2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Battle Brewing for 2nd in Women’s 200 Free

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

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Women’s 200 Freestyle

  • World Record: 1:52.08  — Federica Pellegrini (ITA), 2009
  • American Record: 1:53.61 — Allison Schmitt, 2012
  • U.S. Open Record: 1:54.40 — Allison Schmitt, 2012
  • World Junior Record: 1:55.43 — Junxuan Yang (CHN), 2019
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Katie Ledecky (USA) — 1:53.73
  • 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Katie Ledecky – 1:54.88
  • Wave I Cut: 2:01.69
  • Wave II Cut: 2:00.24

Let’s get the most obvious pick out of the way: barring illness or some sort of unforeseen catastrophe — say, a random meteorite blasting a whole through the roof of the Chi Health Center and obliterating the touchpad at the end of her lane — Katie Ledecky will win this event in Omaha. She owns the fastest time in the US this year by over two and a half seconds, with a 1:54.40 from the Mission Viejo PSS meet a month ago. For those of you keeping track at home, that swim tied the U.S. Open Record, was faster than her winning time from the 2016 Trials, and it was actually faster than her split, with a flying start, on the 2019 World Championships 4×200 free relay, during a week in which she was battling illness.

Suffice it to say, Ledecky looks dialed in. Behind Ledecky, though, the race for 2nd seems wide open.

2012 Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt has had her ups and downs over the last few years, but she has the 2nd-fastest time during the Olympic Trials qualifying period, with a 1:56.01 from the 2020 Knoxville Prop Swim Series stop. Lest you forget, Schmitt not only currently shares that U.S. Open Record with Ledecky, from the 2012 Olympic Trials, but she also holds the American Record with her 1:53.61 victory in London, which has to rank among one of the most impressive swims of the post-supersuit era. That was a long nine years ago, and there’s no telling for sure what she’ll do next month, but if she’s on, she has as good of a chance as anyone as grabbing that second spot.

Simone Manuel won two individual medals in Rio in the sprint frees, but she swims up to this distance. She swam this at 2016 Trials, finishing 7th, and she seemed to be on a strong improvement curve, pre-pandemic. In 2019 she clocked a personal best by nearly a second with her 1:56.09 leadoff on the 4×200 free relay at Worlds. She hit 1:56.92 in early 2020, but she doesn’t have a single official swim in the event since then. Still, it’s hard to imagine her not swimming at Trials.

While Katie McLaughlin came out of high school primarily known for her butterfly, she’s emerged as a stalwart in this event as well, having been part of the US 4×200 free relay three times at major international meets since 2015. Her best time during the OT qualifying period is a 1:56.48 from the Santa Clara International meet.

All told, that’s four women who have already been under the 1:56.72 it took to make the top 4 at the 2016 Trials, and we’re not even close to done yet.

Speaking of swimmers emerging from other strokes, backstroke ace Olivia Smoliga has suddenly burst onto the scene as a relay contender, at least, after dropping a 1:57.04 at the Atlanta Classic earlier this month. Heading into this year, she hadn’t been faster than 1:59.02, and before 2019, she had registered a single swim in this event since 2011. We’re not sure if she’ll actually swim it here, since the semi-finals are moments before the finals of the 100 back, arguably Smoliga’s signature event. We’ll mention here that Regan Smith is in a similar boat; she holds a lifetime best of 1:58.44 from two years ago, but is the World Record holder in the 100 back, and will surely be focusing on that event at Trials.

Beside Smoglia, another ten women have been in the 1:57-range during the Trials qualifying period, and the contenders for the rest of the top six spots in this event seem likely to come from these ten.

Madisyn Cox threw her name into the (ten gallon) hat with a 1:57.38 at last week’s Longhorn Invite, hitting a new lifetime best. She’s primarily known as an IMer and breaststroker, but she did swim on this relay at the 2017 World Championships, going 1:59.92 in prelims. We’ll see if she ends up swimming this event, since she’s a favorite in the 200 IM as well, later in the same session, but that 1:57.3 may be enough to get her relay consideration even if she doesn’t swim it individually.

