2017 U.S. World Trials Preview: Speed vs Endurance In Men’s 800

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2017 U.S. Nationals & World Trials

With the recent announcement that there would be a few event additions to the Olympic program in 2020, including the men’s 800 free, the event all of a sudden brings a bit more intrigue. Though USA Swimming maintains their position on World Championship qualification in the event (only the winner goes to Budapest), they have made a change in that the top six in the event from Nationals, Worlds, WUGs and the US Open combined will be named to the national team. That puts a bit more at stake in the event, and with some of the U.S.’ best distance swimmers over the last few years out of competition, it will be interesting to see who steps up.

The distance events in the U.S. have long been dominated by Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom, but now that both have moved on from the sport (at least for now), it’s time for someone new to grab the mantle. One name that pops up immediately will be open water dynamo Jordan Wilimovsky, who turned heads with his 4th place finish at the Olympics last year in the 1500.

But the 800 might even be a little short for Wilimovsky, whose training to sustain a pace for nearly two hours in the 10K and might not have the speed for an all-out sub-8 minute effort. The two men who look to be the running favorites are Zane Grothe and Clark Smith, who both narrowly missed the Olympic team in the 400 last summer in Omaha. They both competed in the 1500 at the Trials as well, both qualifying for the final (though Smith scratched it). That combination of speed and endurance makes them the two biggest threats in this race.

Smith in particular could very well have an international breakout this summer, and the 800 may just be the perfect distance for him. At the NCAA Championships in March he silenced the doubters with a pair of national titles in the 500 and the 1650, both in American and NCAA Record fashion. On top of that, he is also the American & NCAA Record holder in the 1000 free, which closely translates to the LC 800.

He proved himself in the big pool last summer in the 200 and the 400, but it remains to be seen what he can do in the longer events. I think we’ll see him explode in this particular event and take the win. Smith has opted out of the 1500, which takes place on day 1, meaning he could very well be a bit fresher than a lot of his competition.

The men’s 800 does fall on the last day of the meet, and just a day after the 400, so we have to take that into account when predicting times. Though McBroom’s 7:43.60 American Record looks a bit rich (at least for this meet), Jaeger’s U.S. Open Record of 7:46.78 is certainly within reach.

Grothe holds the fastest official 800 PB among swimmers expected to be competing (though Wilimovsky’s split in the Rio 1500 was a bit faster), and is a huge threat to take the title as well.

Zane Grothe prelims of 200 free FINA Short Course World Championships Windsor Candada (photo: Mike Lewis)

He won the U.S. Open last August in 7:51.58, and has been the fastest American so far this year in the 400 and is 2nd in the 800. An edge Grothe does have coming into the matchup is he beat Smith narrowly in both the 400 at Olympic Trials and the 800 at the Atlanta Pro Swim at the beginning of May.

For Wilimovsky, his official 800 PB reads 7:58.88, though he has been faster four times opening up 1500s, including a 7:49.98 in the Olympic final. He recently qualified for the World Championship team in the 10K Open Water, so we’ll see what type of speed he has for the 800. No American is currently anywhere near his times in the 1500, but the 800 is an event men don’t often compete in where we could easily see someone like Smith knock 15 seconds off their best. Assuming he competes in this race, he’s a good bet to come in around the 7:50 mark. The question is whether or not Smith and/or Grothe can go lower.

Behind the perennial top three, there are many others who have broken 8:00 and could move up if someone falters or scratches.

True Sweetser was 2nd behind Grothe at last year’s U.S. Open in 7:53.32, and could challenge the big guns. Though he had a somewhat disappointing NCAA meet and was in poor form at the Swim Meet of Champions in May (8:24 in the 800), he appears to be back on track with a solid 8:01.44 at the Santa Clara Pro Swim this weekend.

Another one to keep an eye on is PJ Ransford, who showed a lot of guts in that epic 1650 at NCAAs, opening up a lead midway through the race before falling off and finishing 6th.

That swim was still a personal best, so we could see him dip below his 800 PB of 7:57.13 and challenge for a top finish. He’s currently ranked 5th among Americans with an 8:11.85 from the Atlanta Pro Swim, and was 8:02.88 last year at the U.S. Open.

Robert Finke was the 3rd fastest American last year at 7:55.16, and sits 3rd again this year with a season best of 8:11.37. Andrew Abruzzo is another one to watch out for, as he’s currently the top ranked American this year in the 1500 and 4th in the 400. Finke and Abruzzo went 1-2 in both the 800 and 1500 last summer at the Junior Pan Pacs, where Abruzzo went his lifetime best of 7:59.76. Based on his form this year, he could be in for a sizeable drop.

Others who will contend for a top-8 spot in the event include Stanford’s Liam Egan, rising youngsters Michael Brinegar and Trey Freeman, and Aidan Burns, who turned in a very solid 8:07 in Santa Clara this weekend.

Update: Jordan Wilimovsky, initially our pick for 3rd, has since announced his plan to skip out on World Trials to focus on the 10K Open Water at the World Championships. 


1 Clark Smith 7:57.91* 7:46.3
2 Zane Grothe 7:51.58 7:48.3
Jordan Wilimovsky 7:49.98* 7:50.1
3 True Sweetser 7:53.32 7:52.6
4 Andrew Abruzzo 7:59.76 7:55.8
5 Robert Finke 7:55.16 7:56.1
6 PJ Ransford 7:57.13 7:58.0
7 Liam Egan 8:01.48 8:00.3
8 Michael Brinegar 8:04.70 8:01.9

* swim was done on the way in a 1500

Darkhorse: Stanford’s Grant Shoults could easily make his way into the top-8 here, though the 200/400 has been where he’s found most of his success so far in his career. He had a great showing at NCAAs, including a big drop in the 1650, so he’s one to watch for if he’s in the mix.


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IMs for days
5 years ago

Never bet on Clark let him be an underdog ?

5 years ago

All depends if Clark Smith is on his game at the Trials.

Distance swimming can be fickle. If you’re feeling off, a long race like the 800 free can be kind of a long nightmare.

It think Jordan will get one of the 2 spots. He seems to be pretty consistent in his pacing.

Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago

only one spot for 800

Reply to  thezwimmer
5 years ago

You’re right. I missed that part of the article.

Then I pick Jordan to get the spot.

Winnie Pearl
Reply to  marklewis
5 years ago

Wilimovsky is skipping world champ trials to focus on open water.

5 years ago

Pretty sure Abruzzo is currently 4th in the 400 this year

5 years ago

What about Townley Haas?

Reply to  Jeff
5 years ago

Haven’t you heard? He’s a sprinter now.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

Same prediction for me. Smith and Grothe.

5 years ago

Will there be a pick’em contest for the trials ?

Reply to  ellie
5 years ago

that surely will happen

Ex Quaker
5 years ago

Was Clark’s 7:57 legal? My memory tells me he didn’t finish the entire 1500 but I could be wrong…

Robert Gibbs
Reply to  Ex Quaker
5 years ago

Off the top of my head, I believe he did finish the 1500 this past weekend, where he went 7:57 for the first 800. I think it was a few weeks ago where he hopped out early.

5 years ago

I think Smith went 7:57 this season

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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