2017 U.S. Trials Preview: Three Guys, Two Spots In Men’s 400 Free

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The men’s 400 freestyle will be one of four races at U.S. Nationals that won’t feature either of last year’s Olympic representatives, joining the men’s 200 IM, the men’s 1500, and the women’s 200 back. That leaves the door open for those who just missed last year to change the outcome this time around, and the race for a spot in the top two will likely come down to three men.

Townley HaasZane Grothe and Clark Smith finished within seven tenths of each other in Omaha for 3rd, 4th and 5th, and with both Connor Jaeger and Conor Dwyer out of the event, shape up to be the men fighting it out for a spot on the World’s team this year.

Haas exploded for some big swims at the Olympic Trials, dropping over three seconds from his best in the 400 to finish a close 3rd in 3:45.04. He also made the Olympic team in the 200, finishing 5th in Rio, and went onto post the fastest split in the entire field of the 4×200 relay as the Americans won gold. Now with that international experience under his belt, he’s ready to shine this summer.

However, one change we’ve seen from Haas this year was he opted to swim the 100 free instead of the 1650 at NCAAs, a year after finishing 4th in the gruelling event. What does that mean for his LC 400? Probably not a lot, he was still faster in the 500 this year than last year, but there’s no doubt the 200 is his number one focus, especially with it being relatively wide open on the world stage. That may give an edge to Grothe and Smith, as the 400 would have to be considered their best event.

At 2015 Nationals Grothe won the 400 in 3:45.98, a time that would’ve placed 5th at the World Championships and stood up as a top-10 time in the world for the year. With back-to-back 3:45s in 2016 at the Olympic Trials and the U.S. Open, he proved he was for real, and 2017 looks like it’s his year to crack his first major international LC meet.

The 25-year-old is the fastest American this year in a time of 3:47.99, faster than he was last year in-season, and looks to be setting up for potentially a sub-3:45 in Indy. It’s also worth noting both Grothe and Smith have opted out of the 1500 on day 1, as they’ll be keying in on this and the 800, along with the 200 where they both have a shot at a relay position.

Smith looks like he’s in good shape for a drop as well, coming off an American Record performance in the 500 (and the 1650) at NCAAs in March. He silenced the critics last summer earning an Olympic berth in the 4×200 relay, and also had an impressive 400 free showing that saw him lead through 250m and post a best time of 3:45.74. Along with Grothe, he’s the only other American under 3:50 this year (3:49.40).

While those are likely going to be the top three, who else will be a factor in Indianapolis? Rising Stanford sophomores True Sweetser and Grant Shoults were finalists in Omaha and are on their way up. Sweetser went even faster later on in the summer with a 3:47.9 at the U.S. Open, and Shoults had a very impressive showing at his first NCAAs in March snagging 4th in the 500. Both should final and be in the hunt for a top-5 finish.

Two who could surprise and dip below 3:50 for the first time are 17-year-olds Andrew Abruzzo and Patrick Callan, as they’ve both produced personal bests this season to rank 4th and 5th among Americans. Abruzzo won the Junior Pan Pac title last August in 3:53, and then dropped a 3:51.01 at the Indianapolis Pro Swim. We’ll have to wait and see what type of drop he can produce this year in-season to Trials, as last year he was actually faster in-season than he was at the Olympic Trials.

Heading into the year with a best of 3:56.9, Callan threw down a massive best of 3:51.66 in May at the Arena PSS in Austin. However, like Abruzzo, last year he was faster in-season than he was at the Olympic Trials, though they both went faster later in the summer.

Liam Egan and Kevin Litherland clocked in at 3:50 last year and come in as the 5th and 7th seeds, and there are quite a few youngsters who will join him in the battle for a spot in the top-8. Teenagers Trey FreemanSean GrieshopDrew KiblerMichael Brinegar and Robert Finke will all be there, as will distance specialists PJ Ransford and Chris Wieser.

Those swimming the mile on day 1 (Sweetser, Finke, Ransford, Wieser, Abruzzo, Brinegar, Freeman) will have that working against them compared to the others who will come into day 4 a bit fresher.