Like Cox, Melanie Margalis has a great shot of qualifying in the 200 IM, so she may or may not swim this event. She did in 2016, when she finished 6th with a 1:57.65 and made the Olympic Team, then finished off the double by placing 2nd in the 200 IM. We’ve seen Margalis take on some Herculean efforts at Pro Swim Series meets, so it seems like the odds may be that she’ll do the double.

Distance ace Leah Smith has joined Ledecky on the 4×200 each summer from 2015-2019, and she also swam this individually at 2017 Worlds, finishing 6th. She’s “only” been 1:57.40 during the qualifying period, but she owns a lifetime best of 1:55.97, and she should once again be in the running for an individual spot.

UVA’s Paige Madden just missed out on the 2019 World Championships team after finishing 8th at the 2018 Summer Nationals, but she’s been steadily improving since then. She swept the distance freestyle events at this year’s NCAA Championships, then clocked a lifetime best 1:57.47 at the Indianapolis PSS stop last month.

Finishing 3rd at those 2018 Nationals was former Michigan swimmer Gabby DeLoof, who made the Pan Pacs and World Championships teams with a 1:56.55 that summer, still her lifetime best. She won the 100 free individually at the 2019 World University Games, but hasn’t made much noise since then. She’s only been under 2:00 twice each of the last two seasons since 2018.

Georgia Bulldog Hali Flickinger is yet another swimmer with experience on the 4×200 free on the world stage, having been part of the squad the 2017 World Championships. She’s been 1:57.65 during the qualifying period, with that time, also her lifetime best, coming at the 2019 Bulldog Grand Slam.

Like Manuel, former Volunteer Erika Brown is more of sprinter who swims up to this distance. Her lifetime best of 1:57.68 comes from the 2019 U.S. Open, and she was 1:59.69 last month in Indianapolis.

If you’re the type of prognosticator who puts a lot of stock into improvement curve, Emma Nordin may be your pick. She didn’t crack 2:00 until last year, then went 1:57.68 at the Indy PSS stop. Former Aggie Claire Rasmus (1:57.92) and Stanford’s Brooke Forde (1:57.98) also have lifetime bests under 1:58.

When there’s up to six spots available on the team via this event, there’s a long list of other swimmers we haven’t mentioned yet who could be in the running. Mallory Comerford has a lifetime best of 1:56.95 from 2017, and was 1:57 in both 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, teenagers Torri Huske (1:58.09) and Justina Kozan (1:58.10) have both recently hit lifetime bests that could put them within striking range of a spot.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Katie Ledecky 1:53.73 1:54.40
2 Allison Schmitt 1:53.61 1:57.59
3 Simone Manuel 1:56.09 NT
4 Leah Smith 1:55.97 1:57.81
5 Katie McLaughlin 1:56.48 1:57.48
6 Melanie Margalis 1:56.58 1:58.75
7 Paige Madden 1:57.47 1:57.47
8 Madisyn Cox 1:57.38 1:57.38
9 Emma Nordin 1:57.68 1:57.68
10 Torri Huske 1:58.09 1:58.09
11 Mallory Comerford 1:56.95 2:00.34
12 Hali Flickinger 1:57.65 1:58.49

 

Dark horse: Emma Weyant (best time – 1:58.36) – While she’s best known for her 400 IM, we’ve seen plenty of other IMers pop off a good 200 free at Trials (e.g., Gunnar Bentz), and Weyant’s now two years removed from her lifetime best of 1:58.36. Like Margalis and Cox, she may choose to focus on the 200 IM, but if she goes after a relay spot here, it wouldn’t take that much of a drop for her to challenge for a lane in the final.

Wave I Standout: Malia Rausch. Rausch, who swims for the Austin Swim Club and is headed to Ohio State this fall, hit a lifetime best of 2:00.87 just a month ago at the Des Moines Spring Cup meet. The 18 year-old has been on a tear this spring, swimming lifetime bests on three separate occasions. She went 2:06.92 as a 14 year-old in 2017, didn’t record any best times in 2018, then lowered her personal best to 2:05.13 in 2019.

