2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Vets, Rising Stars & The 200 IM X-Factor

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

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Women’s 200 IM

  • World Record: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 2:06.12 (2015)
  • American Record: Ariana Kukors – 2:06.15 (2009)
  • US Open Record: Kathleen Baker (USA) – 2:08.32 (2018)
  • World Junior Record: Yu Yiting (CHN) – 2:09.64 (2021)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 2:06.58
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: Maya DiRado – 2:09.54
  • Wave I Cut: 2:17.39
  • Wave II Cut: 2:15.26

In the five years since the last U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, three women have stood atop the women’s 200 IM in domestic competition and represented the United States on the international stage: Melanie MargalisMadisyn Cox and Ella Eastin.

In 2016, that trio finished in the top five of the event in Omaha—Margalis made the team in second—with winner Maya DiRado third-place finisher Caitlin Leverenz both retiring that year.

Margalis, who finished just outside of the medals in Rio in fourth (with DiRado claiming bronze), has been the one constant for the U.S. in the event since, adding two more fourth-place finishes to her resume at the last two World Championships in 2017 and 2019.

Cox won bronze at the 2017 Worlds in Budapest, but her following two years were interfered by a positive drug test, initially being handed a two-year suspension in July of 2018 before having it reduced to six months after evidence showed the presence of the banned substance in the multivitamin she had been taking and declaring for the last seven years. Nonetheless, that knocked her out of contention for both the 2018 Pan Pacs and 2019 World Championships, throwing a massive hurdle into her Olympic cycle.

As for Eastin, a dominant short course swimmer in the NCAA, she was the top American finisher at the Pan Pacs in 2018 in fourth, and then made her way onto the 2019 World Championship team after Kathleen Baker dropped the event from her program.

Unfortunately, it was recently announced that Eastin was forced to retire due to health issues.

There have been four women 2:09.0 or better since the beginning of 2019:, all of whom figure to be fighting it out for two Olympic spots at Trials: Margalis, Cox, Baker and Alex Walsh. A fifth, 19-year-old Kate Douglass, also has the potential to be in the battle.

Margalis & Cox: The Mainstays

While Cox’s suspension in 2018 took her out of the running to represent the U.S. internationally for two straight years, it didn’t stop her from maintaining her spot as one of the country’s best in the event.

Dating back to the 2016-17 season, Cox has ranked no worse than fourth in the U.S. in the women’s 200 IM. Without a major competition to focus on in 2019, having missed the qualifying meets for Worlds and Pan Ams, Cox still swam in the 2:10-range six times, ultimately ranking second in the country with a 2:10.00 at Summer Nationals.

Since then, she’s taken things to the next level, ripping a personal best time of 2:09.03 just days before the pandemic hit the U.S., and then last week she dropped another lifetime best of 2:08.51 at the Longhorn Elite Invite.

The 25-year-old is hitting her stride at the right time, having also established best times in the 200 free and 400 IM in May.

2020-21 U.S. Rankings, Women’s 200 IM

  1. Madisyn Cox, 2:08.51 – May 2021
  2. Kathleen Baker, 2:10.16 – April 2021
  3. Alex Walsh, 2:10.67 – May 2021
  4. Kate Douglass, 2:10.74 – May 2021
  5. Melanie Margalis, 2:11.03 – April 2021
  6. Torri Huske, 2:11.18 – November 2020
  7. Evie Pfeifer, 2:12.51 – May 2021
  8. Brooke Forde, 2:12.91 – April 2021
  9. Beata Nelson, 2:13.01 – May 2021
  10. Hali Flickinger, 2:13.04 – May 2021

For Margalis, she’s been one of the country’s best in this race for the better part of seven years, having won the National Title way back in 2014. She’s also performed well at all of the biggest meets, but just fallen short of winning a medal individually (she does own a Pan Pac silver in the 400 IM, however).

Similar to Cox, Margalis appeared to be on an excellent trajectory heading into the 2020 Olympic year before things got postponed, having come within three tenths of her best time (2:08.70) at the Des Moines Pro Swim in March—2:09.03—just before the pandemic shut everything down.

This season the 29-year-old University of Georgia grad hit a strong 2:11.03 in April, which is on par with where she was in-season prior to going 2:08.9 at the 2019 Worlds.

Both Cox and Margalis have been at the top of this event for a long time, and won’t let their spots be taken away easily. However, there are a few others who will give them all they can handle.

Baker: X-Factor Or Legit Contender?

The 200 IM hasn’t been a race Kathleen Baker has consistently focused on in the long course pool, but when she has, she’s excelled.

At the 2018 U.S. Nationals, one day after breaking the world record in the 100 backstroke, Baker dropped more than three seconds to win the 200 IM in a time of 2:08.32, making her the second-fastest American woman of all-time.

As previously mentioned, she would subsequently drop the event from her 2019 World Championship program, but has been tackling the race more frequently recently and seems like she’ll take it on at Trials. In February 2020, competing on the FFN Golden Tour in France, Baker dropped the second 2:08 of her career in 2:08.75, showing that 2018 swim was no flash in the pan.

In 2021, the former Cal Golden Bear has produced three of her six-fastest swims ever, including a pair of 2:10-lows in January and April.

Baker is probably the only swimmer in the field capable of taking the race out sub-1:00 at the 100 and still finishing strong—she did it in both of her 2:08 swims—and the biggest thing blocking her from success in the event might just be scheduling.

The only conflict on Baker’s program created by the addition of the 200 IM comes on the third night of Trials, where she’ll have the 100 back final and the 200 IM semi in the same session. With three events separating the two, and the final swim coming first, it shouldn’t be an issue if she’s willing to do the double.

