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

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2017 U.S. NATIONALS & WORLD TRIALS

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.

TOP 8 PICKS:

PLACE SWIMMER BEST TIME SINCE 2015 PREDICTED TIME
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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Sean S
5 years ago

Simone has had some really nice drops at taper meets but usually not as much in the 200. She also might not need to rest quite as much for trials this year with Weitzeil being a little off. I don’t see her knocking 1.4 off if her best. My top 4 is Ledecky, Smith Comerford, and Margalis.

Taa
5 years ago

I doubt we see any of those predicted drops. Maybe Comerford can break 1:57 but the rest I wouldn’t expect much of drop off their best times. Manuel I think this is a no win situation. She would need to go sub 1:57 at trials in order to skip a prelim swim for this relay and if she is 157 high she might as well let the next swimmer up have a crack at it in the prelims. She doesnt need to do this relay she can do a mixed medley instead. I’d like to see the Junior pics, Ivey, maybe 15yo Ristic goes sub 2 and I don’t know who else is game to challenge Canada at Jr. worlds.

ERVINFORTHEWIN
5 years ago

Het guys , listen : Trials – 5 Days !!!! Yipiiiiii

Swimmer?
Reply to  ERVINFORTHEWIN
5 years ago

😀 finally!!!

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Swimmer?
5 years ago

Jeahhhhhhhh ?

phelps swims 200 breast rio
Reply to  ERVINFORTHEWIN
5 years ago

awesome!

Tom from Chicago
5 years ago

Manuel owns the race up to 150 meters.

gigglewater
5 years ago

Another thing about this relay, Ledecky showed some fragility last time, split 1:55.6.
If her schedule was like this, she will had 400mx2(possible a 100m relay) 1500mx2 200mx3 before this relay, I guess her split won’t be as fast as Rio in 1:53.7.

Prickle
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

I hope she has learned her lesson in Kazan when world record in final 1500 almost costed her final (1:56.76 in semi) and significantly affected her 200 final and relay splits (as you mentioned above). If she wants to do something special in 1500 this time then it’d better to do in prelim having some time for recovering.
On the other hand there was no need to be faster at relay final leg after she got comfortable lead after first turn. So her splits may indicate nothing since she may already thought during this relay about 8:07 world record at 800.

Prickle
5 years ago

I’m wondering, if Cate Campbell who isn’t focusing on anything this year swims casually 1:58 then what Sarah Sjostrom can do without being trained specifically for this distance this season. I have some strange feeling that 1:55 flat won’t make her even sweating.

gigglewater
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

Sjostrom, Campbell, Heemskerk have one thing in common, their stroke in freestyle, look so efficient and effortless.
Thier built on physical are very similar I would say, tall and slim.
Just some hypothesis, if Campbell made 200m as her main event, builting up her endurance, I believe she can be a Sjostrom level good 200 freestyler.
Pellegrini’s stroke is more wild? compare to them?
Ledecky’s stroke is very different compare to them, her stroke is different in sprint and distance even compare to herself.

Anyway, we have a perfect example for woman 200 free isn’t it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3YgUGhMTB4

gigglewater
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

Don’t forget Sjostrom had 1:53.6 split at 2014, that is even faster than Schmitt and Ledecky splits in both Olympics.
I don’t think 1:54.0 is her ceiling at 200 free, maybe she should try 200 free in some small meet when she was less vulnerable(no 3 rounds no relay duty) and hit her PB?

Patrick S
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

Sarah Sjöström is swimming the 200m free at the swedish championships next week. She’s also swimming the 50m backstroke, plus her four usual events.

Prickle
Reply to  Patrick S
5 years ago

I wish Sarah Sjostrom to be very fast at 200 free. At least under 1:55. It will force Ledecky to be very serious (if she is not yet already) about 200 competition in Budapest and don’t look at the win in it as given.

