2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Old School Meets New School In Men’s 200 IM

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

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Men’s 200 IM

  • World Record: 1:54.00  — Ryan Lochte (USA), 2011
  • American Record: 1:54.00  — Ryan Lochte (USA), 2011
  • U.S. Open Record: 1:54.56 — Ryan Lochte (USA), 2009
  • World Junior Record: 1:57.06 — Qin Haiyang (CHN), 2017
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Michael Phelps (USA) — 1:54.66
  • 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Michael Phelps– 1:55.91
  • Wave I Cut: 2:01.69
  • Wave II Cut: 2:00.24

Pop quiz: Who were the last two men not named Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte to represent the USA in the 200 IM at the Olympics?

For four straight Summer Games, those two legends had this event locked down for the US. In at least one sense, this was Phelps’ best Olympic event, as he won gold all four years, while Lochte “settled” for two silvers, a bronze, and a 5th place finish.

Time marches on, and for the first time in 21 years, since Tom Dolan and Tom Wilkins grabbed silver and bronze in Sydney at a point in time in which some of the guys who may make the final weren’t even born, the USA will have fresh faces in this event. Well, at least one fresh face.

Phelps is retired, for good, it seems, but the 36-year-old Lochte is still competing and swimming for his 5th-straight berth in this event. While he’s probably not going to come close to his world record time of 1:54.00, he could be in the thick of the final. He was 1:57.76 just two summers ago and didn’t look to be particularly in shape at that point. He’s back at Florida where they’re known to grind it out, and his best time this season is a 1:59.72, so if he’s putting in hard training, it’s certainly possible that he will be in the mix at the wall.

If Lochte does make the team, there’s a good chance he’ll make it alongside Chase Kalisz. Now, we’d like to take a moment here to address that the fact that one or two commentators keep complaining that we here at SwimSwam seem wholly incapable of mentioning Kalisz without mentioning his former training partner. Upon further reflection, it seems reasonable to refrain from mentioning the fact that Kalisz is now a favorite to earn an Olympic berth in the event where his former training partner won four straight Olympic gold medals. It’s certainly not like there may be any new swims fans out there who would find that little tidbit of information useful and enlightening, especially in an article about…anyway…whatever…back to your regularly scheduled preview…

Kalisz won gold in this event at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacs before settling for bronze at 2019 Worlds. He hadn’t been looking particularly sharp in the in-season meets since Gwangju, but recently clocked a 1:57.52 that’s right in line with his in-season times back when he was at his peak, so it’ll be no surprise if Kalisz comes out on top here.

Kalisz has trained under more “old school” coaches like Bob Bowman and Jack Bauerle, but the next-fastest US man during the qualifying period is someone at the complete opposite end of the training spectrum, and that’s Michael Andrew. He helped put Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) squarely into mainstream swimming conversation, and in some ways, this event could be the biggest test of his training approach.

Over the last few seasons, he’s been able to swim the first 150m of this event incredibly fast, then struggle on the final 50. Still, he’s already been under 1:57 a couple of times at PSS meets, and it’s hard to imagine him needing much more a drop to qualify.  Back in 2016, he qualified 6th in the semis in 2016, but scratched to focus on the 50 free. He’s helped by a schedule change this year, where the 200 IM will be done the day before the heats and semis of the 50 free, so it’s hard to imagine him scratching out.

Less dramatically than Andrew, 19-year-old Carson Foster also represents a bit of a “new school” approach to swim training. He’s been on three national stage since he was breaking national age group records as a ten-year-old, and one thing that’s been notable about Foster is how much emphasis he put on the dryland training while a younger teenager. That’s not to say Foster is alone in this regard, but rather that he represents one of the trends we’ve seen in the sport over the last decade or so — a more systematic approach to dryland at younger ages, an approach that seems to be as responsible as much as anything for the crazy explosion in age group (and college) times, especially in SCY, lately. Foster has the 4th-fastest time in the country this season with a 1:58.27 from last month’s Longhorn Invite, and owns a lifetime best of 1:57.59 from 2017.

Way back in 2013, a 16-year-old Andrew Seliskar was breaking NAG records in this event, and while the versatile Cal Bear alum has taken some twists and turns along his swimming career since then, it’s no surprise to see projected to be in the middle of the final in this year in Omaha. He finished 7th in this event in 2016, clocking a 2:00.27 in finals. He finally made his first big national team in 2018 in the 200 free, not an event he’d really been known for up until that point, but he’s still got his IM chops, having clocked a 1:58.06 last month in Atlanta, just off his lifetime best of 1:58.01. He first hit 1:59 eight years ago, and given that he’s now swimming faster than he ever has in-season, it would be no surprise to see him unleash something big.

Abrahm DeVine placed 6th here in 2016 (2:00.15), then joined Kalisz in representing the USA in this event at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships, along with the 2018 Pan Pacs. His lifetime best of 1:56.79 comes from 2017 Worlds, and while he’s only been under 2:00 once since 2019 Worlds, that’s the only time he’s ever been under that time outside of a Trials or international championship meet.

While it seems highly likely that the two USA representatives will come from that group of six, as always, there’s always plenty of other swimmers who have a great shot of making the final, or at least worth discussing.

Former Texas Longhorn Sam Stewart was a relatively quiet contributor during the Longhorns’ run of four-straight NCAA titles, but has continued to improve several years after completing his college career. He hit 1:57.76 at a small meet in March 2020, just before swimming was put on hold, and he’s been 2:01.39 so far this season.

