2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: U.S. Needs Two ‘A’ Cuts In Men’s 400 Free

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

2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

With both Connor Jaeger and Conor Dwyer retiring since the 2016 Olympics, the 400 free will be one of only a few events on the men’s side that won’t have a returning Olympian (in the event) vying for a roster spot.

Men’s 400 Free

  • World Record: Paul Biedermann (GER) – 3:40.07 (2009)
  • American Record: Larsen Jensen – 3:42.78 (2008)
  • US Open Record: Larsen Jensen – 3:43.53 (2008)
  • World Junior Record: Mack Horton (AUS) – 3:44.60 (2014)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Mack Horton (AUS) – 3:41.55
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: Connor Jaeger – 3:43.79
  • Wave I Cut: 3:57.29
  • Wave II Cut: 3:54.21

Since the start of the Olympic qualifying period, Zane Grothe has been the fastest American in the event and will enter Trials as one of the favorites to make the Olympic team. He dipped below the FINA Olympic A cut in the event at the 2019 World Championships when he took 8th in finals with a time of 3:45.78, but has only broken 3:50 three times since then.

Zane Grothe will enter Trials as the only swimmer to have dipped below the FINA A cut in the event. (Photo: Jack Spitser)

Zane Grothe will enter Trials as the only swimmer to have dipped below the FINA A cut in the event. (Photo: Jack Spitser)

While Grothe will enter trials with the fastest time by nearly two seconds, he is followed by a slew of young swimmers poised to compete for an Olympic birth. While these swimmers all have best times within a few seconds of each other, none have been able to dip below the FINA “A” standard of 3:46.78. Based on the Olympic qualifying process, a nation with just one swimmer under the “A” cut would only be allowed to enter one swimmer into the Olympics in that event. That shouldn’t ultimately be an issue for Team USA, but in this particular event, the U.S. will need someone beyond Grothe to make a solid time drop to get under the cut.

Of those young swimmers, Kieran Smith holds the fastest time and is the only competitor outside of Grothe to have represented the US internationally at the senior level. The American record holder in the 500 free, Smith swam to a 3:47.72 in the event at the 2019 US Open, finishing five seconds ahead of Grothe. Since then he has shaved .01 off of his time, hitting a 3:47.71 at the Atlanta Classic last weekend.

Having just finished his freshman year at Georgia, Jake Magahey will likely make a serious run at a roster spot in the event. Coming off a college season that saw him drop over six seconds in the 500 yard free to claim the NCAA title over Smith, he’s poised to make a similar drop in the long course pool. He has already made improvements in the event this year, hitting a 3:48.56 to take second at the Atlanta Classic behind Smith.

Another swimmer coming off his first year of college, Jake Mitchell will be one to watch in the event. He will enter trials with a best time of 3:47.95, a time that he swam at the 2019 World Junior Championships to take 4th. At that meet he finished over four seconds ahead of Magahey, who took 8th in the race.

D’Arrigo will look to make his first US Olympic Team after competing for Italy at the 2016 Games. (photo: Mike Lewis)

One of few athletes in the field to have competed at the 2016 Olympics,  Mitch D’Arrigo will make his first attempt at qualifying for the United States after switching his sports citizenship from Italy to the United States following the 2016 Olympics. In 2016, the former Florida Gator competed for Italy in Rio, finishing in 39th in the 200 free. While he’s raced the event four times already this year, he hasn’t dipped below 3:50 since 2019, when he swam to a 3:48.39.

The top seed in both the 800 and 1500 freestyles, Bobby Finke enters Trials holding the 4th fastest time in the 400, almost three seconds behind Grothe. His best time of 3:48.17 comes from the 2019 Summer Nationals, where he took 3rd behind Australian Elijah Winnington and Mitchell. He was joined in that race by a group of likely Olympic Trials A-final contenders including, Eric Knowles, Trenton Julian, and Zach Yeadon.

