2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Licon’s Time In Men’s 200 Breast

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

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Men’s 200 Breast

  • World Record: Anton Chupkov (RUS) – 2:06.12 (2019)
  • American Record: Josh Prenot – 2:07.17 (2016)
  • US Open Record: Josh Prenot (USA) – 2:07.17 (2016)
  • World Junior Record: Qin Haiyan (CHN) – 2:07.35 (2017)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Dmitriy Balandin (KAZ) – 2:07.46
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: Josh Prenot – 2:07.17
  • Wave I Cut: 2:17.89
  • Wave II Cut: 2:15.28

Many events on the program for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials have had the same cast of characters represent the United States on the international stage at every major meet dating back to the 2016 Games in Rio.

Katie Ledecky, Lilly KingRyan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel are among the names that have reigned domestically for the last five years in their respective events. In the men’s 200 breaststroke, there hasn’t been that one swimmer ruling the event with an iron fist.

While perhaps not as volatile as the 100 breast, the 200 has still been up and down for the American men over the last few years, making it difficult to predict who will be ‘on’ and who will be ‘off’ at any given time.

Prenot’s Been The Best

The one swimmer that has come closest to sustained excellence dating back to 2016 is Josh Prenot – who broke through in a big way by winning the Olympic Trials in what remains the American Record of 2:07.17. Prenot backed that swim up in a big way in Rio, winning the silver medal—the highest finish for the U.S. in the event since Mike Barrowman‘s win in 1992—but struggled in 2017 and failed to make the World Championship team.

The now 27-year-old returned to the 2:07s at the 2018 U.S. Nationals in Irvine, which made him a lock to represent the U.S. at both the Pan Pacs later that summer and the World Championships the following year.

However, Prenot was only fifth in the Pan Pac final in 2:08.44, and then faltered at the 2019 World Championships, finishing well out of the final in 13th.

This season? Prenot’s fastest swim came in an exhibition during a preliminary session at April’s Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo – 2:11.87. If we go back and look at 2016, the Cal Berkeley alum broke 2:10 five times leading into Trials. This may not be a fair comparison due to being five years older and likely an altered strategy regarding taper, but it’s still worth pointing out.

Prior to his 2:07s in 2018, Prenot went 2:10-point four times in-season.

Despite representing the U.S. on the international stage in three of the last four major competitions, Prenot hasn’t found consistency in this event. He’s capable of being 2:07-low. We saw it both 2016 and 2018. Can he get back there? The indicators right now say he’ll more likely be in the 2:08s, fighting it out with a plethora of others.

International Reps

Along with Prenot, the other names we’ve seen don the American flag on their cap and race this event at major international meets in recent years have been Kevin CordesNic Fink and Andrew Wilson– all of whom have spent time training in Athens, Georgia.

Cordes was the man to beat five years ago in Omaha, having set the U.S. Open Record in the semi-finals in 2:07.81 (after winning the 100 breast) before Prenot’s monster swim in the final. Cordes still made the Olympic team in this event, finishing eighth in Rio, and then set a lifetime best of 2:07.41 at  the 2017 World Trials.

Since then, however, his window to win medals on the international stage appears to have closed. Cordes hasn’t broken 2:10 since mid-2018, and ranks 12th among Americans in the 2020-21 season (2:12.55).

While Cordes has struggled to rekindle his form of years past, Fink has amazingly been right on his. While the progression hasn’t been the most linear, the 27-year-old has been producing at or near his lifetime bests recently, tying his second-fastest swim ever in the 100 breast in May (59.52) and putting together his fastest-ever in-season swim in the 200 in April (2:09.73).

What’s more, Fink was on fire during the International Swimming League season in October and November of last year, including setting new American Records in both the 100 and 200 breast (SCM).

Having placed fifth in this event at the 2017 World Championships, and then posting a career-best time of 2:08.16 at the 2019 Pan Am Games in what was likely his last fully tapered long course swim, Fink comes into Trials riding a wave of momentum while many of his competitors are trying to manually generate some.

