2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Open Water Upset For 2nd in Women’s 1500?

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  • 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

So far in 2018, Katie Ledecky is the fastest in the world in the 1500m freestyle by a whopping 32.39 seconds. Her world record performance at the Indianapolis stop of the TYR Pro Swim Series in May came as a statement that after a “low” 2017 season, Ledecky was back and meant business. Let’s be real, even people who only pay attention to swimming during Olympic years could probably tell you who’s going to win this race. Will we see another world record? I’d bet on it. Not that she needs to prove to anybody how dominant she is in this event, but it’s Ledecky we’re talking about, she doesn’t really “take it easy” when racing in front of a home crowd.

Though it is easy to foresee the winner of the women’s 1500, predicting who will place 2nd-8th is not as clear. Leah Smith ran away with the national title in this event last year as Ledecky chose not to swim it, having already won the 800 at the 2017 U.S. National Championships, thus qualifying her for the 1500 in Budapest. This year, however, Smith is facing a trio of open water specialists, any one of whom could upset her and steal the silver. Smith’s PR of 16:01.02 is over 4 seconds faster than her nearest challenger, open water specialist Erica Sullivan. Though Sullivan, who is only 17-years-old, could make the race for 2nd very interesting.

Sullivan, who will begin her NCAA career at USC this fall, has been as fast as 16:09.88 this year already–a swim that was good for silver behind Ledecky when she reset her world record in Indianapolis in May, and only 4 seconds off her PR from last summer. Sullivan, like Twichell, focuses primarily on open water and just missed a berth on the Pan Pacs team with a 3rd-place finish in the 10k at the 2018 U.S. Open Water Championships in Arizona in May. With a best time of 16:05.83 from the 2017 U.S. Open Championships, Sullivan might have what it takes to steal the silver. Though even if she places outside the top 4, she is a favorite for a multi-event lineup at Junior Pan Pacs in Fiji.

Another open water star in hot pursuit of a pool event in Tokyo is 2017 5k Open Water world champion Ashley Twichell. Twichell swam a 16:08.70 at the Atlanta stop of the TYR PSS in March and it is likely she can go faster yet. Though Twichell is the third-oldest oldest female swimmer in the entire meet at 29-years-old, she hasn’t lost form or competitive fire, and seems to be gaining momentum through 2018. With her ticket to Tokyo already punched after defending her 10k open water national title in May, Twichell can just go for it in Irvine this week. And given that she is also only swimming two events–the 800 on day 1 and the 1500 on day 4–she’ll have the advantage of approaching the 1500 fresh.

Haley Anderson, by Mike Lewis

Veteran Haley Anderson claimed silver at the 2018 U.S. Open Water Championships in May to secure herself a spot on Team USA’s Pan Pacs roster this summer. Anderson placed 5th in the 5k at last summer’s 2017 FINA World Championships in Hungary, and has posted impressive pool times in the interim, including her 16:10.78 seed time from the 2018 Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions.

Wolfpack Elite’s Hannah Moore, who recently finished a successful NCAA career at NC State, has been on the cusp for a couple years now. Last summer, Moore finished 2nd to Leah Smith in the 1500 at U.S. Nationals, but did not get to swim it in Budapest as Katie Ledecky was awarded the other spot in the 1500 thanks to her victory in the 800 earlier in the meet. Moore placed 3rd in the 1650 at the 2018 NCAA Championships in March and enters this week’s competition with a 16:15.37 from the Indianapolis stop of the TYR Pro Series.

Ashley Neidigh wins 500 free at USA Swimming winter nationals (photo: Mike Lewis)

Ashley Neidigh of the Indiana pro group has been on a consistent upward trajectory since capturing her first national title at the 2017 U.S. Winter National Championships in the 1650. Though she was only 12th in the 1500 at the 2017 U.S. World Championship Trials, she is already 15 seconds faster than that this year and ranked 24th in the world.

Penn State’s Ally McHugh hasn’t been seen in this event yet this summer, but after a 2nd-place finish at the 2018 NCAA Championships in the 1650 and last summer’s 4th-place finish at U.S. Nationals in the 1500, she should be considered dangerous.

