2021 US. Olympic Trials Preview: USA Men Looking for a Boost In 200 Free

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

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Men’s 200 Free

  • World Record: Paul Biederman (GER) – 1:42.00 (2009)
  • American Record: Michael Phelps  – 1:42.96 (2008)
  • US Open Record: Michael Phelps (USA) – 1:44.10 (2008)
  • World Junior Record: Sunwoo Hwang (KOR) – 1:44.96 (2021)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Sun Yang (CHN) – 1:44.65
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: Townley Haas – 1:45.66
  • Wave I Cut: 1:50.79
  • Wave II Cut: 1:49.65

The men’s 200 free is generally one of most highly anticipated events at the Olympic Trials, and with the USA’s Olympic 4×200 win streak on the line in the face of a surge of improvement from other countries, this year will be no different. With Michael Phelps retired (for good, it seems), Conor Dwyer done, and Ryan Lochte not done, but certainly not the same swimmer he was ten years ago, the USA is looking for one or two stars who can cement the relay and compete for a medal individually.

Texas alum Townley Haas is one possibility to fill that role. He certainly has had the most success among US men in this event over the last five years. He finished 5th in Rio with a 1:45.58 and had the fastest relay split in the field with a a 1:44.14. He took silver at the 2017 Worlds and gold at the 2018 Pan Pacs, where he also dramatically anchored the US relay to gold in 1:43.78. Those splits would seem to indicate he should be capable of going under 1:45, but his lifetime best is “only” 1:45.03 from the 2017 Summer Nationals.

Cal alum Andrew Seliskar has the fastest official time among US men during the qualifying period, with a 1:45.71 leading off the 4×200 free relay at the 2019 World Championships. Seliskar made his first “big” international roster for the USA in this event after exploding onto the freestyle scene at the 2018 Nationals. Up to that point, Seliskar had been known primarily for his versatility, having previously owned the junior world record in the 200 fly and the national high school record in the 100 breast (along with several other NAGs), and he scored in both IMs each year at NCAAs. But he’s finally seemed to find his long-course niche with this event, and should be in the mix for an individual bid.

Kieran Smith of the Florida Gators has arguably been the biggest rising star in this event over the last few seasons. During the summer of 2019, he had the fastest time among among USA men, except Seliskar’s relay leadoff, with a 1:46.21. Since then, he’s exploded in yards, including setting, and then tying, the US Open Record in the 500 free, and hitting the 2nd-fastest time ever in the 200 free. He was 1:46.30 just last week in Atlanta, the fastest time in the country this season, and he seems to be a safe bet to at least make the relay, if not pop off a big swim for an individual spot.

When it comes to looking for someone who could do something special, we’ve got to spend a minute talking  about the wild card, Caeleb Dressel. While he’s known for his sprint prowess, he’s shown he’s got some long course 200 chops as well, and swim fans love to speculate what exactly he could do with a fully tapered swim in this event. Back in 2017, he qualified for this relay with a 1:47, although he ultimately didn’t swim it. His lifetime best is a 1:47.31, done at the 2019 Richmond PSS meet, so you have to think he’s capable of a time at least a second or so faster than that, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect him to be able to split 1:45 or better on a relay.

After he went 1:45.77 at the 2016 Trials, narrowly missing an individual spot, Jack Conger looked like he might join Texas teammate Haas as a US stalwart in this event. But he’s had inconsistent results since then, missing the team in 2017, but getting thrown on the relay as a Hail Mary at 2017 Worlds — an approach that seemed to work – then missing the team again in this event in 2018. He seems to be focusing a bit more on fly since he made the switch to Sergio Lopez’s pro group a few months ago, where he’s training with former teammate Joe Schooling. But, we’ve seen swimmers before pop off something great in an event they weren’t currently focusing on, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Conger make the top six once again.

Veteran Ryan Lochte is also expected to make an appearance in this event at Trials. He’s been on the 4×200 free relay at each of the past four Olympics, helping the USA to gold each time. He sports a lifetime best of 1:44.44 from 2011, but hasn’t been under 1:46 since 2015 or under 1:47 since 2016. Still, he’s one of only a handful of men who’ve been sub-1:45 in textile, and being 1.0-1.5s off of his lifetime best should be enough to earn him a relay spot.

