2017 U.S. Trials Preview: Ledecky Spearheads Formidable 200 Free Field

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After breaking through for 800 Olympic gold in 2012, it didn’t take long for Katie Ledecky to become the world’s dominant force in all freestyle distances 200m and up.

Ledecky upset 2013 world champ Missy Franklin for gold at the 2014 Pan Pacs in the 200, and followed it up by staring down Federica Pellegrini and Sarah Sjostrom at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics and emerging victorious.

With Sjostrom sitting out of the event at the World Championships this summer Ledecky is the clear favorite, and the race at U.S. Trials is really for 2nd place. She leads the world rankings this year with a time of 1:55.34, faster than anyone else in the field has ever been by more than a second. Like Omaha, Ledecky likely won’t have much rest prior to the meet simply because she doesn’t need it. Look for a similar performance from last year’s Trials, somewhere in the 1:54 mid to high range.

The U.S. may appear to have weakened in this event behind Ledecky, with their other Olympic representative Franklin, and two members of the gold medal winning relay (Allison Schmitt and Maya Dirado) out of competition this year. Despite the losses, they are strong as ever, and have a very good chance to be faster in the relay in Budapest than they were in Rio.

Leah Smith joined Ledecky, Schmitt and Dirado on the relay last year, and is the third fastest American so far this year at 1:57.72. Smith was less than two tenths faster at Trials last year than she was in-season, and with the 800 just the day before the 200, she’s far from a sure thing for the second spot.

Melanie Margalis is the 2nd fastest American this year with her 1:57.69, but like Smith, she can’t be counted on for a big drop at Trials either. Last year her fastest swim came in-season, but a pair of 1:57 highs in Atlanta at the beginning of May suggest a 1:56 is in the cards.

While Smith and Margalis can be counted on to be somewhere in the 1:56-1:57 range, two who could explode and grab that second spot behind Ledecky are Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford.

Manuel gave this event a go in Omaha, sitting in a tie for 2nd through three laps in the final, only to fall off and just miss a relay spot in 7th. She’s already come within five one-hundredths of her best time from Omaha this year at the Atlanta Pro Swim in 1:57.87, including a much improved final 50. Look for the 100 free Olympic gold medalist to be a real contender for an individual spot in this event.

Mallory Comerford at the 2017 NCAA Championships (Tim Binning)

Comerford sent shockwaves through the swim community when she closed on Ledecky in the 200 final at NCAAs to tie her for the title. Though there weren’t any expectations for her at the Olympic Trials, she was still a bit disappointed to miss the final, though she went a best time in 1:59.24. She lowered that down to 1:58.54 at the beginning of June, and is setting up to potentially unleash a big swim in Indianapolis.

200 fly specialists Katie McLaughlin and Hali Flickinger are two others who will likely be in the final and in the mix for a spot on the relay. McLaughlin split 1:56.9 on the relay at the 2015 World Championships, and has looked strong this year with a season best of 1:59.11, not far off her Olympic Trials showing where she made the final. Flickinger has been just a tick slower than McLaughlin this season at 1:59.20, half a second faster than she was heading into last year’s Trials where she wasn’t far from making the final.

Cierra Runge qualified for the relay last year, but her focus may have shifted more so back to the distance events. She’s already been faster this year in the 800 free than she was at Trials, and may hope to challenge Smith for the second Worlds spot in that event. Nonetheless she’ll be in the mix for a relay spot, though it’s worth noting she was almost two seconds faster heading into Trials last year than she’s been this year.

Stanford’s Katie Drabot is another who will be in the mix for a relay spot. Coming off her freshman year with Stanford she performed well at the Santa Clara Pro Swim, including a PB in the 400 and the 6th fastest 200 in the country this season at 1:58.85. She’s looking good to lower her best of 1:58.5 and get in the final.

Three other Americans have been under 2:00 this season: Gabby DeLoofIsabel Ivey and Abby Jagdfeld. Ivey missed the semis at Trials last year by just half a second, and followed up with a PB of 1:58.9 to win bronze at the Junior Pan Pacs. Both DeLoof and Jagdfeld’s 1:59s were lifetime bests, and after finishing 40th and 42nd at Trials last year, are right on the cusp of a berth in the A-final.


