2021 U.S. Olympic Trials: 5 Storylines to Watch

2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

At very long last, the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials are upon us. Wave I concluded on Sunday and the top-2 finishers from each race will have the chance to race again in Omaha in the Wave II competition. By the conclusion of the Wave II meet on Sunday, June 20th, the Olympic swimming roster for the United States of America will be filled and the athletes will be preparing for training camp and then the Games themselves. Until then, though, there’s a lot of swimming to get through! Let’s take a look at five of the biggest storylines to follow at the Wave II competition of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials.

Will Michael Andrew make his first Olympic team?

Will Michael Andrew finally make his first Olympic team? The 100 breaststroke looks like his race to lose, while the 200 IM is another where he has a very strong chance of winning given his constant improvements in the race since 2018.

Andrew has been the poster boy of the USRPT method for nearly a decade, and a small center of controversy when he turned pro at age 14. Undeniably gifted, Andrew has also been blessed with opportunities other naturally gifted athletes are not, including the financial means to pursue his athletic goals. There’s a lot to say about Andrew and his unique upbringing and privileges, but that is beyond our scope here. It’s worth a mention, however, because he has leveraged his unique lifestyle into a brand that has attracted a large audience on YouTube and Instagram where he is able to show the next generation of athletes what it’s like to be a world-class swimmer and how the swim lifestyle is, contrary to popular belief, actually pretty cool.

Andrew will race all four 100s as well as the 50 free and 200 IM. His best chances of placing top-2 come in the 200 IM and 100 breast, followed by the 50 free and the 100 fly, while the 100 back and 100 free probably aren’t realistic events for him to keep on his schedule. The pursuit of a relay opportunity via the 100 free could inspire him to swim it at least once in prelims, but doubtful more than that.

If Andrew makes the Olympic team, expect multiple behind-the-scenes vlogs from the pre-competition training camp and of course, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Ryan Lochte

36-year-old Ryan Lochte has faced one uphill battle after another since the 2016 Rio Olympics. In Rio, Lochte swam only two races: the 800 freestyle relay and the 200 IM. Despite being the World Record holder in the 200 IM since 2011, Lochte has never won Olympic gold in the race, and placed 5th in Rio. He was the 2019 U.S. National Champion in the 200 IM, but has consistently been outdone by the likes of Chase Kalisz and Michael Andrew in the years following the Rio Games.

Lochte is entered in a whopping six events in Omaha, though he is likely to scratch at least a couple of them, as he and others who swim for coach Gregg Troy are known for over-entering events and scratching at the meet. That said, we expect him to see the 200 IM through, where he should be a shoe-in for a place in the final.

The men’s 200 IM will be one of if not the most exciting race at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, especially for those who have formed a connection with Lochte over the past 17 years, since his first Olympic appearance at Athens 2004. Andrew, Kalisz, Carson Foster, and Andrew Seliskar are likely to be Lochte’s biggest threats for a top-2 finish in the 200 IM in Omaha–read the event preview here.

Veterans vs youth in women’s 100 butterfly

In 2016, Kelsi Dahlia (then Worrell) was the young American butterflyer on then-veterans’ Dana Vollmer and Claire Donahue‘s radar. In 2021, Dahlia is the veteran who must defend her spot on the Olympic team and the medley relay. Though she has experience on her side, up-and-comers Claire Curzan and Torri Huske have been extremely fast this year while Dahlia has not been particularly close to her lifetime best.

Oddly, if it hadn’t been for the COVID-19 pandemic and one-year delay, Curzan and Huske would have probably fallen lower on our list of likely Olympic qualifiers in this race than they do today. Both women have improved immensely in 2021 and if either snags an Olympic berth, the extra year of preparation may be to thank.

The women’s 100 butterfly is also likely to feature 100 and 200 backstroke World Record holder Regan Smith, 200 fly specialist Hali Flickinger, and SCY American Record holder Erika Brown.

How will the Wave I qualifiers fare?

