2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Conger Edges Toward 50-Point In 100 Fly

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2018 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

SIMPLIFIED SELECTION CRITERIA – MOST OLYMPIC EVENTS

  • Top 1-4 to 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
  • Top 2-6 juniors to 2018 Junior Pan Pacs
  • Top 1-2 (from Nationals + Pan Pacs) to 2019 World Championships
  • 1-2 more to 2019 World University Games
  • 1-2 more to 2019 Pan American Games

Last summer everything went perfectly for Caeleb Dressel in the 100 butterfly. After upsetting Joseph Schooling for the NCAA title in March, he lopped 1.35 seconds off his best time to win the event at U.S. World Trials in 50.87, joining a select few who had gone sub-51 since the super-suits were banned at the beginning of 2010.

After that swim, it was clear the Florida Gator would challenge for the World title in Budapest, but no one expected the performances that he had in store.

Caeleb Dressel wins 100 fly at the 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

The then 20-year-old swam three of the fastest six swims in history from prelims to semis to finals, finishing with a time of 49.86 which was over half a second better than the fastest ever textile time (excluding his prelim and semi swims) and fell just .04 shy of Michael Phelps‘ world record from 2009. The field last summer was the fastest in history, including 2009, and Dressel still won by over three quarters of a second.

Last year was a bit of an experiment for Dressel and coach Gregg Troy in terms of how much rest to give Caeleb from Trials to Worlds, but they really hit the nail on the head. He did just enough to qualify in his primary events and left a ton of room for improvement when the big meet came around. We should see Dressel in similar form in Irvine, with somewhere around a 50-mid in the cards before he drops who knows what at Pan Pacs.

Last summer it was really a four horse race at Trials between Dressel, Tim PhillipsJack Conger and Tom Shields for the two World Championship spots. This year, those three behind Dressel are in contention once again, but the only one who looks like he’ll have a shot at challenging for the win is Conger.

Having graduated from Texas after the 2017 season, Conger wouldn’t be tapering down in March for the NCAA Championships for the first time in four years. So instead, he and his Texas pro group teammates rested and shaved for the Atlanta Pro Swim, where he swam a lifetime best 51.00 in the 100 fly. That currently ranks him as the fastest American this year by nearly a second, and 2nd in the world. After missing the Olympic team in the event by .06 in 2016 and then the Worlds team by .03 last year, he looks like he’s finally going to bust through and join the elusive sub-51 club. Only eight men have done so since the beginning of 2010.

Phillips and Shields are relative veterans in this field, both 27, and are a bit of a question mark heading into Nationals.

Phillips’ in-season best of 52.88 is just .01 off his from last year, but he hasn’t raced nearly as much and was last seen at the Mesa Pro Series in April. He did show massive improvements from Atlanta to Mesa (March to April), which is a positive, but it’s unclear whether or not he’ll show up in the 51.3 form we’ve seen at the last two Trials, or if he’s been focused on things outside the pool recently.

After missing the World Championship team and then undergoing surgery at the end of last year, Shields has taken a new approach to training.

In an interview in May at the Indy Pro Swim, he spoke about doing things his way, an increased focus on the 200, and that every year he has it in the back of his mind that this could be his last (since graduating from Cal). He’s had a couple of 52-highs and a lot of 53s this year, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he also mentioned he was trying to figure out how to consistently be faster at the big meets than in-season, but just two years after swimming the Olympic final, is now far from a sure thing to make the Pan Pac team. This could be a make or break meet for him.

The biggest surprise in the event this year has been Michael Andrew. He hadn’t cracked 53 seconds since 2015 coming into the year, but now finds himself as the 2nd fastest American behind Conger at 51.86. This event does fall on a busy day for him, with the 50 breast and then the 50 back directly afterwards, but he has shown great ability in swimming sprints back-to-back (see the TYR Pro Derby) and looks like he fully intends to swim all three. If he can just take off a few tenths and get into that 51-mid range, he’ll have a great shot at 3rd with Phillips and Shields both up in the air.

OTHERS IN THE MIX TO A-FINAL

VETERANS TRIPP COOPER AND GILES SMITH

  • After graduating from Texas in 2015, Tripp Cooper has stuck around in the sport and seen continued improvement in his long course times. After disappointingly placing 24th at the Olympic Trials two years ago, he’s rattled off the four fastest swims of his career since, ranking 5th among Americans last year and 4th this year. After a 52.36 in March, he’s on the cusp of breaking into the 51s for the first time.
  • After finishing 8th at those same Olympic Trials, Giles Smith essentially took the entire 16-17 season off, and has come back rejuvenated. He was 52.55 at the Columbus Pro Swim in early July, right in line with his in-season bests from years past, and like Cooper, has a 51 in his sights. He’s only been under once before, going 51.92 in July of 2015.
  • We also can’t forget about another veteran, Ryan Lochte, who has shown the ability go 51 numerous times in the past. However, all indicators point to him racing the 400 IM on day 3.

NCAA STUDS SHEBAT, SELISKAR AND SAUNDERSON

  • Despite being known more as a backstroker, Longhorn John Shebat has made great strides in his LC 100 fly over the past two years. He was 4th at the US Open last summer in 52.56, and has already been sub-53 three more times in 2018, including a 52.59 last weekend which ranks him 6th among Americans.
  • Andrew Seliskar has had a dynamite long course season thus far after an impressive NCAA showing, including tying his best time of 52.81 in this event in Santa Clara. While the 100 fly falls on the same day as the 400 IM, the event in which he finished 3rd at NCAAs, it doesn’t look like he’s pursuing it this year with no LC swims under his belt. He’s more suited for the 200, but has a shot at cracking the top-8.
  • In his junior season at Towson, Jack Saunderson took a full second and a half off his 100 fly best to place 13th at the NCAA Championships in 45.51. He has carried that progression over to long course, dropping seven tenths down to 52.66, and has a shot to make the A-final after placing 28th last summer.
  • Recently graduated NCAA swimmers with a shot to get into the mix include Justin Lynch and Matthew Josa of Cal, and Ryan Held of NC State. Maxime Rooney and Zach Harting are two others who hit 52s last year and can’t be counted out.

TOP-8 PICKS

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Caeleb Dressel 49.86 52.20
2 Jack Conger 51.00 51.00
3 Michael Andrew 51.86 51.86
4 Tom Shields 51.03 52.69
5 Tim Phillips 51.28 52.88
6 Tripp Cooper 52.13 52.36
7 Giles Smith 51.92 52.55
8 Justin Lynch 52.20 53.10

Darkhorse: 19-year-old Ariel Spektor of the Bolles School Sharks dropped his PB by over a second in April down to 52.94, and is an outside threat to challenge the big names.

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Hswimmer

I think Giles Smith will be fast here could beat Andrew.

Swimmer A

It’s awesome to see him still swimming. His second 50 looked really good in Columbus too.

Dude36

Giles is such a great person. Best wishes to him!

50_SF

I got Jack Saunderson placing top 2 you can’t tell me nothing

Cronk

Yessssss!

Oldbay

Would love to see Held sneak into the final 8

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James is currently a university swimmer for the Laurentian Voyageurs in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. He is studying economics. Along with swimming, he also loves hockey. He's in his 14th season as a competitive swimmer. Best Times - SCM (LCM) 50 FR - 24.56 (25.12) 100 FR - 53.58 (56.70) 200 FR - 1:56.07 (2:04.29) 1500 …

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