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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Mark S. Schwartz
1 year ago

Speaking of Ledecky, a race video that I never seen before hit my YouTube feed recently. It was from the FINA World Championships in 2015. Ledecky “accidentally” broke her own world record in the 1500 heat. The two British fellows (one actually sounded Scotch), called a fantastic race. At first it seemed like they were kind of going through the motions but at around the 600 meter mark one of them says something like “Look at this. She’s still under world record pace” The excitement built until the entire arena was in a frenzy. Does anyone know who those guys were. The link for the video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjG-w2ckvqE&t=15s

David Q
1 year ago

Where does Blake Pieroni train?

Admin
Reply to  David Q
1 year ago

Indiana.

Rembeo
1 year ago

Where does Bowe Becker train?

Reply to  Rembeo
1 year ago

He’s returned to the University of Minnesota and trains there.

Mustangswimdad
1 year ago

To me the male swimmer of the meet, would be determined by which events I would want to see.

As much as I’m awed by Caeleb, I would rather watch 100 breast, 200 IM, 50 Free than 100 Fly, 100 Free.

Lawrence
1 year ago

MA was the swimmer of the meet and both his IM and 100 breast were the events of the meet. I guess he will just have to win gold to get the recognition he deserves.

Kevin Cordes Neck
Reply to  Lawrence
1 year ago

MA has a good shot at one individual gold. Dressel is the favorite to get three golds and break 3 WRs. If MA wins the IM there’s no doubt he will get tons of recognition.

Mustangswimdad
Reply to  Kevin Cordes Neck
1 year ago

I think MA already has the recognition. There are more articles on Swimswam about MA than Caeleb.

RMS
1 year ago

The Sandpipers of Nevada were the team of the meet for me. You expected most of the Bulldogs who made the team actually make the team.

swimapologist
Reply to  RMS
1 year ago

I think as fans we sometimes get caught up in excitement over the “unexpected.” Should Georgia be penalized for having high expectations and meeting them? Especially at a meet where so many didn’t?

RMS
Reply to  swimapologist
1 year ago

Georgia has a legacy of excellence. Sandpipers came out of nowhere and put several youngsters on the team. Nobody is taking anything away from the Bulldogs, but facts are facts.

Aquajosh
1 year ago

Florida’s men should have gotten an award for sweeping every freestyle event win, something that hasn’t been done since at least the Spitz era, if ever.

jsw
1 year ago

Such bias toward Caleb. Michael literally broke an American Record…twice. How does he not win the award?

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  jsw
1 year ago

Probably because despite breaking the AR twice, Michael Andrew is still over a second short of the WR…

swimapologist
Reply to  jsw
1 year ago

Lol it’s truly your belief that SS, the site that essentially “made” the star that we know today as Michael Andrew, has an anti-Michael Andrew bias?

You can disagree without it being “a bias” or some like fundamental moral flaw of the award-giver. It’s not that hard. Look:

“Michael Andrew broke the American Record in the 100 breaststroke twice, so for me he was the swimmer of the meet. Caeleb was definitely fast, but to me the American Records take the cake.”

It’s a good skill to learn for when you grow up. Or, if you already grew up and are still this way…I dunno how to help then.

RUN-DMC
Reply to  jsw
1 year ago

Michael Andrew had two best times. Caeleb had one best time (equaled his best time).

mds
Reply to  RUN-DMC
1 year ago

Nice that Andrew broke an American Record, with a time a full body length behind the World Record rate. And when they swam head to head Dressel beat Andrew pretty soundly, in an American Record time. Dressel had 2 US Open records to Andrew’s 1. Andrew had a great meet but the only OBJECTIVE choice for Men’s Swimmer of the Meet, by stupefying margin, was Caeleb.

Dressel was a cumulative 0.87 off of THREE WORLD RECORDS. (.13 in 50; .48 in 100; .26 in 100 Fly)

Andrew’s best swim was 1.26 off the WR and if you analyze the quality of his overall performance in the event, you have to remember that he did his best swim in semi-finals… Read more »

jeff
Reply to  RUN-DMC
1 year ago

its pretty clear that it was based on absolute performance, not relative to their past performances. Ledecky was nowhere near her personal bests but still cleanly swept all of the mid-long distance freestyle

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