Texas A&M star Shaine Casas had a heckuva 2020-2021 college season, throwing down historically fast SCY times seemingly every month from October to March. He probably has a better chance of making the team in the 200 back, the finals of which are only two events before these finals, so he may not swim this. But if he does, look for a big drop from his lifetime best of 1:58.54, which came in the fall of 2019.

Former Georgia Bulldogs Gunnar Bentz and Jay Litherland finished 4th and 5th, respectively, with times of 1:59.36 and 1:59.91. Both had already made the team in other events, and this even hasn’t appeared to have been a huge priority for them over the last five years, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see either one in the final.

While Josh Prenot (Cal) and Will Licon (Texas) may have been on rival squads in college, they’re known to be good friends and often linked together, as they’re both IM/breaststroke types. Both have been 1:59 during the qualifying period, but both opted not to swim the event in 2016 since the heats and semis fell on the same day as the 200 breast final. That move paid off for Prenot, who made the team in the 200 breast, and for now, we’re assuming neither will swim the 200 IM next month.

Carson’s brother Jake Foster, is a strong breaststroker, just like Precon™, although he ranks just inside the top ten in the US in the 200 IM this year with a 1:59.71, and has a lifetime best of 1:59.15. He if does choose to focus on this event, he should be in the mix for a top 8 spot.

Besides the names already mentioned, John Shebat (1:59.24), Kieran Smith (1:59.38), Trenton Julian (1:59.43), and Caeleb Dressel (1:59.97) have all been sub-2:00 during the qualifying period. Shebat became one of the fastest men ever in yards during his career at Texas, and swam this at 2019 World University Games, DQing in prelims, but time trialing a 1:58-low. Smith started his college career as more of an IMer before becoming the fastest man ever in the 500 free. Julian should be riding some momentum off an outstanding senior campaign at Cal. While some swim fans may be salivating to see what Dressel, the fastest man ever in yards, could do tapered in LCM, it’s hard to imagine him swimming it with finals of the 100 free shortly before the semifinals, and 100 fly semis soon after 200 IM finals.

SwimSwam Official Picks

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Chase Kalisz 1:55.40 1:57.52
2 Michael Andrew 1:56.83 1:56.84
3 Andrew Seliskar 1:58.01 1:58.06
4 Carson Foster 1:57.59 1:58.27
5 Ryan Lochte 1:54.00 1:59.72
6 Abrahm DeVine 1:56.79 1:59.65
7 Kieran Smith 1:59.38 1:59.38
8 Trenton Julian 1:59.43 1:59.43

Dark horse: Destin Lasco. Ok, so he’s a familiar name, but he may not be at the time of your list of names to watch when he’s “only” been 2:02.23 in this event. But we saw him drop a ton of time in the yards version of this event as a freshman at Cal this past season, and good money says he can do the same in this event. Now, he may end up swimming the 200 back in lieu of this, but if he does swim it, watch out.

Wave I Standout: Colter Carman. The Texas swimmer is entered with his lifetime best of 2:03.31 from the summer of 2019. He’s been almost within a second of that time already this season, and seems to be swimming the event more often this year than the two guys ahead of him on the psych sheet have been.

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oxyswim
16 days ago

I agree with the top 2 but I think the order will be flipped.

maybe?
Reply to  oxyswim
16 days ago

Same

Irish Ringer
16 days ago

Andrew 1:55.2
Kalisz 1:55.6
Foster 1:56.2
Seli 1:56.5
Lochte 1:56.8

Pvdh
Reply to  Irish Ringer
16 days ago

If the event is this fast at trials I’ll Venmo you 10 dollars lol

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Pvdh
16 days ago

Sounds good to me…nothing to lose on that 🙂

maybe?
Reply to  Irish Ringer
16 days ago

Andrew: 1:56.0
Kalisz : 1:56.2
Lochte : 1:57.0
Foster : 1:57.1
Seliskar:1:57.2

Last edited 16 days ago by maybe?
Irish Ringer
Reply to  maybe?
15 days ago

Certainly, a safer bet and might be somewhere in between, but none of these guys can afford to hold anything back. My guess is their trials time will be about the same as the two who make it to Tokyo.

Arnold
Reply to  Irish Ringer
15 days ago

I think everyone except Andrew could be possible. I’d say 1.56.0-5 for Andrew and Lochte will be faster IMO.

Marklewis
16 days ago

It’s going to be a “horse race” with Michael Andrew blasting out of the gate and everyone is pursuit. Down the stretch they will come, with Andrew trying to hang on, and Chase and the others closing in.

Taa
Reply to  Marklewis
16 days ago

The final 50 will be one of the top moments at trials with MA’s alligator arms freestyle trying to hold on against the field.

Pvdh
Reply to  Taa
16 days ago

Seli and Kalisz vs MA on the final 50 will be must watch tv

Johnny Affeld
Reply to  Taa
16 days ago

he looks like a kid swimming free

Admin
Reply to  Marklewis
16 days ago

I can’t wait.

I love the 200 IM in general, but especially this year, I think it’s going to be the best race at Trials, for exactly the narrative you’ve described.

BKP
Reply to  Marklewis
16 days ago

Rowdy’s head might explode with 4 guys chasing down Andrew on the home stretch…”he can’t see them, he’s breathing to his right…wait, but the left (explosion)…”

Marklewis
Reply to  BKP
16 days ago

Yeah, I could see him getting discombobulated because he’s always trying to say what’s going to happen.

The 200 IM is especially chaotic because there are 4 strokes, and the freestyle leg depends on how well you’ve managed your energy.