Wave I of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials was a spectacle, an experiment, and a means of appeasing swimmers (and their families) who otherwise would have been totally cut out of Trials after USA Swimming quickened the cuts in 2019. Reducing the size of the meet was a response to COVID protocols, social distancing guidelines–we know the story too well to go over it again.

While the Wave I meet still guaranteed two swimmers per event the opportunity to swim their race alongside those who will represent Team USA in Tokyo, none of the times posted last week are competitive with what we expect to make the team, or even the top-8, in a given event. How the Wave I swimmers fare at Wave II could influence USA Swimming’s plans for the 2024 Olympic Trials, though the 2024 competition is likely to swell back to its previous size, especially if a larger venue is selected.

NCAA standouts to watch

We love NCAA swimming, and we love predicting how NCAA standouts will do when the long course season rolls around. In an Olympic year, the stakes are turned up to an 11, as are the expectations of the swim fandom. So who will have the most eyes on them?

Most likely, Shaine Casas and Kieran Smith, among the men, and Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass for the women. Dean Farris, who was granted a second red-shirt season, is another NCAA champion (from 2019) we are eager to see compete in Omaha, while 2015 Sportskid of the Year Reece Whitley, one of Cal’s most valuable swimmers, will also garner lots of attention as he competes in his second Olympic Trials.

Ryan Hoffer, Paige Madden, Max McHugh, Trenton Julian, Nicolas Albiero, and so many more will be the pride of their universities while in Omaha, and for those that make the team, legends bound one day for their school’s hall of fame. In decades past, college athletes would be the heavy favorites to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team, but with professional swimming finally becoming a viable career for those with enough talent to consistently make international teams, NCAA swimmers face an ever-growing heard of NCAA alumni that aren’t ready to give up on their Olympic dreams.

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Eagleswim
1 month ago

I’m just so excited. Cant believe it’s finally almost here.

Pete
1 month ago

Can’t wait for this!!! As an added bonus, just noticed Aussie Olympic Trials will be shown on Amazon Prime!!! 😳🤩🙏👍

Joel
Reply to  Pete
1 month ago

First day done and dusted for Aussie trials . 4 swimmers under 3.45 in 400 free. Crazy stuff. McKeon 55.93

Bobo Gigi
Reply to  Pete
1 month ago

US swimming olympic trials
French swimming championships starting on Tuesday
US track and field olympic trials soon
😎 😎 😎 😎
When I will find some time to sleep in the next 15 days? 🙄

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Bobo Gigi
1 month ago

The Us trials will showcase amazing new Rising stars making strides thi syear ….they have 2 Women at 10.7 on the 100 meters + Bromell back at its best ( one of the best come back stories in a long time ) + Terrence Laird , 100 Meters Dash NCAA Champion + More ….

B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Why are we talking about the affluence Michael Andrew came up from…in an Olympic Trials preview article? It’s written to purposefully insinuate that the reason he’s good is because he came from money. Not once, ever, have I read anything like this in any swimming publication. It reads like jealousy and personal disdain.

That’s embarrassing.

B1G Daddy
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Matt Biondi grew up sailing on boats in the San Francisco Bay. I never read Swimming World speculate how Biondi’s wealth gave him advantages over a rural kid from Illinois named Tom Jager.

How about Gary Hall? Are you familiar with the Keating legacy?

Even Mel Stewart had his Mecklenberg tuition paid for by a wealthy benefactor. I bet Wade King, a kid from Saginaw Douglas MacArthur, would’ve benefitted from being surrounded by that type of money.

How many American record holders over the past 5-6 decades do you think directly benefitted from financial advantages? And yet I’ve never seen it written until today.

If it’s not personal, I look forward to reading Reid’s column discussing the financial backgrounds of… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by B1G Daddy
Eagleswim
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

I read it more as saying it made it easier for him to go pro. Still bizarre to mention and doesn’t really have a place here, but slightly different than what you’re talking about

B1G Daddy
Reply to  Eagleswim
1 month ago

Phelps went pro at 15 and he didn’t come from a lot of money. I don’t think money made it easier for Andrew to go pro. He had to go pro as he was never going to be able to integrate his training into a college program.