We’ve seen what she’s capable of, and I think it’s safe to say the majority of fans want to see Baker take this event on and see what she can do, especially with arguably the most wide open field we’ve seen in the 200 IM since Katinka Hosszu‘s reign began in 2013.

Walsh & Douglass: Young Stars Rising Fast

Teammates at the University of Virginia, Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass have seen their stock rise rapidly over the past few months, making them prime candidates to crash the party and steal an Olympic slot from one of the established veterans.

Walsh, an age group star from a young age, really started to make an impact at the highest level in the long course pool in 2019, first winning three gold medals (including the 200 IM) at the Pan Am Games before breaking the 17-18 National Age Group Record in December in a time of 2:09.01.

Then in her first NCAA season at UVA, Walsh won the yards version of the event at both the ACC and NCAA Championships, and has carried that momentum over into the long course season, swimming her third-fastest time ever, 2:10.67, at the Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis in May.

Given her drops in yards (her ACC swim was a PB by two seconds), Walsh is right on the cusp of doing something big here. We also know her focus will be squarely on this race (and the 200 back, which comes afterwards) at Trials.

For Douglass, who has actually been the fastest 200 IM swimmer in the NCAA in each of her first two seasons but dropped the event for the 50 free in March, she boasts a wide range of versatility in the sprint free and fly events (also an elite breaststroker in yards), which isn’t all that common for a top tier 200 IMer.

She had a two-second drop at the 2019 U.S. Open to win the ‘C’ final in a time that would’ve been fifth overall (2:12.11), and took that down twice at the Indy PSS in May, clocking 2:10.74 in the final in that razor-thin battle with Walsh.

The key for Douglass will be staying within striking distance on the backstroke leg. She almost ran down Walsh in Indy with a sub-30 closing 50, so if she can sniff the leaders at the final turn, she’ll have a chance.

Other Contenders

The next five in the U.S. rankings this season are Torri HuskeEvie PfeiferBrooke FordeBeata Nelson and Hali Flickinger.

Among those names, Huske jumps out as someone with potential to make some noise at Trials in this race, especially considering someone like Flickinger will be placing her focus elsewhere.

Huske has gone 2:11 in 2019, 2020 and 2021, a rapid rise considering her PB exiting the 2018 year was 2:16.8. The 18-year-old has a similar skillset to Douglass with prowess in the sprint free and fly events, and is also a strong backstroker.

While Huske has a few seconds to drop to be a true contender for an Olympic spot, she’s both young and talented enough that it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Pfeifer and Forde have both been 2:12 recently, and Nelson set a PB of 2:13.01 in May, putting all three in the mix for a spot in the top eight.

We also need to acknowledge Bethany Galat and Meghan Small, who were Olympic Trials finalists in this event five years ago and have a shot to get back there again, though they’ll need to be under their respective season-bests of 2:15.64 and 2:13.25.

TOP 8 PICKS

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Madisyn Cox 2:08.51 2:08.51
2 Kathleen Baker 2:08.32 2:10.16
3 Melanie Margalis 2:08.70 2:11.03
4 Alex Walsh 2:09.01 2:10.67
5 Kate Douglass 2:10.74 2:10.74
6 Torri Huske 2:11.18 2:11.18
7 Evie Pfeifer 2:11.53 2:12.51
8 Brooke Forde 2:12.80 2:12.91

Dark Horse: Justina Kozan – Kozan was dominant in winning gold in this event at the 2019 World Juniors in a time of 2:11.55, but her fastest swim since the beginning of 2020 only stands at 2:14.34 from November’s U.S. Open. Only 17, a full taper could easily see her return to best time range.

Wave I Standout: Gigi Johnson – The recently turned 17-year-old out of SwimAtlanta has swum the four fastest 200 IMs of her life over the last four months, setting her current PB of 2:15.90 at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim in April.

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Eddie
1 month ago

a tapered kathleen baker is going to kick everyone’s butts

Hswimmer
1 month ago

Margalis and Walsh close better than Baker. We will see if Cox has more in the tank.

Deepblue
1 month ago

Cox 2:08.1
Baker 2:08.2
Walsh 2:08.6
Margalis 2:09.3

Hswimmer
Reply to  Deepblue
1 month ago

I don’t think Margalis will go that slow. Top 4 will be close af.

SwimmerNotSwammer
1 month ago

Baker broke her foot

swammer2009
1 month ago

Another great race. My predictions are Margalis 1st Cox 2nd

Swimfan
1 month ago

I see 5 swimmers going under 2:09 in no particular order (baker, Walsh, Douglass, Margalis, Cox)

Swim Mom
1 month ago

I would like to just point out that some of these girls can close in a sub 30 but Michael Andrew can’t.

Admin
Reply to  Swim Mom
1 month ago

Michael Andrew closed in 29.49 in Indy and none of these “girls” (most of whom are “women”) closed their 200 IMs sub-30 at their meets that week or the week after, so I guess we just have different definitions of the word “can’t.”

https://www.omegatiming.com/File/00011500010105EE04FFFFFFFFFFFF01.pdf

Wow
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Douglass closed in 29.6.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Kozan closed in 29 multiple times as has Margalis

KeithM
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Coffee is for closers only!

Swimfan
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

What did Cox closed in when she went 2:09.5?

Admin
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

She closed in 30.8 to go 2:08.5*

Tea rex
1 month ago

No mention of this event conflicting with the 200 free? I really don’t know what to expect from Cox and Margalis if they are doing the dirty double

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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