The American men haven’t had a medalist in the 1500m freestyle since Larsen Jensen finished second to Grant Hackett at the 2004 Athens Games. With Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri lighting up Europe and China’s Sun Yang back in the mix, it won’t be easy for the Americans to end that drought, but several candidates could be in contention come Rio.
Right now, Connor Jaeger looks like the man to lead the American Olympic charge in the distance events. Coming off a 1500m freestyle silver medal at the 2015 World Championships and a 1500m freestyle gold medal from the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, he’s ranked 16th in the world this season with only one American ahead of him: Jordan Wilimovsky.
Wilimovsky threw down a very fast 14:53.12 at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Mesa earlier this season. That time ranks him sixth in the world this year, and puts him in a position to make the Olympic team in this event.
At the 2015 World Championships, Wilimovsky came home with a gold medal in the 10 km open water race, already qualifying him to swim in Rio. With that pressure off, there’s a chance he could be fighting to make the team in the pool too, and pull off an Ous Mellouli type of double.
If anyone has the power to put a stop to Wilimovsky, it’s Michael McBroom who’s the third ranked American this season in the 1500. McBroom has speed and has been on the verge of a huge international breakout for some time now. At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, McBroom threw down a silver medal performance in the 800m freestyle. Since then, he’s been quiet, but he is still the American record holder in the 800 with plenty of potential to make the Olympic team
Sean Ryan is another swimmer who will likely make the final, and potentially take down some of the big names in it. The Club Wolverine swimmer holds a personal best of 14:57.33 in this event from the 2015 summer nationals and will be looking to improve upon that this summer in order to make the team.
The talent coming out of the NCAA looks to be in the forefront in the distance events. Almost out of nowhere, Chris Swanson roared in to drop over eight seconds off his personal best and win the 1650 at the NCAA Championships for the University of Pennsylvania. His 14:31.54 time puts him right in contention with guys like Smith; however he hasn’t shown much in terms of long course swimming. Last year at the 2015 U.S National Championships, he was a 15:46.22, a time that wouldn’t get him close to contention for an Olympic berth.
Townley Haas is also one of the top prospects coming out of the NCAA. The Texas swimmer trains with Smith, and has proven to be very fast. Haas finished fourth in the 1650 at the NCAA Championships with a swift 14:34.36, won the 500 in a 4:09.00, and won the 200 in a 1:30.46 which broke the previous American record. Haas also split the fastest 200 freestyle split in history as a member of the winning 4×200 freestyle relay.
While Haas could possibly be targeting a spot on the Olympic 4×200 freestyle relay, or a spot in the 400 freestyle, it’s likely he’ll also tackle the 1500. He’s got the speed based on his 200 time, and he’s clearly got the endurance.
Andrew Gemmell has proven his speed in the long open water races, however most recently he won a major international medal in the 1500. At the Pan American Games in Toronto last summer, Gemmell finished second in the 1500 to Canadian Ryan Cochrane.
Gemmell has the endurance, but he hasn’t shown that he has the speed to make the team.
PJ Ransford from Michigan posted a 15:18.46 1500m freestyle at Winter Nationals earlier this year, and a 14:36.61 at the 2016 Men’s BIG 10 Championships in the 1650. He’s got the endurance and speed to compete with some of these guys, but he will need to make some sizable drops to be in the mix for a top two spot.
Eighteen-year-old True Sweetser could be the man to complete the top eight picture in the 1500. The young Gator Swim Club swimmer has clocked in at a 14:48.38 1650 this year and a 15:14.92 1500m freestyle.
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DARKHORSE: Sean Grieshop
Grieshop has been an exceptional age group swimmer, and with some push he’s in the running to make finals at the US Olympic Trials. The Nitro swimmer has put up some very fast times in the IMs and mid-distance freestyles. There’s no telling if he’ll swim the 1500 considering that he’ll likely have a hefty schedule with the IMs and mid-distance freestyles, but if he does, he’s the darkhorse to swim into the spotlight.