Prickle
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

I recently reviewed the Olympic race between Sjostrom and Ledecky. Check the underwater part of the footage (1min 40sec – 1min 50sec, third turn) to see how different their kicks are.
Sjostrom – high frequency, low amplitude kicks that look completely independent of what upper body is doing. Streamline all the time. That is what creates the illusion of effortlessness.
Ledecky – powerful high amplitude kicks synchronized with her asymmetric stroke.
I think that Katie overpowered Sarah who’s technique looked more efficient from the first glance.
http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/katie-ledecky-edges-sarah-sjostrom-2nd-individual-gold

Joe
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

Ledecky has the best motor female swimming, maybe all of swimming, has ever seen. But she wouldn’t exactly win a stroke beauty contest. Sjostrom and Campbell will even make their 50 free look effortless. But in the end, it’s all about how fast you are and not how it looks.

Ledecky doesn’t need to worry about anything if she brings her normal level, Sjostrom won’t change her schedule and right now I don’t think anyone else at the peak of their capabilities can do better than ~1.54.5(Coleman, Pellegrini, Heemskerk or McKeon in specific). Most likely, Ledecky will be the only one under 1.55 in London as the girls will be racing for medals and not for times.

commonwombat
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

C1’s 1.58.2 for 200 earlier this year was a career PB, and I suspect it was anything but casual; but I fear that people may possibly be reading far more into this than is necessarily the case. It COULD very possibly signify a possible interest in staking a claim for a spot in the AUS 4X200 relay, which HAS been shot to pieces post Rio by retirements and indefinite sabbaticals ….. but for how long ? We need to remember, that mental fragility aside, there is absolutely no guarantee that her perennially fragile physique will hold up through to Tokyo esp with another event added to the list. It may well be the case that she DOES put her hand… Read more »

Prickle
Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

The word “causally” reflects rather my poor English vocabulary then the way Cate Campbell swam this 1:58 200 race. There is no wonder that it is her pb since she’s swum this distance only once before and for first hundred meters only relaxing on the second half. Her example was used to underline that a swimmer of the same unique speed abilities has 1:58 within her without any special training.

commonwombat
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

Actually C1 has swum the 200 a number of times before at both LC & SC but you are probably correct in saying that this instance would’ve been the first time in a long time that she actually set out to swim it with the purpose of racing the full distance rather than as a 100 time trial followup by a wind-down.

I would say that her speed abilities are somewhat different to those of SS. C1 has always been all about 50/100 with perhaps an earlier weighting towards 50 whereas SS has always had a wider range of events but in stroke (fly and back) and distance (even out to 400). Both extraordinary talents without doubt and both at… Read more »

Joe
Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

Yeah I think you nailed it. Sjostrom actually hates the 200 free, she was thinking of dropping it altogether already in 2012. She would of course swim it in London and later on in Tokyo if Sweden could field a team, but that’s a very different sacrifice compared to swimming individually. I think an Olympic medal was a nice enough good-bye.

I’m not entirely sure she will drop the 200 SCM though. I could see her going for some crazy Euro SC schedule later this year with 50/100/200 free, 50/100 fly and 100 medley.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

I wouldn’t say “formidable” field. Let’s see what happens but right now I would say weak field behind KL.
Comerford in 1.56.2 is a big bet. I don’t know at all what to expect from her this year in that event in long course. Yes, it could be 1.56 low like 1.58. Really no idea. I continue to think her best long course event for the moment is still the 100 free.
Isabel Ivey is a big hopeful. She has the speed to attack her races and she has a a good endurance too. One day she will swim at least 1.55. Probably more in 2 or 3 years.
And talking about the future, it’s hard to… Read more »

Prickle
5 years ago

I would be strongly against of choosing Simone Manuel to race final 800 relay. She will have double that night racing 100 free semi-final and hopefully she will compete in final next day. Simone has a history of what may look like giving preference to individual race over relay duty. It was in Rio (53.36 against 52.7). It was at NCAA where she was significantly faster in individual race than she swam in relay.

Factcheck
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

She also was 52.4 on MR same night of 50 fr in Rio.

