2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Preview: Empire Threatened In M 200 Freestyle

While competing at the 2015 FINA World Championships, the American men were denied gold in the men’s 800m freestyle relay, an event they had dominated since 2005. Great Britain’s foursome, led by World Champion James Guy, put the men’s 200 freestyle and 800m freestyle relay fields on notice that a segment of the world is catching up to the once sure-thing ownership of this event by the U.S.

Pair that with the fact that the Americans were podium-less in the men’s 200m freestyle individual event in London, after seeing Michael Phelps reap gold in Beijing, and this longer sprint freestyle event is somewhat of a wild card worldwide in terms of players ready to take the Olympic gold individually and on a relay level.

Ryan Lochte by Mike Lewis

Ryan Lochte (courtesy of Mike Lewis)

However, from an American point of view, it is extremely encouraging that the nation’s 4th place finisher in the men’s 200m freestyle event at the London Olympic Games, Ryan Lochte, managed to fire off a time within half a second of that 2012 mark while competing at the FINA World Championships last summer.

At 31 years of age, Lochte is still going strong, as evidenced by his 1:45.36 in Kazan, although he would wind up in 4th place and off the podium. Lochte holds the United States’ fastest 200m freestyle since 2013 with that outing and represents one of just two men from his nation to clear the 1:46 mark since London.


Conor Dwyer (courtesy of Peter Sukenik)

The fastest swimmer since 2012  is former North Baltimore Aquatic Club-turned-Trojan Swim Club athlete Conor Dwyer, who clocked a 1:45.32 at Worlds in 2013. In London, he contributed heavily to the United States’ winning 800m freestyle relay, nabbing a 2nd leg split of 1:45.23 after throwing down 1:45.52 in heats. Most recently, Dwyer was 1:45.41 at the Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara, his fastest swim in the event since 2013.

But going without gold is much the story of this individual 200m freestyle event for the American men now that 2-time Olympic medalist in the event, Michael Phelps, seemingly has foregone the race on an individual level and is instead focusing on his fly and IM events for Trials and Rio. We’ve left him off our rankings in light of his most likely relay-only target in this event in Omaha.

With Charlie Houchin and Ricky Berens both having been a part of the men’s 800m freestyle relay and having since retired, along with an unknown status surrounding heats swimmer in the London relay, Matt McLean, any number of the young crop of U.S. freestyle talent can step up and snatch a spot in the top 12 at Trials.

Maxime Rooney, Grant Shoults 1-2 in Jr Worlds 200 free

Maxime Rooney (left) and Grant Shoults (right) at the 2015 Junior World Championships. (Courtesy of Adrian Seetho/Singapore Swimming Association)

Pleasanton Aquatics’ World Junior Champion in the event, Maxime Rooney, has soared to the top-tier in this event on the U.S. senior level, taking the national title in the 200m freestyle in San Antonio last summer in an incredibly fast time of 1:47.10. At just 17 years old, Rooney is still growing and getting stronger, which makes significant time drops a reality from one major race to the next. Dipping beneath the 1:47 threshold, as we’ve predicted, is completely within reach for this kid and we see him likely to notch a spot on the 800m freestyle relay, at bare minimum.

Reed Malone has done nothing but improve in his years at USC, and has proved himself a relay stud in the NCAA. Malone is also no stranger to long course, having put up a couple of 1:47s  to win gold at the World University Games last summer and competing as part of the American 4×200 free relay at Worlds in Kazan.

Jack Conger and Townley Haas also will go to battle in this highly competitive event, with both Texas athletes sitting strongly in the 1:47-mid range.  Haas’s improvement in the NCAA this year (which crested with the fastest flat-start and relay-start 200 frees in history) probably give him the edge. Haas will be coming off the 400 free a day earlier, though, and Conger should be fresh for the 200, so there’s certainly a possibility the Longhorns swap spots.

Another young stud towards the end of our top 12 predicted finalists is Mission Viejo’s star Grant Shoultsa possible sleeper in this race. Having fired off a 1:48.10 opening split to his squad’s 800m freestyle relay in addition to finishing as runner-up behind Rooney in the individual 200m freestyle event (1:48.42) at last year’s World Junior Championships, 18-year old Shoults has high-pressure experience and is on the cusp of at least a 1:47-high race.

