2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Will Regan Smith Challenge In W 200 Fly?



  • 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

Day one. Event one. Right now, the date and time seems to be the only sure bet in the women’s 200 butterfly at this week’s U.S. National Championships in Irvine, California. While the psych sheet may seem inconspicuous, there are plenty of storylines beneath the surface to follow surrounding this race.

There is no question Hali Flickinger has been the most consistent performer in the 200 fly for the United States since Rio. However, the 24 year-old is still waiting for a major breakout on the international level. Translation: medals.

In 2014, she qualified for the Pan Pac Championships by way of a 3rd place finish (behind Camille Adams and Katie McLaughlin) at U.S. Nationals, but was relegated to the B final at Pan Pacs due the “2-per-country” rule. Because she finished 3rd at the 2014 Nationals, she did not qualify for the 2015 World Championships. Instead, she swam a 2:07.59 at 2015 U.S. Nationals – a time that would have earned her a place in the final in Kazan. In 2016, she finished 2nd to Adams at Olympic Trials but finished 7th in Rio (2:07.71). In 2017, with Adams no longer in the picture, Flickinger handily won the 200 fly at U.S. Nationals but failed to make the final with a 9th place finish at the World Championships in Budapest (2:07.89).

Zoom out a little bit. Since 2014, she has gone 2:07 on 8 different occasions, 2:08 on 13 different occasions, and 2:09 on 11 different occasions. Talk about consistency. With her best time sitting at 2:06.67 (prelims, 2016 Olympics) will she be able to break through and finally put down a 2:05 this week in Irvine?

Katie Drabot 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

After Flickinger, the next challenger, Katie Drabot, may come as a bit of a surprise. The rising Stanford junior was nowhere in the conversation for this event a year ago. Known primarily as a freestyler, Drabot dropped the 1,650 free from her lineup during her sophomore season and replaced it with the 200 fly. The result? She went from a 1:59 lifetime best starting the season to a 1:51.73 – good enough for a 2nd place finish behind teammate Ella Eastin (more on her later) at the 2018 NCAA Championships. Even further – prior to May of this year, Drabot’s lifetime best in the long course 200 fly was 2:25.72 (not a typo). She swam it only once in prelims of the Indianapolis Pro Swim Series, uncorking a 2:08.38 – making her the 13th fastest American performer of all time. That’s not your typical progression, but enough to make her dangerous in Irvine.

Coming in after Drabot is teenage backstroke phenom Regan Smith. The 16 year-old is proving this summer that she is more than a backstroker. At the Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara last month, Smith popped off a pair of highly respectable times in the 100 fly (58.64) and 200 fly (2:10.47). The latter of the two is more intriguing, though as the 200 is a much more open event on the women’s side. This is a bit of a wildcard pick as we don’t have a lot of historical data on Smith in this event; however, at 16 years old she is riding a lot of momentum over the last 12+ months. If she can dip into the 2:08 low – 2:07 high range, she will have a strong opportunity to make this team.

Dakota Luther 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Following Smith is last summer’s U.S. Nationals runner-up Dakota Luther (2:08.71). The now 18 year-old made the jump from 2:10 to 2:08 to qualify for her first major international team, placing 15th at the World Championships in Budapest (2:09.55). Since then, she has yet to be faster than 2:12.56. In an interesting twist this summer, her coach at Austin Swim club, Olympic Champion Brendan Hansen, resigned due to “differing opinions as to the direction and operation” of the team with owners Patti and Kevin Thompson, though we’ve been told by local sources that many of the club’s Nationals-qualifying swimmers are still training with him. It’s purely speculation to believe this will have any immediate impact on her performances in Irvine, but it is something to consider.

Former Texas A&M swimmer Sarah Gibson will be in the mix as well. She was the 3rd place finisher at last summer’s U.S. Nationals (2:08.75) – just four hundredths of a second behind Luther. While her 100, the event she qualified in for last summer’s World Championships, has been better as of late – she clearly has the firepower to put up a solid 200 as well. Her best time this season is 2:12.09.

Katie McLaughlin 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series Santa Clara, California (photo: Mike Lewis)

Just a few years ago, the now junior at Cal Katie McLaughlin was widely considered the United States’ next star in the 200 fly. As a 17 year-old, she finished 3rd in the 200 fly at the 2014 Pan Pac Championships (2:07.08). A year later, she finished 6th in the same event at the World Championships in Kazan (2:06.95). Things started going south for her in 2016 when she finished in a disappointing 6th place at Olympic Trials, well off her best in 2:10.87. Since then, she has yet to be faster than 2:10.00. However, McLaughlin has been consistent this summer – going 2:10, 2:11, 2:11, and 2:12. Getting back down to her lifetime best will be a battle, but it’s not out of the question.

Following McLaughlin is a pair of teenagers in Olivia Carter and Ruby Martin. Both Carter (Georgia commit) and Martin (Arizona State commit) have lifetime bests of 2:09 and season bests of 2:11. On paper, it’s a tossup between the two. However, it’s important to factor in experience on the big stage. As a 16 year-old, Martin finished 4th at the 2016 Olympic Trials (2:09.96). She followed up that performance in 2017, taking home the U.S. Open title in 2:10.18. Carter is the 2016 Winter Junior Nationals East Champion in the 200 fly (SCY).

