the 100. (Though tbf I have no idea how Ervin swam the 100, especially in the earlier part of his career.)

dscott
Reply to  Steve Nolan
21 days ago

Ervin was uneven as **** in the 100, at some points in his career absolutey elite; other times he proved undependable and damaging when trusted with a USA relay leg. The peaks and valleys of his career would make a great movie.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

What I learned?

Katie Ledecky is Katie Ledecky while the rest of the female contingent were meh!

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

Weitzeil was very solid. Grimes had a great 400 IM.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

As for Katie Grimes, there was nothing legendary about her times in the W 200 FR, W 400 FR, W 800 FR, W 1500 FR.

Taa
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

Prize money

Erik
Reply to  Taa
22 days ago

Yeah.. about that…

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Taa
22 days ago

Katie Ledecky did not swim the women’s 800 meter freestyle at the 2023 Pro Swim Series in Knoxville, TN.

Now if it where in Austin, TX ………………

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbS3u8LrYfw

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Taa
22 days ago

A 15 year old “Kathleen” Ledecky was faster in the women’s 800 meter freestyle at the 2012 Charlotte Ultraswim.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QnrLKCDfx8

Last edited 22 days ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Georgia Rambler
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

“I think she has the whole package…” ya think, Rowdy…

justanopinion
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

We learned that she stands firmly in a deep shadow of McIntosh and clearly several steps behind as the new global teen sensation, no matter how hard USA Swimming is trying to spin it.

Georgia Rambler
Reply to  justanopinion
22 days ago

Are you referring to Grimes? Too early to tell, if so.,.

Boxall's Railing
22 days ago

#11 – admittedly negative comment, but I feel like I learned that Kibler should be back at UT instead of training with high school kids at Carmel. Still time to go back in preparation for 2024.

Last edited 22 days ago by Boxall's Railing
Reply to  Boxall's Railing
22 days ago

He got 4th in the 200 free (to Hwang, Popovici, and Dean) and anchored a world record relay in Melbourne a month ago. I’d say it seems like he’s doing just fine at Carmel

Togger
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
22 days ago

I suppose the question for him is does he believe he can compete with those three plus Scott in that 1.44 low range. If so, Texas wasn’t it but doesn’t seem Carmel is either.

If he doesn’t think he’ll get down there and is focussed on bagging a relay spot and maybe an individual for 2024, probably good at Carmel.

Last edited 22 days ago by Togger
Owlmando
Reply to  Togger
22 days ago

Id say 4th to them is competing especially considering he only missed the podium by .03 legit by touch. He was in the mix regardless i think thats fair to say. So why switch that up?

Boxall's Railing
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
22 days ago

Time will tell. Happy to be proven wrong later or be shown data where a 100/200 guy achieves extreme success with Eddie/UT, leaves, and gets even faster with somewhere new.

But feels more like a case of he peaked hard, can ride it for a bit (eg sc worlds), but change in environment ultimately part of a drop-off. I’m not predicting 1:43 in 2024 after training with kids.

Horninco
Reply to  Boxall's Railing
22 days ago

He’s probably neck deep in training and yardage

I wouldn’t worry

Go Kamminga Go
22 days ago

Forget 200 free for Ledecky.

She’s not going to catch Titmus, Haughey, McIntosh, Bingjie

And she knows it.

Robbos
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

MOC as well. She is the no 3 at present.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Robbos
22 days ago

I was clarifying the Chinese participants in the women’s 200 meter freestyle.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
22 days ago

At the age of 26 (2023 World Aquatics Championships), Katie Ledecky has enough on her plate:

W 400 FR
W 1500 FR
W 4 x 200 FR-R (final)
W 800 FR

Total – 5600 meters

Robbos
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
22 days ago

Exactly & what a legend she is if/when she wins 800 for 4th time.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Robbos
22 days ago

Katie Ledecky’s split at 800 meters (8:17.29) of the women’s 1500 meter freestyle would have won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meter freestyle at the 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships.

Lisa
Reply to  Robbos
22 days ago

You mean six time cause she is going to win 800 free this year at world championship for a sixth time in a row and a first woman to do it.

LBSWIM
Reply to  Lisa
22 days ago

I think Robbos is referring to Paris.

Lisa
Reply to  LBSWIM
22 days ago

Right and she’s already is a legend and I think she’s gonna create history this year with the first woman to win six peat at world championship.

Robbos
Reply to  Lisa
22 days ago

Yes Ledecky can retire tomorrow & already a legend. The GOAT in my opinion.

Robbos
Reply to  LBSWIM
22 days ago

Yes I was talking Paris.

Teamwiess
Reply to  Lisa
22 days ago

Enjoyed the Swimswam breakdown on the SC Worlds where they were, rightfully so, praising Seto for six straight WCs in the 400IM. The conversation moved to when will someone else accomplish this great thing. Right after going through a list of people and dismissing them all, someone said that it would be a long long time and they can’t see anyone competing today, with the possibility of Summer doing it. Keith then had to correct the conversation with, “oh yeah, Katie Ledecky will probably do it in LC this summer …

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
22 days ago

Katie Ledecky finished fifth in the women’s 200 meter freestyle at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics behind Titmus, Haughey, Oleksiak, Junxuan. Time to lighten the load, so to speak.

Lisa
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
22 days ago

Lol you talking as if she actually care of what you’re saying and she still gonna swim 200 free with one of the best relay team in the world.

Last edited 22 days ago by Lisa

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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