2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Real Race is for Third Place In W 800



  • 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

After shattering her own world record in the 1500 in Indianapolis in May, everyone wondered if Katie Ledecky could do it again in the 800, just days later. Spoiler alert: she didn’t. But she still threw down the third fastest performance of all-time, 8:07.27, good for No. 1 in the world by almost 11 seconds.

So as these distance event previews always go: it’s not a matter of who will win, it’s just a matter of how fast Ledecky will go.

After Ledecky, it will more than likely be Leah Smith, who is the second-fastest American woman this year by four seconds. She was 8:25.05 last weekend in Columbus, good for eighth in the World, and 8:17.22 at the 2017 FINA World Championships last summer. Smith would have to stumble and whoever’s behind her would have to have the swim of a lifetime to grab silver.

The best battle of this race is going to be for third and fourth.

Open water stars Ashley Twichell (8:29.35) and Haley Anderson (8:29.64) have been the third- and fourth-fastest Americans this year. Twichell was 8:25.31 two years ago, and Anderson’s best of 8:26.60 came in 2012. Right along with them this year is Cierra Runge, who was 8:29.93 in Columbus, with her best of 8:24.69 coming at Summer Nationals in 2014; her fastest between the years of 2015-2017 was 8:28.64, in 2016.

2017 third-place finisher Hannah Moore has only been 8:36.87 this year (during NCAA season in January), but put up massive drops during the short course season. She was 8:27.58 last year. Sierra Schmidt is another NCAA swimmer coming off a stellar short course season, and she’s been 8:36.48 this year; however, her best of 8:27.54 is from three summers ago.

Sixth in the U.S. this year is 17-year-old USC commit Erica Sullivan, who went her best time of 8:30.15 in Indianapolis in May. It was a three-second drop from her previous best, swum a year ago. Seventh is Penn State’s Ally McHugh, who has dropped five seconds since 2017 Summer Nationals, with her best time currently sitting at 8:30.23.

Megan Byrnes 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Eighth in the nation this year is Hali Flickinger, who swum a lifetime best of 8:31.03 in Atlanta in March – her previous best was 8:40.03, from December 2017. Stanford’s Megan Byrnes has also dropped significant time in the past year – about five seconds – with four of those coming this summer. She was 8:35.06 in Indianapolis in May, then dropped her best down to 8:31.58 in Santa Clara in June. Kaersten Meitz, tenth in the nation this year, dropped major time May 2017, climbed back up at the 2017 World University Games, and has since been able to basically match her best at 8:34.7.

1 Katie Ledecky 8:04.79 8:07.27
2 Leah Smith 8:17.22 8:25.05
3 Ashley Twichell 8:25.31 8:29.35
4 Cierra Runge 8:24.69 8:29.93
5 Hannah Moore 8:27.58 8:36.87
6 Sierra Schmidt 8:27.54 8:36.48
7 Haley Anderson 8:26.60 8:29.64
8 Ally McHugh 8:30.23 8:30.23

Dark horse(s): No one wants to put a limit on what 14-year-old Claire Tuggle can do, and we’re no exception. Her time of 8:37.27 from back in April (when she was 13) ranks her 15th in the nation this year. It does seem she would be out of top-8 contention in the 800, unlike in our predictions for the 400. But again, she’s 14 – we can’t predict what she’ll do, whether that’s a five-second drop or a five-second gain. Becca Mann is another contender we can’t count out. Her best time of 8:21.77 came at in late 2015, and she was 8:24.49 early in 2016; but she hasn’t come close to those times since, with her 2018 season-best sitting at 8:35.63 (11th in the nation).

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Silent Observer
4 years ago

I really do hope Hannah Moore has an outstanding nationals. Look out for a major time drop with the Wolfpack Elite distance crew, especially with the legendary Bernadino at the helm.

Anton is a prime example, with his performance at the latest PSS stops.

Reply to  Silent Observer
4 years ago

This event might be too short for Moore considering she is focusing on open water a lot recently

4 years ago

Becca Mann’s best time came at the Pan Pacific Championships in 2014 (8:22, 4 sec faster than the swim cited in the article).

Reply to  KeithM
4 years ago

Exactly, that was 2014 and this is 2018

Reply to  KNOW IT ALL
4 years ago

I wasn’t disagreeing with the prediction. Just pointing out the error. Turns out she had several quicker times, more than I realized.

4 years ago

Katie Ledecky has changed substantially norms of 800 event. Swimming under 8:20 became must do norm. Everything above is a pedestrian pace accepted as in-season time only.
Besides Katie Ledecky (21) and Leah Smith (23) Americans have only Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff who’s broken this barrier. It’s time already for the fresh blood to show up and another “Kat(i)e” to surprise us.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

I forgot to mention Janet Evans. But only because she is a completely different story standing alone in the history of swimming.

bobo gigi
Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Remember that women’s 800 free from 2007. One of the greatest races ever.

Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

Wow! I thought that 2013 Ledecky vs Friis race was the most tough long distance competition. But this one is much more exciting. What is the story behind Kate’s swimming suit?
Her name is rarely mentioned in discussion at this site and she is an outstanding long distance achiever.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

Brooke Bennett as well. She went an 8:19.6 in Sydney

Reply to  USA
4 years ago

So USA has actually big names and a very impressive history in women 800 free event.
Evans, Bonnett, Zeigler, Hoff, Ledecky and Smith. The times of those who is not competing any more are still good enough to be in finals of recent major international meets or even be a medalist there.

Jim C
Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

You are correct if meeting the norm means a WC or Olympics podium, but there has never been more than 4 swimmers at the WC or Olympics under 8:20. I would not say meeting the norm means being in the top 3 or 4 in the world.

Reply to  Jim C
4 years ago

Ok, I’m taking it back. It is just my feelings when I’m looking at times mentioned in this article. Maybe it’s because we have already six swimmers this season with times 8:20 and faster. Therefore swimmers with actually good times between 8:21 and 8:30 are looking in my eyes like swimmers belonging to the second echelon.
Also, I mentioned “Ledecky effect” because almost all girls who are breaking 8:20 begging talking about challenging Ledecky considering their times just a warming up step in their careers.

4 years ago

There is no way Megan Byrnes isn’t top 8 at Nationals

Reply to  BSD
4 years ago

I see Byrnes having a better shot at the 1500.

4 years ago

Surprise to see Erica Sullivan not even in top 8.
Some of the swimmers already qualified for OW, I see them will pass on the chances for others, at least for this shorter race.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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