Also in the mix in our projected top 12: Wisconsin pro Michael Weiss and Texas Longhorn alum Michael Klueh were both part of the World Championships relay last year, and Weiss had a big 1:46.1 split in prelims to earn a spot in the final.

Meanwhile back in the U.S., Badger Swim Clubber Zane Grothe and Indiana Hoosier standout Blake Pieroni were each dropping absurd amounts of time at U.S. Nationals. Grothe dropped from 1:50.3 to 1:47.1 and Pieroni cut from 1:48.8 to 1:47.3 as the two took second (Grothe) and third (Pieroni) behind Rooney.

Aside from our top 2 picks in Lochte and Dwyer, the remainder of the 10 selected athletes we predict to finish in the top 12 are all separated by just over a second based on their best times since 2012. That speaks to the depth of this event for the stars and stripes, but also speaks to the fact that there’s no stand-out ace up America’s sleeve, such as Japan’s Kosuke Hagino or Britain’s James Guy.

American men will need to not only throw down near lifetime bests to capture even a relay spot, but they’ll need to also throw down the hammer in Rio to be internationally competitive both on an individual and relay level.

Predicted Final Placement
at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials

Athlete Current Club Best Time Since
London 2012 Olympics
Predicted Final Time
at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials


Ryan Lochte SwimMAC Elite 1:45.36



Conor Dwyer Trojan Swim Club 1:45.41 1:45.2


Maxime Rooney Pleasanton Seahawks 1:47.10



Townley Haas University of Texas 1:47.55



Jack Conger University of Texas 1:47.62



Zane Grothe Unattached 1:47.11


7 Reed Malone Trojan Swim Club 1:47.15


8 Blake Pieroni Indiana University 1:47.30


9 Michael Weiss Wisconsin Aquatics 1:47.63



Michael Klueh Club Wolverine Elite 1:47.66



Connor Jaeger Club Wolverine Elite 1:48.41



Grant Shoults Mission Viejo 1:48.10



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Julio Plaintan
6 years ago

There is no doubt that Phelps will easily qualify for the 200 free in prelims only but even if we assume he swims the final then there is no problem with it. Does anybody seriously believes that Phelps won’t be able to do 1:55 in the 200fly semis.

Practically speaking, nobody’s catching Phelps in the 200fly so the lane in the final doesn’t matter because he is going to crush the field by more than a second in the final. So it’s all cool guys 🙂

6 years ago

Dwyer 144.8
Locate 145.5

6 years ago

Top 6

Dwyer- 1:44.6
Haas- 1:44.7
Lochte- 1:44.9
Rooney- 1:45.6
Grothe- 1:45.8
Shoults- 1:46.0

MP goes 1:45.0 in prelims and King Cong goes 1:45.5

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

4 at or under 1:45.0????

Shwoah. Well we’ll see but I have a feeling that Haas won’t immediately translate the 1:30 to LCM in the form of a 1:44. I can see him on the relay for sure but Lochte and Dwyer are rock solid. Reliable, proven, and accomplished.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

King Cong…

6 years ago

Lochte isn’t ready to go a 44 quite yet. Dwyer is. Dwyer for the win in Omaha in a 1:44.7
Lochte 2nd 1:45.4
Haas 3rd 1:45.8
Rooney and Clark Smith in 4th,5th 1:46 lows
Conger 6th 1:46.5

MP a 1:45 high alongside Haas.

Lochte best 200 freestyler from USA. Goes sub 1:44 from a relay start and a 1:44.5 for a silver or gold
Dwyer gets a medal in a 1:44 mid too.
Yes it’s crowded w Hagino, Guy, Yang, etc.
But Lochte is always stronger in Oly years except for 2012 where he was over trained. He’ll be better than last year and he will want to clinch his first… Read more »

Reply to  PACFAN
6 years ago

Great prediction! If lochte trains specifically for the 2 free/ 2 Im I Think 1:44 is a possibility

Reply to  PACFAN
6 years ago

I think that barring a huge surprise, Dwyer is the only American able to medal in the 200 free. Lochte is great but he has very difficult races (200 IM, 200 bk, 400 IM) and I think he lacks the raw speed. Still, I would love to see him medal and he should be on the 800 relay.