And then there’s Wilson, who seems to always be regarded as more of a 100 guy—perhaps due to the constant search for an American breaststroker for the medley relay—but he’s quietly done his thing in the 200 recently.

Wilson broke 2:08 twice in 2019, earning him a berth in the World Championship final, and appears to be on fine form coming in, having been one of four Americans sub-2:10 this season. One thing to watch out for Wilson, however, is that he’s planning on retiring after Tokyo, and was actually planning on being done with the sport last summer before the pandemic changed things. It doesn’t seem to have affected his willingness to put in the work this season, but is something to be mindful of as he tackles Trials.

Will’s Redemption

The men’s 200 breast at the 2016 Trials may not spring to mind when thinking of the best races that week had to offer, but it sure was a barnburner.

Opening the action on Day 5 finals, the crowd was lifted to its feet as Prenot mowed down Cordes and sailed to the win. But the race for second was just as intriguing.

After turning under world record pace at the 150, Cordes all of a sudden found himself fighting for his life to earn an Olympic berth in the event, with Will Licon—who denied Cordes a third straight NCAA title in the event one year prior—chasing him down on the last 50.

Despite making up over six tenths over the final length, Cordes held on in 2:08-flat and Licon swam a lifetime best of 2:08.14.

After that setback, Licon had to battle the next few years: fifth at World Trials in 2017, and then third at Nationals in 2018, leaving him off both the Pan Pac and 2019 World Championship rosters.

Instead, Licon was named to the Pan Am Games team for the summer of 2019, where he made a monstrous statement. The University of Texas alum won gold, beating Fink head-to-head, in a personal best time of 2:07.62, making him the fastest American in the event that year. In fact, that swim is the fastest from any U.S. swimmer since the beginning of 2019.

This season, the 26-year-old is rounding into form at the perfect time, clocking 2:09.78 at the Longhorn Elite Invite in May to rank third among Americans in 2021.

Success came fast and furious for Licon in the NCAA. In the long course pool, he’s really had to grind it out, and it seems everything’s been culminating up into these 2021 Trials. His time is now.

Other Contenders

No one has been more neglected in this preview than Daniel Roy, who is the fastest American in the 2020-21 season with his 2:08.89 from the Stanford Invite back in November.

Roy continued to drive home the fact that he’s on career-best form in May, beating Licon head-to-head at the Longhorn Invite in 2:09.48 – giving him two swims faster than anyone else in the country has gone this season.

Having come into the season with a PB of 2:09.50 from the 2019 World University Games where he was the bronze medalist, the Stanford swimmer has taken the next step and appears ready to duke it out with the country’s best for an Olympic spot. He’s certainly in the running.

2020-21 U.S. Rankings, Men’s 200 Breast

  1. Daniel Roy, 2:08.89 – November 2020
  2. Nic Fink, 2:09.73 – April 2021
  3. Will Licon, 2:09.78 – May 2021
  4. Andrew Wilson, 2:09.83 – November 2020
  5. Cody Miller, 2:10.22 – November 2020
  6. Josh Matheny, 2:11.05 – March 2021
  7. Michael Andrew, 2:11.32* – April 2021
  8. Matt Fallon, 2:11.33 – May 2021
  9. Josh Prenot, 2:11.87 – April 2021
  10. Alex Evdokimov, 2:12.10 – May 2021
  11. Tommy Cope, 2:12.14 – April 2021
  12. Kevin Cordes, 2:12.55 – May 2021
  13. Jake Foster, 2:12.73 – May 2021

*Andrew has said he will not be swimming the event at Trials

Others who will be in the hunt to make the final include veteran Cody Miller, youngsters Josh Matheny and Matt Fallon, and the 20-somethings Tommy CopeAlex Evdokimov and Jake Foster (Foster is just 20, but you get it).

As the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, Miller has always been better in the 100, but did swim a best of 2:08.98 two years ago pre-pandemic and was a solid 2:10.22 at the U.S. Open in November. Matheny has a high ceiling, having been 2:09.40 at the 2019 World Juniors when he was just 16, and the 18-year-old Fallon saw a big time jump in early May, hitting a 2:11.33.

