2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Zane Train Still Rolling In The 800 Free




  • 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

In June of 2017 the IOC announced the addition of the men’s 800 freestyle, women’s 1500 freestyle, and mixed 400 medley relay to the swimming program for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While this news was largely received by swimming fans with cheers (Katie Ledecky in the 1500, of course) and jeers (skepticism of mixed relays), it was received by Olympic hopefuls with open arms as it provides additional opportunities to qualify. In the past, the men’s 800 (and women’s 1500) was a niche event only competed in non-Olympic years. Now, it will be a focus for elite-level swimmers in training and competition as a part of their quadrennial plan.

It’s hard to argue that another swimmer – male or female – has the same level of momentum Zane Grothe does heading into the 2018 U.S. National Championships. After graduating from Auburn in the spring of 2014, the now 26 year-old decided to stay in the sport, but he wasn’t seeing any improvements. In March of 2015, contemplating retirement and seeking a fresh start, Grothe made the move to Bloomington, IN to train at the Indiana University – the first time he had ever trained in what he calls a “high-volume program.” The fruits of that labor paid dividends quickly as Grothe won the 400 free at the 2015 U.S. National Championships with a 3:45.98 and placed 2nd in the 200 free with a 1:47.11. The former was a lifetime best by nearly 6 seconds – an anomaly for a postgraduate swimmer. While he swam another lifetime best in the 400 the following summer at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials with a 3:45.60, he fell short of an Olympic berth by 0.95 with a 4th place finish.

Zane Grothe 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Still improving, Grothe used that setback as a launching pad into 2017 – solidifying himself as one of the best middle-distance/distance freestylers in the world. At the 2017 U.S. National Championships, he picked up a trio of top 3 finishes (1st, 400 free – 3:44.43; 2nd, 800 free – 7:50.97; 3rd, 200 free – 1:46.39) to earn a spot on the World Championship team where he would go on to finish top 8 in both the 400 and 800 as well as anchor the United States’ bronze medal 4×200 freestyle relay. Since then, he has rewritten the short course yards record book with American Records in the 500 free (4:07.25) and 1650 free (14:18.25) and has been on the podium of nearly every Pro Swim Series race he has competed in. If that isn’t enough, Grothe is clearly oozing confidence – as evidenced by his demeanor in any number of interviews you can find here.

Clark Smith swims the fastest 500 free ever.

With that being said, a Grothe victory in the 800 later this month in Irvine isn’t a foregone conclusion. Clark Smith will have something to say here. The 23 year-old, who clipped Grothe for the title at last summer’s U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis (7:50.43 to 7:50.97), is the favorite on paper. After all, he has the fastest lifetime best of anyone in the field. However, Smith has faced medical issues this season which could play a role in his performance later this month. Dealing with Atrial Fibrillation over the last several years, he underwent a minimally-invasive heart ablation surgery on March 12 that forced him to pull out of April’s TYR Pro Swim Series in Mesa. Since then, Smith has been swimming relatively well – posting times of 3:53.67 in the 400 free and 15:32.05 in the 1500 free in June. The biggest question mark for him throughout his career has been his ability to consistently perform up to his potential when the lights are brightest. Will he be able to fight off the hot hand in Grothe? Will he let one of the young guns take his spot? Time will tell.

After Grothe and Smith, the nod for top challenger has to go to Jordan Wilimovsky. The 24 year-old took most of 2017 off from pool competition to focus on open water training and racing, which paid off as he picked up a silver medal in the 10km at last summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest. Wilimovsky, who finished 4th in the 1500 free at the 2016 Olympics (14:45.03), has looked strong in his return to pool racing this year – posting times of 3:51.48 in the 400, 7:58.10 in the 800, and 15:11 in the 1500. He doesn’t quite have the same speed as Grothe and Smith, so he will have to swim a strategic race to run them down over the last 200 meters or so.

After that, the flood gates open with 5 or so guys floating somewhere around the 7:55 range. The main contenders are Grant Shoults, True Sweetser, Andrew Abruzzo, Robert Finkeand Michael Brinegar.

True Sweetser 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Stanford teammates Shoults and Sweetser are the next two in line who have a chance to vie for a spot in this event – but for different reasons. Shoults is more of a 200/400 swimmer who swims up to the 800 and Sweetser, the 2017 U.S. National Champion in the 1500, is more of a 1500 guy who swims down to the 800.

Rounding out the field is a trio of teenagers in Abruzzo, Finke, and Brinegar. All three of them have lifetime bests well under the 8:00 mark and are more than capable of making some noise in this event. The issue for these guys will be speed – each of them are primarily 1500 specialists. Finke placed 2nd at last summer’s U.S. National Championships and earned a spot on the World Championship team where he finished 21st (15:15).

1 Zane Grothe 7:50.94 7:50.94
2 Clark Smith 7:50.43 8:00.70
3 Jordan Wilimovsky 7:58.10 7:58.10
4 Grant Shoults 7:53.83 7:58.80
5 True Sweetser 7:53.32 8:02.16
6 Andrew Abruzzo 7:54.51 7:54.51
7 Robert Finke 7:55.16 8:07.53
8 Michael Brinegar 7:57.22 8:02.95

DARK HORSE – Mitch D’Arrigo. The 23-year old changed sporting citizenship in 2017 from Italy to represent the United States. At last summer’s U.S. Nationals, he finished 5th in the 400 free (3:50.61) and 8th in the 200 free (1:47.79). Those performances qualified him to represent the U.S. at the World University Games where he swam a 3:49.84 in prelims of the 400 free (qualified 4th, finished 8th in finals with a 3:57) and a 1:47.85 in the 200 free for 6th. It’s uncertain whether or not he will swim up to the 800 this summer, but he already has a season best of 8:09.30 from the Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara. With a lifetime best of 3:46.91 in the 400 LCM and a 14:38 in the 1650 free SCY, it’s clear he has the necessary combination of speed and endurance to make a play in this event.

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4 years ago

Indiana University … not the University of Indiana.

Science Geek
4 years ago

Never met him but Abruzzo looks ready to explode onto the scene. Time will tell

4 years ago

True bouta brain blast all over these fools with the fattest negative split 800 y’all Eva done wit niss

bobo gigi
Reply to  Dad
4 years ago


Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

@bobo True Sweetser, of Leland Stanford Junior University, will impress all of us by swimming the second 400 of his 800 free considerably faster than his first 400, in fact by the largest margin ever seen. Witness

Reply to  PNW
4 years ago

Stanford is a Junior University? Is that like a Junior College? Do they give Associates Masters degrees? Is that why they call it a Junior University?

Reply to  SwimWatcher
4 years ago

It is not a Junior university; it is named after Leland Stanford Junior

Reply to  Dad
4 years ago

Excellent prose. Well stated.

4 years ago

connor come back

Reply to  sven
4 years ago

I’d like to see how well KL would do against the big boys.