Of course, we’re also expecting Rio 4×200 team members Gunnar Bentz and Clark Smith to swim this event. Both seem to have been laying low the last year or two, but you can ever completely count out anyone who’s made the team in previous years and is still swimming. On the flip side, we’ll note here that both Conger and Bentz seem to be concentrating more on the 200 fly this season, and semi-finals of that event falls shortly after finals of the 200 free.

Another five Americans have been under 1:47 during the qualifying period. The man, the myth, the legend, Dean Farris heads up the remaining group with a 1:46.45 from 2019 Summer Nationals. Farris owns the fastest-time ever in yards, and like Smith, he hit his lifetime best at the 2019 Summer Nationals, where he finished in 1:46.45, just ahead of Luca Urlando, who clocked a 1:46.51. The Georgia native (Farris) and the Georgia Bulldog (Urlando) should both be in the mix for a relay spot, although the latter (Urlando) seems to have been hampered a bit by shoulder issues this year and the former (Farris) may be targeting the 100 back, which has finals on the same night as the 200 free.

Up next is another pair of similar swimmers in Zach Apple and Blake Pieroni. Apple essentially replaced Pieroni at Indiana when he transferred there from Auburn after Pieroni’s graduation, and the two of formed the backbone of both USA men’s free relays over the last few seasons. Pieroni is seeded with a 1:46.62 and Apple with a 1:46.76. Apple was slightly faster at the 2018 Pan Pacs (1:46.56), and split 1:45.59 in prelims at 2019 Worlds, but it looks like he might be focusing more on the 50/100 free this season. Pieroni was faster than that 1:46.62 five times during the summers of 2017 and 2018 (before the official Trials qualifying period), and owns a lifetime best of 1:45.93, plus a 1:44.48 relay split at 2019 Worlds.

Former Gator and Longhorn Maxime Rooney is the other man in the field who’s been under 1:47 during the qualifying period, with his lifetime best of 1:46.78 coming at the 2019 Summer Nationals. That was the first time in four years that Rooney had set a personal best, with his previous best of 1:47.10 coming from the 2015 Summer Nationals, a time that at that point made him the Junior World Record holder in the event. As we’ve noted with a few other guys, it’s possible that he may have his sights set more on the 100 free and the 100 fly, as he’s only been 1:51.42 this season.

With up to six spots available, there’s plenty of other swimmers, young and veterans alike, who could find themselves in the final.

Drew Kibler, Texas

Drew Kibler, Texas
Courtesy: NCAA Photos

Texas Longhorns Drew Kibler and Carson Foster could be in the mix. Kibler is one of the fastest men ever in both the 200 and 500 yard freestyles, and he went 1:47.19 back in 2019. Foster may be a little stronger in the IMs, but he was one of the fastest high schooolers ever in the 200 yard freestyle, and he nearly matched his long course best time just the other day at the Longhorn Invite, clocking a 1:47.59 (lifetime best of 1:47.47). He’s shown he’s capable of a sub-1:47 swim, having split 1:46.10 anchoring the Team USA 4×200 relay at the 2019 World Juniors Championships.

Back in 2015, we noted that every man who had won the 500 free at NCAAs since the late 80s either already was, or eventually became, an Olympian. That’s held true through the 2019 season, which bodes well for Georgia’s Jake Magahey, who as just a freshman this year, joined Smith as the only two men under 4:07 in the 500 free with his 4:06.71 at SECs, then followed that up by by winning the 500 free at NCAAs. He currently has the 3rd-fastest time in the country this year with a 1:47.30, his lifetime best.

We should also mention a few guys who have been sub-1:47 prior to the qualifying period. Zane Grothe, former U.S. Open record holder in the 500 free, went 1:46.39 at the 2017 Summer Nationals, while Stanford swimmer Jack LeVant clocked a 1:46.39 at 2018 Summer Nationals, and ASU’s Grant House hit 1:46.95 at 2018 Summer Nationals, although none of the three have made as much of an impact lately at this distance.

