2021 US Olympic Trials: SwimSwam’s Awards

2021 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Swimmers and swim fans had to wait an extra year for the Olympic Trials, but it was just as fun, exhausting, and surprising as the meet has ever been. We’re still catching our collective breath from keeping up with all the action, but we’re not quite done with breaking down the incredible week of swimming. Without further ado, here’s the SwimSwam awards winner for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials:

Female Swimmer of the Meet – Katie Ledecky

Ledecky etched her name into the history books once again, becoming the first US woman in at least three decades (and probably longer) to win three or more events in consecutive Olympic Trials, and she now has a total of eight Olympic Trials wins — the most of any US woman ever. While her times weren’t spectacular by her own lofty standards, she wasn’t seriously challenged in winning any of her four events: the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 freestyles.

Honorable Mention:

  • Lilly King – The world record holder successfully defended her Trials title in the 100 breast, and took 2nd in the 200 breast to friend and training partner Annie Lazor.
  • Abbey Weitzeil – Weitzeil also qualified for two individual events, winning the 100 free for the second-straight Trials, and coming in second behind Simone Manuel in one of the most exciting races of the whole week, the 50 free.
  • Rhyan White – We’ll talk more about White later, but suffice it to say for now that she upset the reigning world record holder, Regan Smith, in the 200 back, and took 2nd to Smith in the 100 back.

Male Swimmer of the Meet – Caeleb Dressel

It took him just a bit to find his groove, but find it he did, as he earned three Trials wins this week. After putting up a lifetime best 1:46.63 in the 200 free prelims, perhaps not quite as sharp as people were expecting, he got on a roll. He tied the U.S. Open Record in the 100 free with a 47.39, then broke the U.S. Open Record with a 49.76 100 fly, only 0.26s off of his own world record, then and tied his own American Record with a 21.04 in the 50 free, also setting a U.S. Open Record, setting himself up for at least five — and possibly seven — events in Tokyo.

Honorable Mention:

  • Ryan Murphy – The defending Olympic gold medalist in both backstroke events looked smooth and in control all week, once again sweeping the backstroke events. We also got a bit of a backstory on Murphy’s up and down performances since 2016. Murphy looks locked in, and while the international backstroke field is strong right now, Murphy is a good of a bet as anyone else out there to sweep the backstrokes in Tokyo.
  • Michael Andrew – This week had to bring to a sense of validation and accomplishment for Andrew, who went pro eight years ago at the age of 13, charting his own unusual path to an unusual outcome — he’ll be the first US male to swim breastroke and freestyle at an Olympic Games, after winning the 100 breast and 200 IM and coming in 2nd to Dressel in the 50 free. He set an American Record (twice) in the 100 breast, became the 3rd-fastest US swimmer even in the 200 IM, made the final of the 100 back, and possibly could’ve qualified in the 100 fly had he not scratched that event.
  • Bobby Finke – It’s tough to narrow down the list when you’ve got four men who each won two events. Finke’s had a sensational last two season in short course, setting the American Record in the 1650 free, and he made good on that promise last week by sweeping the 800 and 1500 freestyles.
  • Kieran Smith – It’s a very similar story for Smith, Finke’s Florida teammate. He holds the 500 yard freestyle record, and showed that he can hold his own in longcourse too, winning the 200 and 400 freestyles.

Women’s Performance of the Meet – Torri Huske, 100 Fly

This was one of the most anticipated races of the week, and sure enough, it was a fun one. Huske fired the opening salvo in the semi-finals, when she knocked roughly a second off of her personal best and took the American Record from 55.98 to 55.78. The next night, she shaved another 0.12s off of that time to earn her spot on the US Olympic Team. Huske is now the 3rd-fastest performer ever in the event, and she heads into Tokyo only 0.18s away from Sarah Sjostrom’s world record.

Honorable Mention: 

  • Emma Weyant, 400 IM – The 19 year-old Weyant ran down a strong field that included Melanie Margalis to touch first in 4:33.81, knocking nearly two seconds off of her personal fast and registering the fastest time in the world this year.

Men’s Performance of the Meet – Caeleb Dressel, 100 Fly

It’s been nearly 12 years since an American male broke a long course world record on U.S. soil. Dressel came about as close as anyone else during that time frame, rocking a 49.76 during semis that missed his own world record by a scant 0.26s. Dressel looked powerful as always off the start and going out, but it looked like he may have muffed his turn just a tad. Had he nailed that turn, the fans in Omaha would’ve likely witness a world record in person. As it stands, it sure looks like Dressel should take down that record in Tokyo.