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JCO
18 days ago

Slight difference in my top 6 picks:
Ledecky
Madden
Smith
Manuel
Schmitt
Margalis

I think Madden is going to tear it up at OTs

manoj ghimire
Reply to  JCO
18 days ago

What about Mclaughlin ? she may be in team . At least for relay

JCO
Reply to  manoj ghimire
18 days ago

Think she is great, but ultimately finishes 7th or 8th in the final

maybe?
Reply to  JCO
17 days ago

Smoliga?

JCO
Reply to  maybe?
17 days ago

Focused on 100back and is the 7th or 8th in the final along with McLaughlin

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  JCO
17 days ago

I sincerely doubt Melanie Margalis swims the women’s 200 meter freestyle at the 2021 Olympic Team Trials.

swammer
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
17 days ago

She did in 2016 and made the team in BOTH events.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  swammer
17 days ago

That was five years ago.

manoj ghimire
18 days ago

12 can go !:56 but three 1:55 is essential for US team . If Ledecky go !:53 spilt and other go !:55 low or 1:54 high US can win Gold with WR at Tokyo . Otherwise AUS may be favorite

Rafael
Reply to  manoj ghimire
18 days ago

You know thar even if Ledecly Split 1:53 and others 1:55 low is not a sure thing right? Titmus and McKeon can go 1:54 flat start, so a 1:54 flat and 1:53 split is not impossible.. and Australia can have 2 1:55 split with Wilson/Throssel maybe even Mckeown.

Yozhik
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

Think about it this way:
#1: Ledecky vs Titmus
#4: Americans most likely have advantage
#3: Most likely even
#2: McKeon vs ??? It was expected last season that Manuel (the same type of swimmer) will be on par with Emma. It’s an open question now.
Can American’s #1 and #4 cover the deficit? It’s pretty much doable.

Swimfan
Reply to  Yozhik
17 days ago

To bad Curzan hasnt put up a big 200 free this season (her 50 free and 100 fly that she did in one session were both faster that Mckeons 50 free and 100 fly), Also Curzan reminds me alot of Penny Olesiak (who split 1:54 in rio) Curzan times are faster than what Olesiak did before her trials in 2016

OldSwimmer
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Curzan is all about speed and underwaters. She swam a short course 2free this year and went 1:45. With fewer walls and more distance, LC 2free just isn’t her thing right now. Let her do her thing well without throwing her into discussions of events she doesn’t really swim.

Swimfan
Reply to  OldSwimmer
17 days ago

Thank you for the clarification.. I wasn’t sure on her distance (200 and 500 capabilities)

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Claire Curzan has not even swum the women’s 200 meter freestyle since 06 March 2020.

https://www.swimcloud.com/swimmer/1136244/

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

You’re grasping at straws.

Rafael
Reply to  Yozhik
17 days ago

Ledecky vs Titmus is tough to decide, could go each side and probably not by much (Titmus went 1:54:2 on the relay on 2019 opening leg)
Mckeon can slit 1:54, can´t see any american until trials being able to do that..

Also there is the new girl I did not consider that might surprise which is O’Callaghan

Last edited 17 days ago by Rafael
Yozhik
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

I’m not saying who will dwin this race. Too much unknown at this point. We don’t have even slightest idea what to expect from Titmus this season. We don’t know what would be the strength of American #2. If Australians come most likely with the same team that set a world record two years ago then American can happen to have only Ledecky from last WC but do have much deeper field now that can be helpful with prelim race.
What I was trying to convey that if to compare by positions then Americans do not have an answer to the Austrian #2. Can they out perform significantly with #1 + #4? Analysis that is based on personal bests… Read more »

Last edited 17 days ago by Yozhik
Yozhik
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

In 2019 WC
Titmus + McKeon won against Ledecky + Manuel
1.73 seconds .
It won’t happen again in Tokyo.

Samesame
Reply to  Yozhik
17 days ago

I reckon it will still happen. Maybe this time only 0.7 seconds difference.

