Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps are both planning to race at U.S. Nationals this summer, but for the second-straight year, neither of them will be swimming the 400 IM.
For their sake, that’s probably a good thing, because the next in line to this prestigious throne has bloomed. Chase Kalisz, who co-trains at NBAC and the University of Georgia, is the one man around the world who looks like he has the potential to challenge the history that Lochte and Phelps have built over the last decade. No, he’s not yet even the undisputed best in the world in the event, but the rate at which he is improving is scary.
Last year, Kalisz took silver in Barcelona in 4:09.22 behind Japan’s Daiya Seto. Since then, he’s eliminated every weakness he has, and crushed the American Record in the 400 yard IM.
As of last year’s U.S. National Championships, Kalisz’s best times in the different 200 meter events were:
- 200 back – 2:04.97
- 200 breast – 2:14.06
- 200 fly – 1:58.60
- 200 free – 1:50.14
In 2014, with no taper meet yet, his season bests are:
- 200 back – 2:02.33
- 200 breast – 2:12.43
- 200 fly – 1:58.09
- 200 free – 1:50.34
That all wraps up to a 400 IM season best from Santa Clara, 4:11.71, that is faster than he was to win the U.S. National Championship last season. And he hasn’t even tapered. His improvements in yards swimming as a sophomore at Georgia are even more staggering.
Based on where he typically hits his taper, he should have a small drop at nationals – think around a 4:10-high – and then a bigger drop at Pan Pacs – look for around a 4:07. That’s basically the pattern he’s followed for each of the last two seasons.
Either way, he’s a clear favorite to win, and as close as a guarantee as you’ll get to make the Pan Pacs team (place top three).
So who will join him? That’s where things get interesting. Tyler Clary was the other American representative at Worlds last year, and despite a move from Club Wolverine to SwimMAC, despite delving further-and-further into his passion for auto racing, his times in-season this year have been better than they were last year.
And this is where things get tough. Most of the contenders for the top three in this even – the swimmers who were so good last year – have been having fantastic seasons. Wisconsin post-grad Michael Weiss is five seconds ahead of where he was last season. He’s focused a lot more on his versatility this year than he did last year. Last season, in long course he swam nothing but freestyle and IM races; this year he’s been a 2:06 in the 200 back and a 2:23 in the 200 breast. Neither of those times stands out on its own, but it shows an important developmental step.
Cal’s Josh Prenot is two seconds ahead of schedule, and raced pretty well at the Mare Nostrum series to gain good experience. Stephen Schmuhl is a little behind pace in his 400 IM, but his butterflies have been very good. He’s maybe positioned better to compete for a Pan Pacs spot in the 200 fly, though, so we think that’s where his focus will lie.
We fully expect Conor Dwyer to swim this race as well, given that it’s the only event on day 3. He will be the sentimental favorite for that 3rd spot, even though his best is only a 4:15. He was a 4:16 in January of this year, which is his seed-time and puts him 7th.
Michael Weiss, after being on the World University Games team last year and swimming incredibly well, is primed to make the jump to at least the Pan Pacs team. Frankly, there’s not enough in the numbers to make him worthy of a high pick, but we think he’s got the proper motivation, and for that we’ve bumped him not only into the top 3 to make the Pan Pacs team, but to finish 2nd. He’ll have to beat a lot of established players to do so, but it’s a make-or-break meet for Weiss.
Then there’s a ton of opportunity for young guys to make finals and race with the best – there’s an incredible glut of them in the teenage ranks right now, and it’s really, really difficult to peg which one might be ready for a breakthrough.
Gunnar Bentz leads that group, and will be the 4th seed. He swam a 4:14.5 at Junior Nationals last year, but with his focus on the World Junior Championships, he didn’t swim very well at Nationals. This year, he’s only got one meet to worry about for now, and if he hits that meet dead-red, then Bentz could actually snake that 3rd spot and swim on the senior Pan Pacs squad. If not, he’ll be on the junior Pan Pacs team for sure.
Also in that group are swimmers like Corey Okubo, Curtis Ogren, Jay Litherland, Andrew Seliskar, and Max Williamson. Those guys are all very good, none of them have big glaring weaknesses, and any one of them could break through. There’s really no way to peg who it might be with any reliability, so we’ll play a hunch there as much as anything, plus projections based on age. For what it’s worth, Okubo and Ogren were the first into town of that group and got familiar with the setup at Juniors.
Perhaps the most intriguing entry in this men’s 400 IM at Nationals is that of Kyle Whitaker, the 12th seed. He’s now exhausted his NCAA eligibility so that pressure is off, and if he swims a best time (currently a 4:17.59), then he should final. The challenge is that the last time he was a best time in this event was in 2009, after his junior year of high school, where he swam a 4:17.5. Last summer at U.S. Nationals, he seemed to recapture just a little bit of that magic and got close, down to a 4:18.65.
Here’s our top 8 picks, with lifetime bests.
1. Chase Kalisz, Georgia/NBAC (4:09.22 – 2013 World Championships
2. Michael Weiss, Wisconsin Aquatics (4:12.00 – World University Games)
3. Tyler Clary, SwimMAC Carolina (4:06.96 – 2009 U.S. National Championships)
4. Conor Dwyer, NBAC (4:15.39 – 2013 Santa Clara Grand Prix)
5. Gunnar Bentz, Dynamo Swim Club (4:14.51 – 2013 Junior Nationals)
6. Curtis Ogren, PASA (4:17.79 – 2013 Junior Nationals)
7. Andrew Seliskar, NCAP (4:19.72 – 2014 Charlotte Grand Prix)
8. Kyle Whitaker, Michigan/Club Wolverine (4:17.59 – 2009 Junior Nationals)