Other Contenders:

  • Juniors to Watch: While Erica Sullivan is the top 18-and-under female in the United States in this event, she is not the only one with the potential to turn heads and make an international team. Mariah Denigan of the Northern Kentucky Clippers is only 15-years-old and has already put up a 16:22.50 this season. Madelyn Donohoe is another to watch, as the 16-year-old enters the meet with a 16:26.94 from the TYR PSS in May. Regardless of what happens in Irvine, these two will be likely be major contenders for a spot in the Olympic Trials final two years from now.
  • Sun Devil Duo: Cierra Runge and Becca Mann enter the meet as the 10th- and 11th-fastest American women this year and may challenge for top-8 finishes. Both started training with Bob Bowman at Arizona State University earlier this year and have swum consistently well under the ASU banner, so it will be interesting to see what they produce this week in Irvine.
  • B1G Potential: Sierra Schmidt of Club Wolverine and the University of Michigan, Molly Kowal from the Ohio State Swim Club, Kaersten Meitz from Purdue and the Boilermaker Aquatics, and Cassy Jernberg of Indiana are all coming off great NCAA seasons and all stand a chance of making an international team this summer.
  • Megan Byrnes and Leah Stevens: Stanford really set the bar high when its swimmers placed 1st, 4th, and 5th in the 1650 at the 2018 NCAA Championships, an effort led by Katie Ledecky. Byrnes and Stevens have the 7th and 19th fastest times among Americans this summer, so it wouldn’t even necessarily be an “upset” if one of them snuck in for a top-8 finish.

Whoever gets third in the women’s 1500 will probably get to race it in Tokyo, supposing our doubles calculations shake out, especially if silver goes to either Smith, Twichell, or Anderson. Smith is a favorite for top-2 finishes in three–make that four–events, while Twichell and Anderson are already on the team for the 10k. So if, say, Sullivan were able to touch the wall 3rd, she could trade an otherwise all-but-guaranteed trip to Fiji for the chance to race in Tokyo.

Top 8 Picks:

1 Katie Ledecky 15:20.48 15:20.48* WR
2 Leah Smith 16:01.02 16:22.37
4 Erica Sullivan 16:05.83 16:09.98
3 Ashley Twichell 16:08.70 16:08.70
5 Haley Anderson 16:10.78 16:10.78
6 Hannah Moore 16:08.68 16:15.37
7 Ashley Neidigh 16:17.43 16:17.43
8 Ally McHugh 16:16.20 No Data

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4 years ago

Does an Open Water spot at Pan Pacs give the swimmer the right to swim pool events or r they separate groups of athletes?

William Wallace
Reply to  JimSwim
4 years ago

Yes, once making the Open water team you are eligible for pool entry.

4 years ago

Given that at least 5 of the top 6 will already be on the PP Team by the time this rolls around on the last day (and will very likely skip the evegt) the actual top 8 will look very different from what is listed here.

4 years ago

I could see ledecky or smith skipping this event. Ledecky scratched it last nationals and smith at worlds so it seems like if either will drop an event it’s this one

Reply to  Klorn8d
4 years ago

Yeah I don’t see either Ledecky or Smith swimming this this week.

Reply to  Swimcoach
4 years ago

I think Smith’s decision will depend on Katie’s one. If Ledecky swims then Smith will swim as well. Also I am not sure how the situation is with the selection for world championships 2019. Should this distance to be swum at least once either at Nationals or at Pan Pac?

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Because this is now an Olympic event, it follows the Olympic selection process – basically, best times between Nationals and Pan Pacs goes.

Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

So if Leah skips this event at Nationals and at Pan Pac she won’t have an option to swim it at WC. If she does want to have this option then she will swim it most likely at this meet rather then at Pan Pac where she has to be at her top in 400, 800 free and contribute substantially to 800 relay.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Most swimmers of Leah’s caliber, who are fairly safe to make the Pan Pacs team, will basically be in training, or on a small drop-taper, for Nationals. So if she swims it at Nationals basically unrested and goes a 16:06 or 16:07, it’s highly-likely that she gets pipped for the 2nd spot at Worlds behind Ledecky, either at Nationals or Pan Pacs, by a swimmer like Erica Sullivan, or maybe Hannah Moore or Ashley Neidigh or someone, who went full-taper at either meet.

This is all on the assumption that Leah actually wants to swim this race at Worlds next year. I think there’s a high probability that her preference is what you said: to focus on 400, 800, the… Read more »

4 years ago

If it is like swimswam predicts things to happen at Nationals then Leah Smith needs to be just third at 200free to win BMW.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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