Honorable Mention: 

  • Michael Andrew, 100 Breast – There’s a strong argument for this to be the swim of the meet, especially given how much the US has needed a strong breaststroker over the last few years. There was plenty of anticipation that Andrew might take down the American Record of 58.64 after nabbing the U.S. Open record at 58.67 back in May, and sure enough, Andrew demolished the old record, going 58.19 in prelims, then shaving another 0.05s off of it in semi-finals.

Women’s Race of the Meet – 200 Back

Generally you don’t bet against a 19 year-old world record holder without good reason to do so, but it turns out that would’ve been the right bet in this case. Regan Smith looked smooth in prelims and semis, but appeared vulnerable when she didn’t go out super-fast in finals. Soon enough, Rhyan White and Phoebe Bacon closed on Smith, and this turned into one of the most hotly-contested races of the week.

Honorable Mention:

  • 200 IM – The IMs are almost always exciting races, as leads wax and wane depending on the stroke, but the finish to this one was incredibly close, even by Trials standards, with the top three women all touching within a mere 0.04s of each. Alex Walsh hung on to win, despite having the slowest freestyle leg of the field, while UVA teammate Kate Douglass ran down Madisyn Cox, and almost Walsh, to take 2nd by just 0.02s, with Cox another 0.02s behind her, producing video that coaches across the country will be undoubtedly use to motivate swimmers to nail that final touch.

Men’s Race of the Meet – 200 Breast

On paper, this looked to be one of the most open races. Ultimately, the top two finishers stayed in the top three throughout the entire race, but it was still a wild ride. Andrew Wilson, who took 2nd in the 100 breast, led at the first turn, with Nic Fink being the only other man under 29 for the first 50. Then, Daniel Roy ripped a 31.14 to move from 7th to 1st, while Will Licon moved to within striking distance of Wilson and Fink. Roy continued to lead at the 150, followed by Fink, Wilson, and Licon. At this point, fans who had watched prelims and semis were probably expecting Matt Fallon to make his move, but it never came, as he stayed in 8th place the entire race. Fink dropped the hammer on the final 50, registering the only sub-33 split in the field, Roy split 37.5 to fade to 7th. Fink ended up winning by nearly a second (2:07.55), with Wilson just holding off Licon, 2:08.32 to 2:08.50.

Honorable Mention: 

  • 400 IM – This race unfolded almost exactly as anticipated, but that didn’t minimize the excitement. Carson Foster attacked the first half, although Jay Litherland and Chase Kalisz kept him within striking distance, with Kalisz moving ahead on the first half of the breaststroke leg and never relinquishing the lead. Meanwhile, the battle for 2nd narrowed during the freestyle leg. Foster held onto 2nd until the final 50, where Litherland outsplit him by over two seconds, while Bobby Finke also charged home hard, just as he did at NCAAs. At the wall, Litherland touched out Foster by 0.53s, with Finke just another 0.58s behind.

Women’s Breakout Performer – Rhyan White

She had a great NCAA season for Alabama, and she had enough strong long course swims that it wasn’t going to be a surprise to see her make the team. But, not only did she put it together and make the team, she event upset the world record Regan Smith in the 200 back — by a whopping 1 second.

Honorable Mention: Katie Grimes – She didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, especially if you pay attention to open water swimming. The 15 year-old was already projected to have a spot on the USA 2021 World Junior Open Water Championships roster, but she’ll be heading to Japan instead of (or at least before) the Seychelles after a memorable 800m freestyle final in which she ran down a strong field to touch 2nd.

Men’s Breakout Performer – Hunter Armstrong

We said it wouldn’t be surprise if he got a top 5 spot at Trials — but outside of a few committed fans, no one was really expecting him to upset the likes of Matt Grevers, Shaine Casas, etc., and nab the second spot in the 100 back behind Ryan Murphy. Armstrong has had an interesting journey over the last few years. He attended West Virginia as a freshman, then transferred to Ohio State. He took 13th in the 100 back at NCAAs — good, but not the kind of performance that’ll get you entered into the Olympic conversation — but he steadily improved in long course this spring, culminating with his 2nd-place finish at Trials, in a time of 52.48 that moved him to #5 all-time among US men.

Honorable Mention: 

  • Jake Mitchell – Mitchell didn’t have quite the same level of NCAA campaign as some other freshmen, but he came up big here when it counted. Not only did he take 2nd in the 400 free behind Kieran Smith, but when he needed to time trial the event again in order to get under the FINA ‘A,’ he did it solo. It what became one of the most electric (and unbroadcasted) swims of the meet, Mitchell not only got under the ‘A’ cut, but knocked over two seconds off of his best time.

Women’s Junior Swimmer of the Meet – Torri Huske

The USA junior women showed up strong this week, and there are good arguments for several other swimmers here. But you can’t ignore the fact that Huske not only won her event, the 100 fly, but set an American Record. Sure, she “only” qualified in one event, but don’t be surprised if she ends up on either the 4×200 or 4×100 free relay, if not in Tokyo, then certainly down the road.

