The 400m freestyle will likely be one of the closest events at the 2016 U.S Olympic Trials, with two waves of American mid-distance swimmers clashing to either continue their careers or start their journey into international competition.
The International Medallists
Connor Jaeger is the undeniable favorite to take the event at trials. He was fourth at last year’s World Championships in this event with a very sound 3:44.81, which stands as his current personal best. While the time itself is impressive and ranked him sixth in the world by the end of last season, it’s Jaeger’s consistency that puts him in a great position to make the team.
Ever since the 2012 London Olympic Games – where the now-retired Peter Vanderkaay and Dwyer were the two Americans representing the stars and stripes – Jaeger has been the top 400m freestyler in the nation. Jaeger finished the 2012-2013 season ranked fourth worldwide with a 3:44.85 personal best from his bronze medal performance at the 2013 World Championships. Next season, he was a 3:45.31, taking home a bronze medal at the 2014 Pan Pacs. Add in his result from last summer, and his consistency in the 3:44-3:45 range has been very solid.
On the contrary, Dwyer has been a little all over the place since making the 400m freestyle final at the London Olympics. In fact, he hasn’t swam the event in a major international competition since London. There’s no confirmation that he will be swimming it at trials, having made the 200m freestyle his focus event in the last quadrennial, however he is the top ranked American this season in the 400m freestyle with a 3:48.11.
Dwyer’s absence from the event could all be over come June, but if he does return, he’ll have to face off against Texas distance man Michael McBroom. McBroom won a silver medal in the 800m freestyle at the 2013 World Championships, and has since shown that he’s a threat in the 400 as well. McBroom competed at both the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2015 World Championships in the 400, making the final in both, and finishing eighth overall in both races. His 3:46.69 personal best might be enough to get him close to a spot on the team.
The College Kids
While bigger names such as Jaeger, Dwyer, and McBroom might entice people to think nobody else has a shot at making the team, there’s a group of athletes competing in the NCAA that have proven they have what it takes to reach that next step.
Townley Haas is the man who could win it all and take the 400 freestyle crown away from Jaeger. He’s had an incredible collegiate season to say the least. This year, representing the Texas Longhorns, Haas took down the American record in the 200 yard freestyle with a stunning 1:30.46, threw down the fastest 200 freestyle split of all time, and came within half-a-second of Peter Vanderkaay’s 500 freestyle American record to win the race in a 4:09.00.
Haas holds a 3:48.69 400m freestyle personal best from 2015, but if he’s on his game like he was at NCAAs, his short course times argue that he can be much faster than that.
Haas’ training partner Clark Smith is another high-level collegiate talent. Smith specializes in mid-distance freestyle and will likely be right in the mix for a spot on the team. Smith didn’t have a great NCAA meet, finishing way off his personal bests in both the 500 and 1650 freestyles, however he’s proven his speed in the past, and shouldn’t be counted out based on one poor short course meet. Smith was a 3:47.10 in the big pool last season at the 2015 US Nationals, and broke the 1000 yard freestyle American record in December. He’s already been under 3:50 this year at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Mesa, showing much better times than he did at the NCAA Championships.
The Other Talent
Although he doesn’t have any international experience and has completed his four years in the NCAA, Zane Grothe is another candidate for an Olympic berth in the 400m freestyle. He’s thrown down the times that are necessary to compete with the world – most notably a 3:45.98 from the 2015 U.S Nationals. It’s likely going to take a 3:45-mid to make the team considering how fast both Jaeger and Dwyer have been in their careers. If Grothe is on that mark, he’ll have a great chance to make his first Olympic team.
Maxime Rooney is the youngest swimmer who will be in the mix for the 400m freestyle final. The Florida Gators commit has shown his speed as a young athlete competing at junior international meets, and this competition will be the test to see how he fares against top international competitors. Whether it’s this Olympic cycle or the next, the future is bright for Rooney.
True Sweetser is another young swimmer who will be headed to compete at Trials. Sweetser, who will be swimming with Stanford in the fall, has proven that he has what it takes to make the final. He’s never been under a 3:50, and will likely need to do so to remain competitive.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
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Dark Horse: PJ Ransford. Michigan swimmer PJ Ransford has already been a 3:53.92 this season in the 400 freestyle at the U.S Winter Nationals. The time is the fastest he’s ever been, however he’ll likely need to be much faster if he wants to make the 400m freestyle final in Omaha.
The sophomore finished 10th in the 500 free at the NCAA Championships with a 4:14.62.
He’s represented the United States in junior international competition, however hasn’t exactly made the transition into senior swimming since his age group success.