Of the swimmers from that race in 2019, the one most likely to break into the top-8 at Olympic Trials looks to be Trenton Julian. Julian is coming off an NCAA season with Cal where he broke 4:10 in the 500 free for the first time at the Pac-12 Championships, before repeating the feat again at the NCAA Championships.

The 2019 Pan American Games champion in the 400 free, Andrew Abruzzo currently holds the 8th fastest time from an American heading into Trials. He will enter the meet with his best time of 3:48.41, his gold medal time from 2019.

Outside of the predicted top-8, there are numerous swimmers who could easily break into the top-8 if they hit their taper well. Trey Freeman, Brooks Fail, and Zach Yeadon are all coming off of strong NCAA seasons in the distance freestyle events. US Open Water National Team staple Jordan Wilimovsky is currently the 12th fastest American in the event and was the first American to qualify to compete in both the pool and open water when he swam the 1500 and 10k marathon at the 2016 Olympics.

Place Name Life Time Best Season Best
1 Zane Grothe 3:45.43 3:53.07
2 Kieran Smith 3:47.71 3:47.71
3 Jake Magahey 3:48.56 3:48.56
4 Jake Mitchell 3:47.95 3:52.98
5 Mitch D’Arrigo 3:48.39 3:53.39
6 Bobby Finke 3:48.17 3:53.30
7 Andrew Abruzzo 3:48.41 3:53.50
8 Trenton Julian 3:49.47 ***

***Julian hasn’t swum the race since 2019, when he hit his personal best 3:49.47 at that year’s Summer Nationals.

Wave I Standout: Liam Bresette (PB: 3:54.42) – After swimming to a lifetime best in the 500 free at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships, we’ve seen limited racing from Bressette over the past year as the Arizona State team sat out it’s NCAA season. Last week he narrowly missed his best time in the event at the Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis when he touched in 3:54.86 for 12th.

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2 years ago

So if the second place finisher doesn’t get an A cut, but first place does, can Grothe go id he is not in top 2?

2 years ago

Idk, my picks are Kieran and Jake.

2 years ago

Smith will win the USOT in just under 344. Magahey is inexperienced but he can beat Grothe for the second spot.

2 years ago

I feel like the “real” OT cuts are the B cuts. How many swimmers without a B cut actually go on to finish tip 2 at trials with an A cut?

2 years ago

Zane Grothe has a lifetime best of 3:44.43.

Correction needed.

2 years ago

At this rate, the men will not even sniff a medal in the 400 FR, 800 FR, 1500 FR.

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 years ago

800 free is a possibility. Some of the best 400 freestylers won’t swim it, so there’s less competition.

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 years ago

I always say this but watch out for Finke

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
1 year ago

Haha looking back this is quite funny

2 years ago

Crazy that in this event D’Arrigo has a better chance of making the US team than he would for making the Italian team.

Deep water
Reply to  DLswim
2 years ago

His goal was to switch nationalities so he could get a spot on the 4×200 relay and win Olympic gold. I guess this works too

2 years ago

Has there ever been an Olympics when the Americans failed to send 2 swimmers in a event?

Bo Swims
Reply to  Swimfan
2 years ago

They scraped by in the 1500 a couple of times back when the A/B times were introduced. Haven’t read the selection criteria but Ibl would think if they are outside the standard and Grothe is Top 2 he is still getting nominated based on his previous QT.

Reply to  Swimfan
2 years ago

now I wonder too!

Again, based on USA Swimming data, there had been 4 guys faster than FINA A cut in 1500m Free… but all from 2019 Summer National. But no one has swim faster than 15:00.99 (A cut) since 9/1/2019…
Since 9/1/2020, fastest time is 15:09.14 (Bobby Finke).

Surprisingly, the new event – 800m – seems to be a little better. 3 guys faster than the A cut since 3/1/2019 and 3 guys faster in the 2019-2020 season, and 1 guy (Finke again) faster since 9/1/2020. So overall slightly better than the 400 free situation.

And thanks to Olivia Smoliga’s 1:57.04 200m Free last week, US women has no issue with at least 2 swimmers under FINA A… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Spectatorn