Prickle
Reply to  Factcheck
5 years ago

It was the last race of the meet and proves one more time what she was capable of in relay. So there is no excuses that she isn’t a relay type of swimmer. This 0.66 sec slowdown in relay performance could easily be a game changer in the competition with Australians. It would put Cate Campbell at least 0.3sec behind Ledecky in chasing position. And we all remember what has happened to her after too fast start in individual race. Besides Ledecky would have a clear water but not the most turbulent one. That would make her faster then in the morning but not slower. Even with that unfavourable racing conditions Ledecky was faster on the way home.
But… Read more »

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

Manuel anchored 2 times The Us Team for victory ( Duel in the Pool 2013 & 2015 if i am correct ) so she knows very well how to perform under pressure on a Big relay .

gigglewater
Reply to  ERVINFORTHEWIN
5 years ago

Manuel achoring for US in the 4×100(free/Medley) relays more than others in recent years.
Her win counts and lost counts really isn’t a good example of she knows how to perform under pressure on a Big relay.
I counted 2014 Pan Pacs M, 2015 Kazan F, 2015 Kazan M for lost, so it’s a 3-3 tie then.
The total number she anchored far more than others should be the ground of she knows how to perform under pressure “than others” on a Big relay.

gigglewater
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

Umm, the head coach of women team this year…I think Manuel will up for final.
Ledecky, Smith, Manuel for final, leave only 1 spot for Comerford, Margalis, McLaughlin or others.

Prickle
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

It’s true what you said about head coach. I think it will depends on Simone’s form. Thanks to Sarah Sjostrom Simone Manuel isn’t any more under pressure to compete for the gold at 100. So she may go for the gold in relay. But still, this relay is right between her sami and final in 100. Sarah Sjostrom’s example proves that it can happen to be costly.

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

I would go with those 3 too – i think thats the best line – up so far .

gigglewater
Reply to  ERVINFORTHEWIN
5 years ago

I feel bad for Margalis, Comerford and 1 more who need to compete for 1 spot then.
Right now, Margalis was second for US swimmer with 1:57.69, Comerford was 5th with 1:58.54.
Smith 1:57.72 third, Manuel 1:57.87 fourth.

E Gamble
Reply to  Prickle
5 years ago

If Simone Manuel makes the top four, it will be her choice of whether or not she swims on the 800 free relay…not yours or mine. It would be an earned spot.

And there is no history of Simone Manuel giving preference to her individual swims over relays. You are judging her relay career on one Olympic swim. Instead of being happy that she continued to have faster swims, you accuse her of not giving her best for team. That’s just wrong. Do you know her personally? Do you know what she was dealing with on that day? She could have been just having an off day or an off swim. Swimmers don’t always perform the way we want. That… Read more »

gigglewater
Reply to  E Gamble
5 years ago

Chill out man.
You’re being too agitated for wrote down”Do you know her personally? Do you know what she was dealing with on that day?”.

Prickle could brought up Manuel’s NCAA performance in this case.

1:41.41 1:40.70
21.47 21.17
46.02 45.56

I believe not just Manuel was slower in relays, Ledecky was slower in the 800 relay too, and I believe there is a lot more swimmers had this kind of situation.

Personally, I don’t feel too comfortable about the top 4 swimmers is a lock for final part, I guess “If Simone Manuel makes the top four” is what you meant.
1-2 at Indy a lock for final, 3-6 for prelims, 2 fastest swimmers in… Read more »

Prickle
Reply to  E Gamble
5 years ago

@E GAMBLE: Were those the rhetoric questions? Or you indeed are itching to know about my relationships with Simone Manuel? 🙂
I’m not accusing Simone Manuel in anything. It is a fruit of your imagination. And I agree with you that it is swimmer’s and only swimmer’s decision what and how to swim. I also don’t see any crime in preferring individual race over relay. If Simone Manuel swam 400 free relay right enough to secure second place (and that is what has been expected from american team) saving energy for individual race then what she did was very wise. Kudos.
It wiser than Penny Oleksiak did swimming back-to-back 52.7. Those schoolgirls are so rushing an immature 🙂

Jiggs
Reply to  E Gamble
5 years ago

Ive been pushing for more categories like in the Paras.
Swimmers who have been dealing with break-ups B1
Swimmers working 2 or more jobs J1
Swimmers dealing with the death of a loved one D1
Swimmers who can
t seem to make ends meet E1
Lactose intolerant swimmers L1
and so on

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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