2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: A Battle Behind Ledecky in the Women’s 1500

See all of our U.S. Olympic Trials previews & picks here.

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

WOMEN’S 1500 FREESTYLE

  • World Record: Katie Ledecky (USA) – 15:20.48 (2018)
  • American Record: Katie Ledecky – 15:20.48 (2018)
  • US Open Record: Katie Ledecky (USA) – 15:20.48 (2018)
  • World Junior Record: Katie Ledecky (USA) – 15:28.36 (2014)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: N/A (not previously contested at the Olympic Games)
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: N/A (not previously contested at the Olympic Games)
  • Wave I Cut: 16:49.19
  • Wave II Cut: 16:44.60

This year marks the first edition of the Olympic Games that will feature the women’s 1500 free, therefore, this will also be the first time the event is swum at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Of course, when discussing women’s freestyle events, once you go over 100m, Katie Ledecky is there to be reckoned with. And the greater the distance, the greater the margin between Ledecky and everyone else. That being said, Ledecky, who is the World Record holder and has been 18 seconds faster than anyone else in the history of the sport in the 1500 free, is certainly the favorite heading into U.S. Trials.

U.S. Women’s Long Course 1500 Free Rankings (11/28/2018 – 5/30/2021)

  1. Katie Ledecky – 15:29.51 (2019)
  2. Ashley Twichell – 15:54.29 (2019)
  3. Erica Sullivan – 15:55.25 (2021)
  4. Ally McHugh – 15:59.54 (2020)
  5. Emma Nordin – 16:01.37 (2019)
  6. Sierra Schmidt – 16:06.85 (2019)
  7. Kensey McMahon – 16:09.80 (2021)
  8. Hannah Moore – 16:10.92 (2019)

Ledecky has been simply untouchable in this event. She holds the 10 fastest times in history in the event, and 15 of the 25 fastest. Additionally, the currently active swimmer anywhere in the world who has the next-fastest lifetime best behind Ledecky is Italy’s Simona Quadarella, whose lifetime best is still 20 seconds off Ledecky’s. Speaking strictly on American swimmers, Ashley Twichell is the next-fastest in terms of lifetime bests, and her best is 34 seconds off Ledecky’s.

Ledecky currently ranks 1st in the world this year, despite her best from this year being a full 20 seconds off her lifetime best from 2018:

2020-2021 LCM WOMEN 1500 FREE

1 KATIE
LEDECKY
USA 15:40.55 04/11 2021 PRO SWIM SERIES – MISSION VIEJO
MISSION VIEJO, CA
2 WANG
JIANJIAHE
CHN 15:45.59 09/27 2020 CHINESE SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
QINGDAO, CHN
3 SARAH
KOHLER
GER 15:52.20 04/16 2021 GERMAN OLYMPIC TRIALS – BERLIN
BERLIN, GER
4 LI
BINGJIE
CHN 15:52.31 01/02 2020 CHINESE LONG COURSE INVITATIONAL
SHIJIAZHUANG CITY, CHN
5 ANASTASIA
KIRPICHNIKOVA
RUS 15:53.18 12/12 2020 FRENCH ELITE CHAMPIONSHIPS
SAINT-RAPHAËL, FRA

Ledecky is the 2-time defending Olympic Gold medalist in the women’s 800 free, and is likely well on her way to winning the first women’s 1500 free Olympic Gold ever. It would be truly shocking if Ledecky doesn’t win this race at Trials. Heck, it would be shocking if she doesn’t win the race by a huge margin.

All that being said, there’s a profoundly interesting battle brewing for 2nd place in the 1500, consisting of a number of swimmers who could plausibly grab the #2 slot and punch their ticket to Tokyo.

U.S. Women’s Long Course 1500 Free Rankings (9/1/2020 – 5/13/2021)

  1. Katie Ledecky – 15:40.55
  2. Ally McHugh – 15:59.54
  3. Emma Nordin – 16:01.37
  4. Ashley Twichell – 16:04.29
  5. Erica Sullivan – 16:04.37
  6. Sierra Schmidt – 16:06.85
  7. Haley Anderson – 16:11.73
  8. Leah Smith – 16:11.80

Even within the past few weeks, several swimmers have leaped up to add their names to the list of swimmers vying for the Olympic roster spot. Most recently, Ally McHugh made a huge impression at the final Pro Swim Series stop of the year, breaking 16:00 for the first time her career. Just one month out from racing at Trials, McHugh clocked a 15:59.54, making her the 2nd-fastest American in the event this season behind Ledecky, and the only other swimmer other than Ledecky to have broken 16:00 this year.