Other Things to Consider

The most glaring omission from this list is Stanford’s Ella Eastin. She is the defending NCAA Champion (SCY) and was poised to overcome her disappointment from last summer (getting DQ’d in the 400 IM for the “Lochte Rule” – leaving her off the Worlds team). That was until she came down with mononucleosis, leaving room for doubt on whether or not she’ll even compete at Nationals. If it weren’t for that, we would have picked Eastin 2nd to make the Pan Pacs team this summer and subsequently the 2019 World Championship team.

There are also a couple of would-be contenders not entered in the race at all. 2016 Olympian Kelsi Dahlia (Worrell) has a lifetime best of 2:08.61, but she has understandably opted for the 100 free which is on the same day. Cassidy Bayer, who finished 3rd in this event as a 16 year-old at the 2016 Olympic Trials and has a lifetime best of 2:07.97, is also absent from the psych sheet.

1 Hali Flickinger 2:06.67 2:07.88
2 Katie Drabot 2:08.38 2:08.38
3 Regan Smith 2:10.47 2:10.47
4 Dakota Luther 2:08.71 2:12.56
5 Sarah Gibson 2:08.75 2:12.09
6 Katie McLaughlin 2:06.95 2:10.40
7 Ruby Martin 2:09.96 2:11.86
8 Olivia Carter 2:09.02 2:11.97

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

Lindsay Looney is one to watch out for, coming in this year with a 2:09.2. Just 16 y/o.

5 years ago

I would take the opposite tack on the Olivia Carter vs Ruby Martin discussion. Carters time is faster and much more recent. Also, Carter had a monster 1:53 at Winter Juniors while Martin hasn’t been able to reach her 1:54 lifetime best for a year. I see Carter much higher up.

On another note I’m really excited to see what the Georgia 200 fly group produces in the next couple years. The men’s is already insane (Kalisz, Clark, Bentz) and and the women’s is going to be (Flickinger, incoming frosh Luther and Carter)

5 years ago

Dean Farris will win this one, too

Peter LaCroix
5 years ago

Ahh yes…. another year passes and yet again another article puts Olivia Carter at the back of the discussion. Hopefully this year her picture will be with the right team cap.

5 years ago

I can’t discount the analysis here based on the swimmers listed and what they have done. I think there are others lurking in the psych sheet that are threats to breakthrough here as well though. Admitted bias here as my daughter Alicia Finnigan is one of those sitting in the 13th spot with Maddie Wright at 2:10.74 from last year’s Nationals (12 if you allow for what looks like Ella’s really unfortunate situation). She is a taper swimmer and in a good spot coming off a great full year of swimming. She didn’t get to where she wanted at NCAA’s and is very motivated and she has always been a stronger LCM swimmer. You can’t overlook Remedy Rule or Lauren… Read more »

Reply to  rjfinsl
5 years ago

All of these are great candidates. What people forget when they’re looking for young swimmers to have big breakthroughs at meets like this is the data that a very, very small percentage of swimmers go best times at national championship meets (Nationals, Trials).

We all get tempted to look at psych sheets, identify a high school swimmer who is close, and say “surely they can drop a second or two and make it into that final,” but on average, that doesn’t happen. There’s probably some confirmation bias in all of our heads – we notice the times it happens much more frequently than the time it doesn’t happen (because there is much more written about swimmers who drop time than… Read more »

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Can’t argue any of that reasoning. It won’t surprise me at all if things play out real close to the analysis here, but I will be equally unsurprised if some of those down on the psych sheet claw their way into that top 8 if their time has come and they execute. The high school phenoms on this list (and they account for half the top 20 or so – two 14-yr olds for goodness sake!) were less in my sights than those aforementioned 20-22 yr olds with Trials, Nats, and NCAA D1 experience under their belt who are surely coming to swim. The good news is we are less than 24 hours out from them sorting it all out… Read more »

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Tempted to change my username to Nerdiest of Nerds.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

Historically a weak event in US women’s swimming. Last US olympic gold in 2000. Last US world gold in 1991.
Like in the men’s 200 fly USA in serious need of stars.
Very disappointing to not see Ella Eastin.
On paper Hali Flickinger looks very solid. She’s in great shape. She’s the favorite.
Then anything can happen. Katie Drabot had a monster SCY season in that event. I wonder if Regan Smith will swim that event the day before her 200 back. She’s only 16 and still lacks power but if she decides to swim then I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make a top 2. Katie McLaughlin has a very good season in the… Read more »

5 years ago

Very nice picture of Regan.

Reply to  Yozhik
5 years ago

It is a piece of art photowork by capturing the female natural beauty in the moment of intense but kept inside emotions. The more we have pictures like this the more love we will inspire to the sport of swimming. Not six packs and mountains of muscles covered with cheap tasteless tattoos.

Whoever downvoted my previous comment, please post the picture of yours so I understand what you are talking about 😀

Reply to  Yozhik
5 years ago

Good lord man. Stop being so annoying.

5 years ago

Really hope Flick gets her breakthrough tomorrow. Always appreciate hardworkers like her.