6 years ago

Love Dwyer, would love to see him 1:45 or close to 1:44 mark in Rio. If he gets down to 1:44, perhaps he will be in the running for Gold- in any case, between Lochte/Dwyer/Guy/Yang etc., the men’s 200 should be fantastic. Hope Dwyer can at least earn a silver or bronze

6 years ago

The only people ever to go 1.44 in legal suits are:
Thorpe 2001
Hoogie 2002
Phelps 2007
Park 2010
Lochte 2011
Biedermann 2011
Agnel 2011
Yang 2013
Izotov 201

All these swimmers in there prime could break 1.30 for 200yrd freestyle if yards where there focus.

No disrespect to haas, but anyone thinking he’s going 1.44 is mistaken. Not this year anyway.

I don’t know if Dwyer is good enough. Ok 1.45.3 at Santa Clara coming down from altitude?

I highly doubt him or yang are going much faster at the Olympics.

The only people on the planet who are breaking 1.45 (who haven’t already ) are James… Read more »

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
6 years ago

Thorpe 2001
Hoogie 2002
Phelps 2007

Those suits you listed are no longer legal………

Reply to  2Fat4Speed
6 years ago

Don’t think many people would disagree that they wouldn’t of achieved the feat.
Hoogie only wore legs, if you think Thorpe wouldn’t of gone 1.44 without that suit (adidas) then that’s your opinion, I think he would of.
Phelps was 1.44 in 2011.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
6 years ago

Agree, that full body suit of Thorpes wasn’t to keep him warm it was to give him a competitive advantage and was marketed as such. Since no other top ranked swimmer that I’m aware wore one who knows how much it helped. Thorpe was fast at a young age in a brief as well, but I think it had to have helped. If I’m not mistaken he didn’t dip below 1:46 in a brief and it wasn’t until he started wearing the full body suit that the 1:45 and 1:44’s came.


Phelp’s 1:43.86 in 2007 was with full leg suit and would have been interesting what he would have got with today’s jammer.

Reply to  Irish Ringer
6 years ago

Those suits while full body like. I believe we’re slower or the same than suits today. Proof of this is that Michael phelps used an fs2 jammer in the 200 fly to go 1:52.09. This swim is easily the equivalent of his 1:43.8 2 free. Those full body suits while helpful were not all that great

Reply to  Dcrabbe6
6 years ago

Were* and people always say thorpes suit was the only reason he was good; If that was true than why didn’t other people wear that suit,or something similar. The technology in 200 was not good enough for that suit to be overall better than the suits of today

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
6 years ago

Underestimate McEvoy & Thomas Fraser Holmes at your peril.

Reply to  robbos
6 years ago

Ok I will because there is no way either of them will go under 1:45. I would put a lot of money on that. They couldn’t even do it at Aussie trials and it always seems that Aussie swimmers go best times at that meet that they can’t match later on in the season.

Reply to  Dcrabbe6
6 years ago

They didn’t have to, to qualify.

6 years ago

I think no one mentions Weiss cause he’s not young or flashy but I think he has a better chance than everyone is giving him. Split 1:46.1, good in a close pressure cooker like this

6 years ago

It took the following times to advance in the 200 FR at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. 2016 should be faster.
Prelims: 16th place was 1:49.71
Semis: 8th place was 1:48.09
Finals: 6th 1:46.88 but Phelps dropped the 200 free from his schedule moving Davis Tarwater 1:47.02 to 6th & on Team USA

it should take 1:44 high to place top 2 & 1:46.5 to place top 6.
If MP is in the top 6, he’s likely to withdraw when/if he makes his 1st individual event.

Top 2 will be a dog fight between
Conor Dwyer& Ryan Lochte, but also look for Townley Haas,

Maxime Rooney has the most compelling time progression in… Read more »

Reply to  Ande
6 years ago

Excellent ANDE – great recap .

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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