Eagleswim
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Phelps had a world record at 15 it’s a little different than an age group stand out

Pvdh
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Ryan Murphy – Bolles ain’t cheap…

cynthia curran
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Gary Hall Sr or Gary Hall Jr. Gary Hall Sr didn’t meet the Keating family until college. He grew up in a middle class existence in Garden Grove California. His dad was a doctor for the Vets administration hospital in Long Beach. There is an article by Hall Sr on swimmers shoulder mention on swimswam. He started out on the Sammy Lee swim club that had local high school coaches for swimming and Sammy Lee for diving. Paul Jeffers older than Hall who made the 1964 Olympic trials wrote an article about the Sammy Lee club. In fact Hall Sr said that when Flip Darr first coach him that he went to the Disneyland Hotel to practice because Fliip Darr… Read more »

He said what?
Reply to  cynthia curran
1 month ago

Excellent background information. Thank you, Cynthia!

Alex Dragovich
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

I don’t think it reads like jealousy or disdain. It references the role that privilege has in enabling us to maximize our talents and forge new paths. It represents a greater willingness, in 2021, to acknowledge how privilege shapes who we can become, which is not irrelevant. It’s a perspective that wasn’t given much voice in the days of Biondi, Jager, Hall and even Phelps.

Jabroni Pepperoni
Reply to  Alex Dragovich
1 month ago

Either way, an Olympic preview article shouldn’t be the time to call out a swimmer’s perceived privilege.

Aquajosh
Reply to  Alex Dragovich
1 month ago

Dara Torres was RICH rich. She grew up in a mansion in Beverly Hills and her dad owned a casino hotel in Vegas. Was she gifted? Did she work hard? Absolutely, but even she knows she wouldn’t have been making Olympic teams in her 40s without being able to pay the best physical trainers, nutritionists, and an entire team of people to spend hours mashing her body between practices. Affluence doesn’t make you swim faster in and of itself, but it does allow you to focus on training without having to worry about anything else.

swimapologist
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Uhh. I don’t know what you’re reading, but I didn’t read it that way at all.

I don’t think MA grew up with any kind of unreasonable money, anyway. I don’t get the sense that they were poor, but I don’t think they were like “don’t worry about a college scholarship” wealthy. I think they just don’t believe in college.

I think that’s more about the atmosphere he grew up in, with parents who were in favor of the avenue of turning pro early.

Jackman
Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

Agreed – but he did have a pretty great backyard pool.

middleclasswhiteguy
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Lol B1G Daddy you sound like a kid who grew up rich but wants to pretend that you got to where you are in life by “working hard.”

Sorry this triggered you, but I think you’re reading something that’s not there.

B1G Daddy
Reply to  middleclasswhiteguy
1 month ago

I grew up with one parent in SW Michigan. She never made more than $25K in a year. I was easily one of the poorest kids in my school, if not city. In high school I rotated three pairs of pants with two pairs of shoes: tennis and dress.

Tell me more about what I read that wasn’t there, because you’re clearly an expert on me.

M L
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Fair enough; you’re not deflecting in the way suggested. I do think it’s uncharitable to read the article as expressing jealousy and disdain. I agree with Alex Dragovich above: Acknowledging how privilege enables us maximize our talents, capitalize on opportunities, and see our hard work pay off is something American media, at least, has done far too little of in recent decades.

Anonymoose
Reply to  M L
1 month ago

if you start doing it with one person youll gave to do it with everyone, all the time. wheres the talk about ledeckys rich family?

M L
Reply to  Anonymoose
1 month ago

Fair point. Andrew may get attention for going pro relatively early, but other/further privilege can actually enable someone to stay amateur longer and give greater priority to education and the college team experience.