Honorable Mention: 

  • Lydia Jacoby – The 17 year-old instantly turned into one of the feel good stories of the meet when she stormed home on the backhalf of the 100 breast to take 2nd ahead of a strong field of veterans. Not only did she become the first Alaskan to represent the US in Olympic swimming, but she broke the 17-18 NAG record in both semis and finals, and cracked the top ten all-time in the event.

Men’s Junior Swimmer of the Meet – Matt Fallon

  • For about 24 hours, it looked like Fallon was poised to make history. He moved to #2 all-time in USA Swimming’s 17-18 200 breast ranks with a 2:10.13 in prelims, the fastest time of the morning. He then took the NAG record with a 2:08.91 in semis, earning himself lane 4 for the following day’s finals. Fallon notably employed a strong back half in both of those swims, so it wasn’t too surprising when he was last at the halfway point during the final. But unlike the previous day, Fallon wasn’t able to run down the field, and ended up coming in last, while his time from semis would’ve put him 4th in the final had he repeated it.

Honorable Mention:

  • Jack Alexy – Fallon’s club teammate, had a strong week which was highlighted by him taking down Caeleb Dressel‘s 100 free 17-18 national age group record. Alexy hit 48.69 in prelims, shaving almost a tenth of a second off of Dressel’s mark of 48.78, which had stood since 2015. He also narrowly missed a second swim in the 50 free, clocking a 22.47 in prelims that put him 17th overall in the morning, and moved him up to #12 all-time in the age group.

Team of the Meet – Athens Bulldog Swim Club

University of Georgia head coach Jack Bauerle has consistently demonstrated over the years that he knows what it takes to get swimmers on the Olympic team. Five postgrad athletes who made the Olympic roster listed Athens Bulldogs as their primary club team, plus at least one athlete who trains with ABSC but listed another club made the team, and two more swimmers who are University of Georgia alum, but train elsewhere, also qualified. During a week of swimming that came after the weirdest year in memory, Athens Bulldog was able to achieve success across strokes and distances.

Honorable Mention: 

  • The Sandpipers of Nevada – You know your team is doing well when there’s widespread clamoring for your head coach to be named as an Olympic assistant coach, and the Sandpipers put head coach Ron Aitken in that position after three women qualified for the U.S. Olympic team: Erica Sullivan, Bella Sims, and Katie Grimes. Additionally, both Bowe Becker and Blake Pieroni officially represented the Sandpipers during Trials, although Becker, who great up swimming for the team, currently trains with his alma mater University of Minnesota, and Pieroni has never been a part of the team except in name.

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DBS
2 months ago

for the men’s performance / race of the meet, the honorable mentions are the winners for me.

michael andrew’s 58.19 was the breakout breaststroke swim the men’s medley desperately needed to see, and it announced his dominating presence at the meet.

the three-horse race in the 400 im was amazing — kalisz reestablished his top dog status, litherland reminded us all that he’s a back half master, and foster showed us how bright the future of the event could be.

Doconc
2 months ago

By her own standards ledecky was way off. Not sure zero best times is most outstanding performer

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Doconc
2 months ago

But how fast did she really have to go? When your body lengths ahead and pretty much have sealed your spot on the team, then there’s not much of a reason to push it too hard.

Philip Johnson
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
2 months ago

When you’re so great for so long, it’s pretty much WR or bust.

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 months ago

You’re right. Forgot how much a bust Phelps was the last 8 years of his career….

Philip Johnson
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 months ago

I guess SwimSwam can’t detect sarcasm :/

Last edited 2 months ago by Philip Johnson
Togger
2 months ago

It says a lot about the completely ridiculous expectation we have of Ledecky that I was mildly surprised to see her as female swimmer of the meet rather than Huske.

Then you remind yourself what she did and realise it’s preposterous to think anything else. Hope she can win the 400 in Tokyo, I think the 200 will be tough unless Titmus misses her taper.

Dean Enthusiast
Reply to  Togger
2 months ago

Seriously mate, Ariane’s gonna wipe the floor with Katie – this will be one of the last chances SwimSwam will get to recognise Katie as the best.

And besides, her coach’s name is DEAN! While he indeed haw a big set of “Ve RI Tas” embroided loafers to fill, I can’t see how the legendary mojo associated with the name will result in a medal haul short of Katie’s in 2016.

RMS
Reply to  Dean Enthusiast
2 months ago

The Aussies always swim well at trials and then underperform at the Olympics. Maybe she will prove us wrong.

Togger
Reply to  RMS
2 months ago

Titmus is the reigning world champion, hardly a big stage choker.

RMS
Reply to  Togger
2 months ago

She’s had 1 world champs under her belt. Like I said, we’ll see.