Finally, keep an eye on current college swimmers Julian Hill (Arizona State), Mark Theall (Texas A&M),  Trey Freeman (Florida) Patrick Callan (Michigan), and Trenton Julian (Cal). The latter may have the most upside here after finishing 4th in the 500 free and 3rd in the 200 free at this year’s NCAAs, especially when coupled with his recent 1:55.77 in the 200 fly at the Atlanta Classic.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Townley Haas 1:45.03 1:48.81
2 Kieran Smith 1:46.21 1:46.30
3 Andrew Seliskar 1:45.70 1:47.01
4 Caeleb Dressel 1:47.31 1:47.42
5 Blake Pieroni 1:45.93 1:48.06
6 Jake Magahey 1:47.30 1:47.30
7 Drew Kibler 1:47.16 1:48.58
8 Dean Farris  1:46.45 1:51.42
9 Carson Foster 1:47.47 1:47.59
10 Zach Apple 1:46.56 1:49.42
11 Trenton Julian 1:47.57 1:48.01
12 Ryan Lochte 1:44.10 1:50.27

Dark Horse Pick: Jeff Newkirk (PB – 1:47.80). There’s been a Texas Longhorn on the USA’s 4×200 free at every Olympics since 1988, and there’s been more than one as often as not. And while we mentioned plenty of current or former Longhorns in the main body, we’ll take note of one more here. Newkirk was a solid contributor at Texas during his four years, including being part of the U.S Open record-setting 4×200 relay at 2019 NCAAs, but he’s the kind of tall mid-distance swimmers who seems built for long course. His lifetime best is “only” a 1:47.80 from the 2018 Summer Nationals, but that time was three seconds faster than his previous best time that season. He’s already been under 1:50 on a few occasions this season, so if there is a similar time drop in store, he could make a run at the A-final.

Wave I Standout: Luke Miller (PB – 1:50.02). Miller had a standout campaign as a NC State freshman this past season, knocking well over off of his best time in yards and finishing 3rd in the 200 free at the ACC Championships. Miller’s LCM best time of 1:50.02 comes from the summer of 2019, and a similar time drop would put him well under 1:49.

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Comet
24 days ago

Smith and seli top two
Haas Magahey Pieroni Apple on the relay along with Dressel who will only swim one round at the trials

Mr Piano
24 days ago

Honestly I’ve been really surprised with all the negative sentiments toward the USA chances in the 4×200. They might not be able to beat GB, but they do have like 2 or 3 people who could go sub 1:45 at trials. Their relay in Tokyo will be almost as strong as ever, it’s just that GB is popping off rn

Jess
Reply to  Mr Piano
24 days ago

2 or 3 guys that could go sub 1:45 at trails? In the list above literally 4 of them have ever been sub 1:46 and Lochte did it years ago. I’m all for wishful thinking but just because other people across the world have picked it up this year it doesn’t always mean America has to have the fastest and have the most do a time they have never been close to in every event at trials.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Jess
24 days ago

Kieran Smith has been going 1:46.3 in season, that’s definitely 1:44 when tapered. Haas was 1:40.4 in SCM last December, and Seliskar has been 1:47.0 in heavy training, I think he drops to 1:45 low or 1:44 high when fully rested.

Svird
Reply to  Mr Piano
24 days ago

At least one 1:44 is likely, but not every swimmer has giant 2+ second time drops after taper. Assuming everybody drops that much is a bit optimistic.

I think it’s more likely that there is a dogfight in the 1:45 mid range.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Svird
24 days ago

Seliskar does though. He went 1:48.3 a month before he went 1:45.7 at nationals.

Caleb
Reply to  Jess
24 days ago

Sorry, check back in a month. None of the GB guys had been under 1;45 until their trials either. I will be surprised if there aren’t a couple of 1:44s at US trials.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Caleb
24 days ago

Duncan Scott 1:44.91 leading off the 4×200 relay in 2019 Worlds.

Caleb

True enough, my bad. The general point holds, ie there’s nothing magical about the 1:45 barrier, as we’ve seen all year. Someone’s probably going to drop a 1:43 to win in Tokyo.

maverick1993
Reply to  Caleb
23 days ago

Nobody has come close to 1:43…half a second is not easy to drop (For Scott).

Calm down
Reply to  Jess
24 days ago

Seliskar haas and kieran are all capable of 1:44’s don’t sell us short now

KeithM
Reply to  Jess
24 days ago

Jess I understand what you’re saying and you make a valid point. But this year is a bit unique. Obviously the pandemic has made things murkier in terms of handicapping the field. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen most of them trying to peak at a high stakes meet. This is true for all countries. But also the US selected it’s 2019 World Championships relay pools based on results from the summer of 2018. So it’s been three years since the US has had a proper trials meet with the nation’s best swimmers congregating to qualify for a major world level meet. So there’s a lot of latency built into the equation, much moreso than usual. So if the typical… Read more »

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Mr Piano
24 days ago

They’ll not come close to breaking the WR and they’ve had all this time to get better. That’s what’s disappointing.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
24 days ago

I’d bet about $500 that they’re at least a 6:59

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Mr Piano
24 days ago

Terrific. That would’ve been a silver medal …. 13 years ago. Like I said. No improvement in forever.