Swimming in the same heat, Arizona State’s Emma Nordin posted her 2nd massive lifetime best in 2021 alone. Nordin began the year with a personal mark of 16:36.69, before dropping to 16:11.23 at the April Pro Swim Series. Then, Nordin went on to clock a 16:01.37 in mid-May, marking 35 seconds of total improvement just this year in the event.

Another swimmer who cracked a lifetime best in May was recent Michigan grad Sierra Schmidt, who swam a 16:06.85, also at the Pro Swim Series. With the swim, Schmidt will enter the Trials with the 6th-fastest time by an American this year, and the 6th-fastest American during the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying period.

Leah Smith, who has consistently taken the #2 spot behind Ledecky in the 400 and 800 freestyles for years now, will enter the meet seeded outside the top 8. Smith, who’s a medal threat in the 400/800 at the Olympics (provided she makes the team in those events), hasn’t had the same level of success in the 1500. She has a personal best of 16:00.82, which is the 5th-fastest best time in the field, but she hasn’t been under 16:10 again since she swam her personal best in August of 2018.

Ashley Twichell enters the meet as the 2nd seed, with her lifetime best of 15:54.19, which she swam at the 2019 World Championships. Twichell is already on the U.S. Olympic roster for open water, and will be looking to add her name to the roster in the pool as well. She is both the 2nd-seed and has the 2nd-fastest lifetime best in the field, just ahead of Erica Sullivan (15:55.25). Twichell is coming off a 5k national title earlier this year.

Erica Sullivan is also coming off an open water national title, having won the women’s 10k at the National Championships in April. She went on to take 3rd in the 5k two days later. Sullivan has a lifetime best of 15:55.25 from 2019, which makes her the #3 seed going into the meet. She’s been the 4th-fastest American in the event this year so far. She’s also the 2nd-fastest SCY 1650 freestyler all-time with her personal best of 15:23.81, which is also from 2019.

Top 8 Picks

PLACE SWIMMER LIFETIME-BEST SEASON-BEST
1 Katie Ledecky 15:20.48 15:40.55
2 Erica Sullivan 15:55.25 16:04.37
3 Ally McHugh 15:59.54 15:59.54
4 Ashley Twichell 15:54.19 16:04.29
5 Emma Nordin 16:01.37 16:01.37
6 Leah Smith 16:00.82 16:11.80
7 Sierra Schmidt 16:06.85 16:06.85
8 Kensey McMahon 16:09.80 16:38.41

 

Wave I Standout: Lucy Malys (PB – 16:47.56) Malys, who competes for the Oakland Live Y’ers in Michigan, dipped under 17:00 this year for the first time, sliding in well under the Wave I standard. Wave I will look a little different in the women’s 1500 than in other events, as it appears there will only be roughly a dozen Wave I swimmers. That being said, Malys is certainly one to keep an eye on. The 2020-2021 season was incredibly fruitful for Malys’ SCY swimming. She dropped 20 seconds in the SCY 1650 free this season, roaring to a 16:09.22 at the NCSA Championships this March. She carried the SCY success into the LCM pool, going on to swim at a Sectional meet in late March as well. At that meet, Malys picked up Trials cuts in the 400 free, 1500 free, and 200 fly.

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sggs
24 days ago

i think you meant 1500 ranking not 100 breast

NCSwimFan
24 days ago

Really curious about Bella Sims and the 1500. She’s got an incredible 800 and a good 16:21 in the 1500, but given her open water prowess and 800 ability you’d reckon she should be faster in the 1500. Wouldn’t shock me to see her get into the final (if she even ends up swimming it, given she has 11 cuts).

Opo
Reply to  NCSwimFan
24 days ago

The pacing for the 1500 can be very different than the 800, especially if you pace it by 200.

Swimfan
24 days ago

Its hard to bet against Emma Nordin who has been dropping times like an age grouper! reminds me of Ledecky in 2012 when she wasn’t on anyone’s radar until the Charlotte Unltra swim (4:05.79 in the 400 and 8:25.85 in the 800) before going 4:05.00 and 8:19.78 at trials

Walter
Reply to  Swimfan
24 days ago

She was on Bobo Gigi’s radar.