Swimfan
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

I think mckeon is passed her prime in this event she be low 155 tho

kevin
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Are you fair dinkum Emma is in the form of her life

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  kevin
17 days ago

Don’t bother, some individuals live in a fantasy world.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago
Troyy
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

She was faster at Aussie champs than she was in 2019 when she dropped 1:54.5 at trials a couple of months later. She’s also faster than she’s ever been in 50/100 free.

Last edited 17 days ago by Troyy
Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

1:56, 1:56, 1.56, 1:54 adds up to 7:42 which most likely will only be good enough for the silver medal.

The USA would need Simone Manuel to lead off (1:56.09) with a personal best time from the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, a monster split (1:55.34) from Katie McLaughlin from the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, a monster split (1:54.02) from Katie Ledecky from the 2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships, and another 1:56 flat to sniff a gold medal.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
17 days ago

Katie Ledecky’s splits in the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay was 1:55.64, 1:54.02, 1:54.61 at the 2015, 2017, 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, respectively. Katie McLaughlin’s splits in the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay was 1:56.92, 1:55.36 at the 2015, 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, respectively. Leah Smith’s splits in the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay was 1:56.86, 1:55.97 at the 2015, 2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships, respectively. USA will be hard pressed to post a sub 7:42 time in the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

Swimfan
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
17 days ago

So will the aussie

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

AUS won the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay at the 2018 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships and the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships. The onus is on the USA to improve.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  manoj ghimire
17 days ago

The best time Katie Ledecky has split in the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay is 1:54.02 after swimming the women’s 1500 meter freestyle at the FINA World Aquatics Championships.

Last edited 17 days ago by Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Swimfan
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
17 days ago

Ledecky split 1:53.7 in Rio and at pan pacs

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Katie Ledecky did not swim the women’s 1500 meter freestyle at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Review Tokyo 2021 Olympics schedule and compare the aforementioned schedule to the FINA World Aquatics Championships schedule. In both cases, the women’s 1500 meter freestyle (heats, final) precedes the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  manoj ghimire
17 days ago

Allison Schmitt’s best time was nine years ago. Leah Smith’s best time was four years ago.

I sincerely doubt Madisyn Cox will swim tbe women’s 200 meter freestyle at the 2021 Olympic Team Trials since it coincides with the women’s 200 meter individual medley. I sincerely doubt Melanie Margalis will swim the women’s 200 meter freestyle at the 2021 Olympic Team Trials especially if Melanie Margalis wins the women’s 400 meter individual medley.

Hswimmer
18 days ago

Madden at 7th is blasphemy

Swimfan
Reply to  Hswimmer
17 days ago

But the amount of depth in this events makes it non-blasphemy! Now if madden had gone 155 already it be a different story The American women have eight swimmers between (1:57.00-1:57.99) this year alone

Last edited 17 days ago by Swimfan
Hswimmer
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Madden has been 1:57 3 times this year and hasn’t rested LC since 2019, she’ll go 1:56 something

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

Whoop-dee-doo! Australia has five of the top seventeen ranked women’s 200 meter freestylers for calendar year 2021.

https://www.fina.org/swimming/rankings?gender=F&distance=200&stroke=FREESTYLE&poolConfiguration=LCM&year=2021&startDate=&endDate=&timesMode=BEST_TIMES&regionId=all&countryId=

Joel Lin
Reply to  Hswimmer
17 days ago

Agreed. Hard to see Madden missing top 6 & she should rattle a top 4 finish. She’s been so consistent. She will be at least 1:56 low & that’s the number for a spot.

Swimfan
Reply to  Joel Lin
17 days ago

Anyone of these women could pull off a big race. No Matter how many times I break it down this field is that GOOD! Madden could go 1:55 and finish 2nd, or she could go 1:56 high and finish 8th, its going to come down who is on fire and who wants it more

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
17 days ago

If that were the case, we would have seen it by 31 May 2021.

Swimfan
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
15 days ago

I thought most people want to taper for trials or am I wrong