Reece Whitley, the 2021 NCAA runner-up, owns a best of 2:09.69 from the summer of 2019, but has only been 2:13.69 this season. Leading into that 2:09, Whitley was 2:12.3 in-season.

As for the reigning NCAA champion, Max McHugh, he has raced sparsely in long course this season, with only one 200 breast (2:21.46) under his belt.

TOP 8 PICKS

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Will Licon 2:07.62 2:09.78
2 Nic Fink 2:08.16 2:09.73
3 Josh Prenot 2:07.17 2:11.87
4 Daniel Roy 2:08.89 2:08.89
5 Andrew Wilson 2:07.77 2:09.83
6 Josh Matheny 2:09.40 2:11.05
7 Cody Miller 2:08.98 2:10.22
8 Reece Whitley 2:09.62 2:13.69

Wave I Standout: Coleman Modglin – Coming off of his freshman year at Purdue University, Modglin has made strides in the long course pool leading into Trials, lowering his best time in the 200 breast for the first time since 2019 at April’s Indianapolis Pro Swim Series in 2:16.65.

Dark Horse: AJ Pouch – Pouch was the silver medalist at the 2018 Junior Pan Pacs (finishing .01 behind gold medalist Daniel Roy) in 2:11.80, and followed that up with an elite time of 2:11.06 at the Clovis Pro Swim in June 2019. Now through his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, Pouch owns a season-best of 2:15.27 from the U.S. Open, and went 2:16.42 in early May. We know the ceiling is there, it’s just a matter of recreating his pre-college form in the long course pool.

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MIKE IN DALLAS
2 months ago

I think this article has really bent over backwards to give everyone in this event their due!
Bravo!!
Trials are such an unreal pressure cooker — I still think any of the top 5 you list could be going to Tokyo!

Ghost
2 months ago

Puzzled by your headline. It seems like for the last 5 years, a different guy has taken the lead in the 2breast, so you are betting on Will being top dog two seasons in a row. I have no problem with your top 2 picks, they are probably mine too but to say”it is Licon’s time” is questionable….you could say that about Fink or a couple other guys.

RUN-DMC
2 months ago

It will be between Licon, Fink, and Wilson.

I will root for Licon so that he gets redemption from 2016, and #2 will be Fink – he has more momentum from this past season.

A_SWIMMER!!!
Reply to  RUN-DMC
1 month ago

FALLON ALL THE WAY!!!

Swimlikefish drink like fish
2 months ago

I think Miller will be top 3

Ghost
Reply to  Swimlikefish drink like fish
2 months ago

I think many others have a shot but Cody seems like more of a longer shot! It seems to me that avoids the 200 at many meets! But we will see soon

Gator
2 months ago

This one is a total toss-up between top 5. Biggest question is can anyone medal.

Fresh Cuts
Reply to  Gator
2 months ago

Nope. Chupkov 2:05.7, Sato 2:06.4, and Kaminga 2:06.5 will be the medals.

Ghost
Reply to  Fresh Cuts
2 months ago

Did you correctly guess the medals in Rio for this event?

simon
Reply to  Ghost
2 months ago

Nope. Matt Wilson still exists

Last edited 2 months ago by simon
Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  simon
2 months ago

And Stubblety-Cook.

Oldbay
2 months ago

Pulling for Reece here. Hopefully those short course gains will translate over

Mr Piano
Reply to  Oldbay
2 months ago

He won’t have as many opportunities to cheat on dolphin kicks

Crk
Reply to  Oldbay
2 months ago

(They (probably) wont) although it would be pretty sick

Candycorn
2 months ago

Pulling for Licon here, he’s the nicest person to talk to on deck and certainly deserves it!!

Marklewis
2 months ago

Here’s the link to the 2016 race.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z_5kHEEepw

Cordes and Licon finished on the same stroke. Licon looked like he was digging deep for a final burst of energy to pass Cordes but came up short.

Olympic Trials in the 200 breast has had some extremely close finishes.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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