Robbos
Reply to  RMS
2 months ago

She’s had 2 World champs under her belt. Like you said Titmus swam & beat Ledecky in 2019, her time in the trials is 5 seconds slower then Titmus.
If you are hoping for Titmus to choke for Ledecky to win, good luck.
I would have more respect for your comment if you said that Ledecky needs a World record to beat Titmus.
Titmus has said all along, she believes she needs a world record to beat Ledecky in the 400 in Tokyo.

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Togger
2 months ago

Ledecky will win 800-1500

Titmus will win 200-400

You heard it here first

Togger
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

This is probably the most likely outcome to be fair, but I can see more scope for Titmus getting her tactics a bit wrong in the 400, going out too fast and running out of gas. In the 200 it needs Titmus to be off in some way for Ledecky to win, and it would be a shame for a talent like Titmus not to get a gold.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

The prevailing wisdom at the minute is that Titmus will win the 200 and 400 and Ledecky will win the 800 and 1500. This seems reasonable and nicely equitable with a gradual changing of the guard and allowing Ledecky to have her moment in the spotlight. But I fear that elite sport is rather more brutal and that when your time comes, it doesn’t come politely.
 
I just think that Titmus might have too much for Ledecky in the 800m too. Titmus negative
split her 8.15 trials 800m swim because she knows she has the front-end speed. It was a training exercise. I’m pretty sure she can go a lot faster. I reckon Ledecky is going… Read more »

Troyy
Reply to  Jamie5678
2 months ago

While I think Titmus will go faster she won’t go anywhere near Ledecky’s best (8:04) but then Ledecky won’t either.

FraserThorpe
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

Agreed, I can’t see titmus getting anywhere near 8:04. If she got near 8:10 I’d be impressed.

Jamie5678
2 months ago

On the men’s side, Michael Andrew was the swimmer of the meet really. And Jake Mitchell put in the best performance.

On the women’s side, Torri Huske for best performance.

And Ledecky for swimmer of the meet not really because she did anything all that exceptional but she quietly got on with her very heavy programme in a dignified manner despite all the carnage around her and the news from Australia. She was also very classy in how she dealt with Katie Grimes.

Ragnar
Reply to  Jamie5678
2 months ago

It goes to show how she’s the greatest, we all honestly almost felt let down when she didn’t match her best times but STILL won FOUR events. Fingers crossed for her to magically pull off the sweep in Tokyo and ride into the sunset in Paris in the 800/1500.

Eagleswim
Reply to  Jamie5678
2 months ago

Caleb dressel positioned himself as gold medal favorite in three individual events. Andrew positioned himself as a strong medal contender in one event with an outside shot of a medal in two others. Not to mention Caeleb had 3 wins the ma’s two… I don’t really see how you can make an argument that MA was swimmer of the meet

swimMOR
Reply to  Eagleswim
2 months ago

Dressel is a clear favorite in the 50 and fly, but the 100 is honestly still a tossup and he’s not a strong favorite for gold. Kolesnikov and chalmers are still right there with him. I do agree though he is swimmer of the meet over andrew

dresselgoat
Reply to  swimMOR
2 months ago

he’s not a strong favorite for gold’ – yes he is

M L
Reply to  dresselgoat
2 months ago

Yes, he absolutely is.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Jamie5678
2 months ago

Andrew for me because he qualified in the 100 breast, 50 free and 200IM. It’s a totally unprecedented programme going up against specialists in disciplines that you would think involve unique skillsets, body shapes and training regimes.

And beyond this, there’s a certain frisson that you get watching some swims -where you see the clock and it’s just faster than you were expecting. For me, Andrew managed to get closer to that this week than Dressel. I know this is unfair, but I can’t quite shake the impression that I was expecting Dressel to go a little bit faster. Perhaps he will in Tokyo which is where it matters most for him.

But I appreciate that it’s just my opinion.

Ct3
2 months ago

Men’s breakout performer Jake Mitchell. Hands Down!

Last edited 2 months ago by Ct3
MIKE IN DALLAS
2 months ago

Apart from the thoughtful reasons given for the article’s choices, I am [curiously] excited to read what will be the disagreements, clarifications, and squabbles that will ensue on this thread in coming days. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD ALTERNATIVE CHOICES to the ones made in the article. I suspect that sooooooo many of the ‘honorable mentions’ will be going to Paris in 2024! Who knows if TEAM USA/TOKYO is the strongest team we’ve fielded – who cares? The EXCITEMENT of our swimmers will be off the scale in Japan!

Hswimmer
2 months ago

Exactly

Mark Nedza
2 months ago

Go Dawgs!

Ghost
Reply to  Mark Nedza
2 months ago

The post grads were on point with few exceptions! The college swimmers were pretty much invisible! In fact, no Uga college swimmers have developed at this level since the last Trials!