2017 U.S. World Trials Preview: The Real Post-Phelps 200 Fly Era

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After Michael Phelps‘ epic return to Olympic glory last summer in the men’s 200 fly, the post-Phelps era is set to begin (again).

Tom Shields had his long course breakout swim in this event at the 2014 Nationals, winning in 1:55.09, and even went on to beat Phelps head-to-head in the 100 at the same meet. He was a finalist in the event at the 2015 World Championships, and took the 2nd Olympic spot behind Phelps last summer.

Shields was doubted by many to make the team in this event last summer, but got the job done and won’t be doubted this time around. Not known for his in-season swims, especially in the 200 fly,

Shields has been very consistent this year with four long course meets under his belt and four showings between 1:58.0 and 1:59.0.

With his front-end speed he’ll likely be the early leader, but the true test for Shields will come on the last 50. In the Olympic Trials final he brought it home in 32.0, something he probably can’t afford to do this time around. I think he’s in line to finally crack the 1:55 barrier in Indianapolis, especially with this event on the opening day of competition.

The man picked by many to take that second spot behind Phelps last summer was Jack Conger, who looks to be primed for an international breakout this year.

After the NCAA Championships, where Conger finished off his collegiate career, he stated he wanted to be racing a lot of events in Budapest. The 200 fly will be first on his list. He dropped a big swim at the 2015 Nationals in 1:54.54, which created many expectations last summer. A day after a very impressive 1:45.7 200 free, he wasn’t quite on point going 1:56.4 to take 3rd.

Now with the 200 fly on day 1 that’s no longer a problem, and coming off an NCAA & American Record performance in the event at the NCAAs, he’ll be raring to go and could easily hit a best time.

If there’s one guy who could upset Shields or Conger for a spot, it’s Chase Kalisz. Kalisz has long been revered in the 400 IM, but has really turned up the heat in his other events this year, especially the 200 fly. Entering the year with a best of 1:56.48 from the Olympic Trials, he’s already been under 1:56 twice this season, including a PB of 1:55.82 at the Mesa Pro Swim. Not only is he the fastest American this year by nearly a second, his time from Mesa is faster than everyone else in the field was at any point last year, except for Shields who was 0.01 faster in Omaha.

All three men look to be somewhere in the 1:54-range, and it’s going to be a very exciting race for those two spots. The only real issue for Kalisz is that the 200 fly fits his schedule well for U.S. Nationals, but would force him to swim a double with the 200 IM at Worlds. Still, Kalisz is a tough enough swimmer that it’s not out of the question for him to at least give that event lineup a shot in Budapest, if he qualifies in both events.

Kalisz’s Georgia Bulldog teammates Gunnar Bentz and Pace Clark will be major factors in this event as well, after strong showings at Olympic Trials placing 4th and 6th.

At the Santa Clara Pro Swim earlier this month Bentz discussed how he has trouble producing fast in-season swims like his teammates Kalisz and Jay Litherland, but once he gets his taper he’s good to go. After busting out a 1:56.4 for 4th in Omaha, Bentz threw down a massive best in the 200 fly at NCAAs to take 3rd in 1:40.07. He’s only ranked 10th in the U.S. this year, but look for him to be right there in the mix. Watch for him particularly on the back half, as he had the fastest second 100 in the field at both the Olympic Trials and the NCAA Championships.

Clark is actually ranked 2nd among Americans this year at 1:56.75, less than a half a second off his best time from the Olympic Trials. He’s been 1:56 three straight years now, but this is the first time he’s done it in-season. In fact, his fastest in-season swim prior to this year was 1:59.09, so look for a dip into the 1:55s from him.

Another one to keep an eye on is Louisville sophomore Zach Harting. After famously dressing up as Batman in the walkout at Olympic Trials, he backed it up with some fast swims including a pair of sub-1:57s to ultimately place 7th. He’s currently not a threat for a spot on the Worlds team, but could add some spice to an already loaded final.

Three others with a shot to make the final are Trials semi-finalists Mick Litherland and Justin Wright, along with 2015 World Junior bronze medalist Mike Thomas. Wright just missed the final last year in 9th at 1:57.24, and Litherland has looked strong this season, tied for 7th in the country at 1:59.08.

Both will be right on the cusp of the final, as will Thomas, who busted out a pair of 1:57s in 2015 only to falter at Trials going 2:01. He’s the 5th fastest American so far this year at 1:58.5, so he’s definitely someone who could turn a few heads.

And then there’s Andrew Seliskar, who was a finalist in Omaha but hasn’t been seen in competition since the NCAA Championships. He was strong in the event last summer through 150m, but couldn’t quite put together the last 50, bringing home both the semis and finals in 32-plus. If he’s competing in Indy he’ll be a factor to final, but to have a shot at the team he would need to get back to his 2015 sub-1:56 form.


1 Jack Conger 1:54.54 1:54.3
2 Tom Shields 1:55.75 1:54.7
3 Chase Kalisz 1:55.82 1:54.8
4 Pace Clark 1:56.27 1:55.5
5 Gunnar Bentz 1:56.46 1:56.6
6 Zach Harting 1:56.92 1:56.8
7 Justin Wright 1:57.24 1:57.1
8 Mike Thomas 1:57.61 1:57.3

Darkhorse: Recent Stanford commit Jack LeVant from the North Texas Nadadores broke 2:00 for the first time at the Arena Pro Series in Austin, and if he hits his taper he could find himself in the A-final.

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“We’ll see if I have that itch again”.

Captain Awesome

Can we let him go already? MP is on the next phase of his life, while he might miss swimming he has a family now. He’d hate missing Boomer growing up a lot more.


Watching Phelps swim at this age is like watching Jordan playing at 40s. That is the beauty of sports to many people. I’d love to see him to have another run and totally believe he is capable of getting it done.


He never played in his 40’s. He was 39 his last year with Washington, and his 20 ppg came on horrendous shooting, especially from 3 pt range.


Michael Jordan 2003: NBA Record 43pts at age 40


Lol Shields isn’t going 1:54. Kalisz or Conger.


Shields is getting older conger and Kalisz are only getting better I think they’ll both pass him up on the last 50 meters I got conger and Kalisz as well I don’t think shields can hold them off the last 50


Agreed. Shields may have a first good 150, but unless he has stepped up his training or swims a different strategy, he probably won’t make the team In the 200. He still has a decent shot at the 100.


Shields isn’t old enough yet that I’d accept age is an excuse.

To me, it comes down to two things: 1) He isn’t naturally a 200 swimmer. To his credit, he’s done the training to overcome this but 2) he executes the race too aggressively, rather than staying relaxed the first 100. If he were a natural 200 swimmer, he could be a bit more ambitious on the front end and still do alright (see Phelps going out in 52.high and Conger taking his yards 200 out in 45) but his energy systems tend toward the 100 instead, and so he should stretch it out and focus on finishing strong.


Kalisz or Conger, Shields can’t handle more than 150 meters of butterfly. I think Kalisz will go a 1:53 or 1:54 low


1:53 is too fast imo. 1:54 high to 1:55 high is realistic.


For Kalisz. Conger could go 1:54 low

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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