1 Katie Ledecky 1:53.73 1:54.6
2 Mallory Comerford 1:58.54 1:56.2
3 Simone Manuel 1:57.82 1:56.4
4 Melanie Margalis 1:57.33 1:56.8
5 Leah Smith 1:56.47 1:56.8
6 Katie McLaughlin 1:57.55 1:57.4
7 Katie Drabot 1:58.58 1:57.8
8 Hali Flickinger 1:58.18 1:58.0

Darkhorse: 2015 World Junior bronze medalist Hannah Cox is coming off a solid freshman year in Arizona, and a return to her 1:59-low form could put in her the A-final.

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4 years ago

I wouldn’t consider this a formidable field after Katie! It might be one of our weakest fields in a while. Usa has a history of changing its swimmers on this relay every year and this will happen again this year!

Reply to  Korn
4 years ago

Na, after that insane NCAA race, this is probably the race I’m most excited about. The new guard of Ledecky, Maneul, Comerford, and Marglis is going to dominate the swimming world for years to come.

4 years ago

My picks would be Ledecky, Smith for individual. Margalis, Comerford, Maneul, and McLaughlin for relay.

4 years ago

I think Isabel Ivey has a good shot at making the relay. Her 1:58.9 was split 59/59 and she won gold in the 100 (54.9) at Jr. Pan Pacs. If she uses her speed on the front half she could make the team.

gator fan
4 years ago

I don’t see Comerford going faster than 1:57 mid, she hasn’t been great in the long course pool.

4 years ago

Rooting for McLaughlin to make it here and 200 fly!

4 years ago

Her comeback at last fifty in Kazan was spectacular. With this performance two years ago she made many fans to like her very much. But she is only 1:59 by far this season and 1:57 will be probably needed to get on the team. I wish her good luck despite two seconds drop looks like a lot.

IMs for days
4 years ago

My picks
1. Ledecky 1:54.5
2. Smith 1:56.1
3. Margalis 1:56.4
4. Manuel 1:56.8
5. Comerford 1:57.1
6. McLaughlin 1:57.4

gator fan
Reply to  IMs for days
4 years ago

Nailed it.

Reply to  IMs for days
4 years ago

Leah Smith has personal best 1:56.47 set at OT last year when she was at the peak of her 2016 form. I don’t think she will be tapered and rested at these trials to break her PB. On the other hand she did improve her 100 pb right after NCAA final where she was great at 500y going under 4:30. So we can expect her be great at 200 LCM this year but later at WC. Not at trials.

Frequent Flyer
Reply to  IMs for days
4 years ago

Probably right but I hope Comerford & McLaughlin finish higher.

Tea rex
4 years ago

Comerford is set to blow up this summer. 59 mid-season in an off event (100 fly) – her conditioning is peak. Her or Leah Smith for the second spot.

4 years ago

“they are strong as ever, and have a very good chance to be faster in the relay in Budapest than they were in Rio.”
It sounds more like a Christmas wish.
Yes, there were great expectations that Americans having finally three superstars together will smash high-tech suits world record regardless whoever is the fourth one on the team.
But being “betrayed” by Missy Franklin they were put in the situation of battling for the win. And yet it was one of the best team Americans have ever had. They were capable for a record shouldn’t they were extremely careful with exchange and should Maya DiRado focus on 200 in season and at trials.
I don’t think… Read more »

Reply to  Prickle
4 years ago

U never know how this team will shape up this summer …there is a lot of talent in there .

Reply to  Prickle
4 years ago

You may be quite correct in stating that this does not necessarily looks like a “peak vintage” for this particular relay (4×200) but you are failing to take into account one very major point; they will not NEED to be to win this relay comfortably in Budapest.

Just about every other nation, and particularly those who were seen as peak challengers in Rio, have been decimated by retirements or those on “sabatticals” and thus look to have fallen away far more than the US look to have.

The only team that looks likely to even be in the same post-code seems to be CHN who currently have a crop of 1.56s/1.57lows but their best leg is probably only a 1.55tops… Read more »

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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