SVIRD
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
24 days ago

Having two of the greatest swimmers of all time in super-suits (Phelps, Lochte – in their prime, plus Ricky Berens dropped a 1:44 low as well) on the same relay tends to make the WR hard to break.

Have faith, I think the worldwide 200m free field is developing nicely after a period of stagnation post Phelps, Angel, and Yang.

1:45 is now pretty commonplace, and I don’t think a 1:44 will guarantee a medal in Tokyo like in years past.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  SVIRD
24 days ago

1:45 is like a 58-mid 100 breast. Lots of people can do it, but no one’s in the Peaty class or the equivalent in a 200 free.

Pvdh
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
24 days ago

…are you surprised by their being a dominant athlete in some events that wins everything for a while?

Buddy…that’s been going on forever

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Pvdh
23 days ago

Don’t buddy me after that (what we can only hope was hallucinogenic-induced) post fantasizing about Farris texting Dressel. Wtf was that? Point is the 200 free was Phelps 5th best event, and Lochte’s 4th. To say that they were generational talents in the 200 free and that’s why we haven’t matched the 2008 time just shows how comparatively weak the 200 free has been for the US for over a decade. Where’s the generational talent been for the US in the 200 free (our PVDH)?

Svird
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
23 days ago

Some events have generational talents, some don’t. It is true that 200m doesn’t have a dominant swimmer right now, but I think the event depth is in a good spot (both in the USA and worldwide).

Again, that relay WR is a supersuit record. And it was set in 2009 in Rome where pretty much all the records were crazy. 200m times in particular were ridiculous. It’s not an indictment on world swimming that we haven’t had another 1:42 since then, just shows how impacful the suits were.

Also I don’t see your point about the 200m being Phelps/Lochte’s “4th or 5th best event”. They were elite 200m swimmers at that time.

Point is those two carried USA swimming for… Read more »

sscommentor
Reply to  SVIRD
22 days ago

Ricky Berens, in his prime, had the most beautiful 200 freestyle. such a smooth stroke, great underwaters, strong kick. his leg in the Rome 4×200 is an absolute masterclass on relay swimming

Jaque Steyn
Reply to  Mr Piano
16 days ago

Bruh GB will go sub 7:00.
Richards 1:45.7 (=Trials time)
Dean 1:44.0 (went 1:44.5 at trials, great relay swimmer)
Guy 1:44.7 (went 1:45.3 untapered last month)
Scott 1:44.0 (because Duncan Scott)

6:58.4 World Record

Sophie
24 days ago

Wow! No Luca Urlando anywhere near the top 8. That’s a surprise to me,

Troy
Reply to  Sophie
24 days ago

He can do it all. Hopefully he has a good summer.

Swammer
Reply to  Sophie
24 days ago

Probably swims prelims then focuses on the 200fly. If he makes the team in the 200fly then he could be really good on prelims for the relay.

PVSFree
24 days ago

Did SwimSwam just doubt our one true lord DEAN??

The wrath of His power shall be felt upon all of us. Dean save us all.

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  PVSFree
24 days ago

Is Clark Smith even competing anymore?

Swimfan
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
24 days ago

No

Horn Alum
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
24 days ago

No – joined the military

oxyswim
Reply to  Horn Alum
23 days ago

He’s not too tall for the military? 6’9″ is a big target.

Horninco
Reply to  PVSFree
24 days ago

Short Course Specialist

PVSFree
Reply to  Horninco
24 days ago

His best time is a 1:46.4 from two years ago and he’s split a 47.low on a relay. Not exactly what I’d call a short course specialist (in the same way Hoffer is)

oxyswim
Reply to  PVSFree
23 days ago

At the end of last year he hadn’t had any access to long course, and while I imagined that’s changed by now, this is an event where you can’t fake your level of fitness. If we hadn’t had the pandemic I would have liked his chances in this event much better.