1 Clark Smith 3:45.74 3:44.6
2 Zane Grothe 3:45.60 3:44.9
3 Townley Haas 3:45.04 3:45.7
4 Grant Shoults 3:48.91 3:48.4
5 True Sweetser 3:47.94 3:48.7
6 Andrew Abruzzo 3:51.01 3:48.9
7 Patrick Callan 3:51.66 3:49.6
8 Liam Egan 3:50.16 3:50.3

Darkhorse: Jay Litherland has entered the event, and could easily dip well below the 3:50 mark, but it’s far from a sure thing he swims it. He’s the 3rd fastest American this year at 3:50.96, a best time, and showed his freestyle is in fine form after winning the 200 at the Santa Clara Pro Swim. If he has a great 200 free on day 2 he’ll probably swim it, but if his 400 IM on day 3 is on point he could take the day off and rest for the 200 IM on day 5. We’ll have to wait and see how everything plays out.

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Steve Nolan
5 years ago

I can’t wait until Grant Shoults’s retires and gets a recurring column on this site.

He could call it “Shoults From The Stands.”

bobo gigi
5 years ago

It bothers me to not have picked Grothe in either the 400 free or the 800 free. Because I think he looks stronger than ever this year.
I wanted to pick him in the 800 free with Smith but I’ve read that they take only the winner of that event plus maybe someone else.
If Smith wins the 400 free and the 800 free, Haas finishes second of the 400 free but declines the invitation of the 800 free at worlds and at the same time Grothe finishes 3rd in the 400 free and 2nd in the 800 free, can Grothe represent USA in the 800 free in Budapest? Is it possible to have only 1 American in… Read more »

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

Thanks for downvoting my comment, very useful from your part but could you rather answer my question please if you know the answer? 😆
Clarifications about selection procedures in “non-olympic” events?

Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

Bobo – as always, these non-Olympic events get a little complicated. You’re asking if Grothe could be added to the team for the 800 free (as a hypothetical 3rd place finisher in the 400) if the hypothetical 2nd place finisher in the 400 declines to swim it, correct?

First note: the 2nd slot in the 800 will go to the 400 or 1500 qualifier with the highest world ranking in his respective event. “* The highest finishing swimmer in the men’s 400 and 1500 freestyle who has the highest World Ranking as of June 19, 2017 will be offered the second opportunity to swim the men’s 800 Freestyle. If this results in a tie, the swimmer among the tied… Read more »

bobo gigi
Reply to  Robert Gibbs
5 years ago

Thanks Robert. Nice from your part. And as you said, that’s a little complicated. 🙂

5 years ago

Clark and Zane both are swimming as good or better than last year.

Clark took it out in 1:49 at the Olympic Trials, and then faded in the final 50. Zane passed him on the final stroke.

Will Clark change his strategy this time around?

Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago

At short course they could take it out as crazy like that, at long course, I doubt they could survive.

phelps swims 200 breast rio
Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago

That was such an exciting race at OT. I’m a big fan of Clark. I hope he does great at Nationals.

Reply to  phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

Yeah, it was thrilling. Clark and Townley had the lead for the first half. Jaeger was way back in 4th – he said he was kind of panicking, Zane was the top qualifier and swimming fast, but he was in 5th. Jaeger moved up in each succeeding lap to pull into the lead. Conor Dwyer was trying not to unravel and hang onto 2nd.

What do you do in a race like that – stick to your strategy and hope it works out in the end?

Jaeger had the most consistent splits of the field, and ended up with the win and a PB.

phelps swims 200 breast rio
Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago


IMs for days
5 years ago

Why do you think Townley will be slower than last year? He swam about the same times he did last year at NCAAs, and had a huge breakout swim on the relay in Rio proving he could be great in long course. Just because he swam 2 tenths slower than last year in one race at NCAAs dosen’t mean he will be way slower on the big stage

Reply to  IMs for days
5 years ago

It’s trials and he’s an overwhelming favorite. He doesn’t need to go all out

Reply to  Pvdh
5 years ago

To make the 400, at least, he does.

5 years ago

Big exciting battle between Clark , Haas and Zane Grothe . It will be epic !!!

5 years ago

No way Townley gets third! :'(

Reply to  gigglewater
5 years ago

we dont know where he is at right now . So , lets see . I put him in contention anyway with Clark Smith for the spot .

Gator fan
5 years ago

Don’t do townley dirty like that! :'(

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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