Cobalt
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Totally agree. MA has EARNED all those ‘priviliges’ because he was phenomenal at a very young age.

And people seem to forget that having access to a pool (let alone a swim team) is a huge privilege in and of itself.

Pvdh
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

I think the author and the site knows that MA and controversial statements drive clicks.

A C
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

As regards Michael Andrew, USRPT is what stands out to me.

Xman
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

What are you taking about? They were middle class in rural Kansas.

Dude lived in a 2 bedroom with his parents and sister in San Diego?

From what I could tell they had him go pro so they could help pay for his competition expenses

JRKay
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

Agree. Super embarrassing for this website. “ Andrew has also been blessed with opportunities other naturally gifted athletes are not”. Like honestly that is so inaccurate and the author of this is obv butthurt for some reason

Cobalt
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

‘Will MA finally make his first OT?’ Are you kidding? He’s 22!

He’s been in 1 OT, and almost made the team.

Maybe when a thirty-something makes their 1st team you might say that, but it would still be a backhanded compliment.

The writer of this article sure comes off as bitter and jealous. It’s just Lame.

THEO
Reply to  B1G Daddy
1 month ago

I respectfully disagree and think it is very reasonable to cover his background and that SwimSwam is thoughtful to talk about that in the preview. The Olympics is a all about tracing the journey of athletes, and MA’s incredibly unique history is certainly notable and also a more interesting/digestible fact for a non-swimming audience.

Also, more broadly, wealth/resource disparity is something that the swimming community doesn’t talk about enough IMO. It’s easy to forget this, but not all sports have the same thing going. On an NBA court, sure, yes, they make a huge range of salaries, but 100% of them have everything they could ever need – faculties, medical teams, equipment, everything. In an international swim meet, the… Read more »

Swimmer
1 month ago

In the Lochte section, it’s Athens 2004 not Sydney

Ghost
1 month ago

In my view, how the wave 1 qualifiers do is not in my top 50 storylines of the Trials week+! Each event will have more stories in those that make the team or those that just missed it!

SCCOACH
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

This was my first thought too. 5th story could have been something like how former olympians that we haven’t heard from in awhile will fare. Like Comerford, Conger, Haas, etc

Mustangswimdad
1 month ago

My favorite story lines would revolve Women’s 100 Back

1. World record for Smith?
2. Will a 57 not make the team?
3. Baker’s performance after injury?
4. Time comparison with the Aussies

Last edited 1 month ago by Mustangswimdad
Chad
1 month ago

Honestly, some days I’m more excited for US Olympic Trials than I am for the Olympics themselves. I feel there’s as much of a desire from a lot of swimmers to make the Olympic Team as there is to actually swim at the Olympics and that creates an atmosphere where so many people’s dreams are on the line. And, as much as I love the Olympics, there’s much more media fluff and fanfare going on whereas Trials is relatively a bit more focused on the actual swimming. It’s going to be really hard to wait these next 24 hours I’m so excited for this!

JCO
1 month ago

The piece about Michael Andrew’s financial background is totally out of place in this article. I’ve been reading swimswam for years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a preview mention someone’s financial upbringing.

Guess what? Swimming is a country club sport that has huge barriers to entry. While not ideal, that’s the way it is at the moment (and things should be done to fix it). I think it’s fair to say many (just about all on my former NCAA team) college swimmers and up had good upbringings, but nearly none of them could match Andrew in the pool.

MA is an incredibly gifted athlete, and most people wouldn’t be anywhere near him even if they could train… Read more »

SwimMom
Reply to  JCO
1 month ago

It’s tacky for sure. Let’s talk about the finances of all the swimmer’s families if we are going to single one out. In reality, most swimmers come from some sort of middle-class to upper-middle-class and beyond backgrounds. This probably shuts out a lot of talented athletes that don’t have access to pools, teams, travel or personal trainers. MA is not alone in the privilege that helped him maximize his talent. Nor is Regan Smith, Claire Cruzan or any of the other Olympic hopefuls.

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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