2021 US Olympic Trials Day 3: What Does It Take To Make It Back?

2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

After every prelims session this week, we’ll take a quick look at the times it took to earn a second swim in each event. Remember that for events that are 400m or longer, the top 8 swimmers from prelims go to straight to the final, while the top 16 in prelims go on to semi-finals in the 200m and under events. Specifically, we’ll be comparing the 8th/16th place prelims times to what it took to advance at the last three Olympic Trials, and sometimes trying to offer a bit of preliminary analysis to account for notable changes, or the lack thereof. Note that we are ignoring the impact of scratches promoting swimmers into the semis or finals, and only examining the times swimmers needed in the morning to guarantee themselves a spot, or in rare cases, a swim-off.

Here’s a quick glance at the 8th/16th place times from this morning, compared to what it took to advance at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Trials.

2008 2012 2016 2021
Women’s 200 Free 16th 1:59.98 2:00.36 2:00.00 2:00.32
Men’s 200 Fly 16th 1:59.91 2:00.03 1:58.70 1:58.37
Women’s 200 IM 16th 2:15.68 2:15.75 2:15.80 2:14.72
Women’s 1500 Free 8th N/A N/A N/A 16:16.09

First of all, we included the 8th place time from the women’s 1500 free today just for posterity’s sake, as this is the first time the event has been contested at the Olympics.

The women’s 200 free has remained a model of consistency over the last four Trials, with the 16th place time varying only by 0.38s during that span. Today, Kayla Wilson qualified 16th with a time of 2:00.03, which would have placed 17th in 2016. One thing to note is that this year’s field was decimated by scratches from some of the top swimmers, which certainly impacts how easy or difficult it is to earn a second swim. Given the schedule, this is an event where we tend to see a lot of scratches, but it seemed particularly hard hit today.

The men’s 200 fly continued its trend of generally getting faster, at both ends of the top 16. We already pointed out Zach Harting‘s 1:55.34 this morning was 1.34s faster than the 1:56.68 Michael Phelps put up to lead prelims in 2016. At the other end of the spectrum, 2016 Olympian Jack Conger just squeaked into the top 16 with a 1:58.37, a time that would’ve put him 13th in 2016, but cut it close today, as he was only 0.05s ahead of the 17th place finisher.

While a few bigger names scratched out of the women’s 200 IM, they weren’t as highly seeded as the ones who skipped the 200 free, and the 200 IM was much faster today than in 2016. Today’s 16th place time, a 2:14.72 by Caroline Theil, would’ve been 11th in 2016. Meanwhile, the 2:15.80 that earned a semi-finals swim in 2016 would’ve ranked just 24th today. As we’ve seen other events, the top end got faster too, with four women faster than last year’s fastest prelims time of 2:11.66, led by Kate Douglass‘ 2:10.53.

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3 months ago

Wow, huge step up in the 2 IM.

Extra Broccolini
Reply to  ACC
3 months ago

Both that and the Men’s 200 Fly are surprising to me too.