2023 U.S. World Trials Previews: Douglass, Walsh, And Hayes Headline W. 200 IM Battle

2023 U.S. National Championships

  • June 27 – July 1, 2023
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Indiana University Natatorium
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central

By The Numbers:

  • World Record – Katinka Hosszu, 2:06.12 (2015)
  • American Record – Ariana Kukors, 2:06.15 (2009)
  • U.S. Open Record — Alex Walsh, 2:07.84 (2022)
  • 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Champion- Alex Walsh, 2:07.84
  • World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut- 2:12.98

It’s becoming more and more evident that during the 2024 Olympic cycle, the competition for 200 IM spots on U.S. international teams will be headlined by a current, former, and future Virginia Cavalier. We’ll get our first taste of this competition in late June, where spots for the 2023 U.S. World Championships team will be up for grabs at the Phillips 66 National Championships.

Let’s start off by talking about current UVA swimmer Alex Walsh, who has been America’s top 200 IMer since 2021. She put on a dominant showing last year in the event, swimming the quickest 200 IM time recorded since 2016 (2:07.13) to win world championship gold by over a second and become the fastest American in a textile suit. And although international swimmers like Summer McIntosh and Kaylee McKeown have caught up with Walsh, Walsh still remains at least 1.78 seconds clear of any other American that has competed in the last year, making her a favorite and our pick to win the 200 IM at the biggest domestic competition of 2023

The two candidates most favored to take the other Worlds team spot alongside Walsh in the 200 IM are recently-graduated UVA swimmer Kate Douglass and 2024 UVA commit Leah Hayes.

Kate Douglass courtesy World Aquatics

Hayes first showed her 200 IM potential at U.S. International Team Trials last year, when most of the conversation was still on reigning Olympic medalists Walsh and Douglass going 1-2. But when Douglass, who hadn’t trained for the 200 IM all year, abruptly no-showed the event, a 16-year-old Hayes capitalized on the opportunity and finished second behind Walsh to qualify for her first senior international team. She didn’t let newcomer’s nerves get the best of her at Worlds though, as she improved upon her trials mark to win bronze and break the World Junior Record in a time of 2:08.91—which was faster than Douglass’s personal best of 2:09.04. And although Hayes’s WJR was later broken by Summer McIntosh, her breakout performance showed that she truly belonged on the international stage.

However, in the final months of 2022, Douglass showed that she wasn’t done yet with the 200 IM. After opting to swim the event last-minute at the 2022 Short Course World Championships, she had the performance of her life,  putting up a 2:02.12 to miss Katinka Hosszu’s world record by just 0.26 seconds and win gold by over a body length against names like Walsh and McKeown. She continued her 200 IM “welcome back” tour at the 2023 NCAA Championships, where she smashed the NCAA record by swimming a 1:48.37 to become the first woman under both the 1:50 and 1:49 barrier in the event.

When it came down to deciding who was going to qualify for Worlds, I ultimately went with Hayes. My reasoning is simple: Hayes (17) is younger than Douglass (21), and currently has a faster personal best time. In fact, with her 2:10.04 from the recent Westmont Pro Swim Series, Hayes is currently the fastest female 200 IMer in the U.S. for the 2022-23 season and has a season-best over two seconds faster than Douglass’s season-best of 2:12.04—though it’s important to note Hayes has had more long course racing opportunities than Douglass or Walsh, who were primarily racing in yards meets during their NCAA season.

While projecting Douglass to drop massive amounts in long course due to her short course success might seem tempting, doing so would feel much more uncertain and up-in-the-air than picking Hayes, who is clearly the better option on paper. After all, long course and short course are still two different animals, and opting for the swimmer with both an age and best time advantage in long course just seemed like the most reasonable decision.

There’s also the question of whether Douglass is going to swim the 200 IM at Trials. As of late March of this year, she said she was all-in on swimming the 200 IM at Trials and wanted to focus on the 200 breast/200 IM for major international meets, but that came before she clocked a 24.40 50 free personal best that currently leads the country and would have won U.S. Trials last year. We’re going to assume she’ll swim the 200 IM at Trials based on her past statements, but a greater confidence in Hayes actually racing the event also makes her a better pick for the Worlds team.

That being said, this isn’t the first time that Douglass has been underestimated in a race but then later came out on top, so for her to massive breakout and get back onto the 200 IM international stage isn’t entirely out of the question either.

Side Note: Torri Huske and Regan Smith

Tori Huske (photo: Jack Spitser)

Torri Huske and Regan Smith were swimmers this year that made leaps and bounds in their 200 IMs. Although neither swimmer typically races the 200 IM at an international level, they both posted times this year that put them in the conversation to be amongst the top American swimmers in the event.

At the 2022 U.S. Open, Smith swam a personal best time of 2:10.40, which ranks her as the second-fastest U.S. woman this season. What’s particularly intriguing about her 200 IM is that 3/4 of her splits were near or faster than world record pace, with the exception of a sub-par breaststroke leg. However, her breaststroke is rapidly improving, as shown by the fact that she dropped over a second on the breast leg of her 200 IM this season. Huske on the other hand put up a very strong 200 IM at the NCAA Championships, posting the second-fastest performance in history (1:50.06) to out-touch Walsh for second place. Her big yards swim raised the question of her potential in the 200 IM long course, as she’s been as fast as 2:10.38 in the event from when she was fourth at 2021 Olympic Trials.

That being said, I’m not including either Smith or Huske in my picks because I don’t think either swimmer will race the 200 IM at Trials. With Huske racing the sprint freestyle/butterfly events and Smith swimming backstroke and the 200 fly, their schedules for the meet will already be very crowded. In addition, the women’s 200 IM final collides with the final of the 100 fly and the semifinal of the 100 back at Worlds, which would create unnecessary burden for Smith and Huske an event that isn’t their specialty.

2022 U.S. National Champion Leah Smith, who has a best time of 2:11.67, will also not be included in my picks because of track history—last year, she only raced the 200, 400 and 800 free at Trials. Neither will Katie Grimes (2:12.66), as the 200 IM conflicts with one of her pet events, the 1500 free, at Trials.

Best Of The Rest

Between the Virginia trio and the rest of the field, there’s a large gap in times. For example, even though it took a sub-2:10 time to qualify for Worlds in the 200 IM last year, it only took a 2:16.75 to ‘A’ final. Because of the relative lack of depth in this event, I don’t expect any names mentioned in this category to challenge Walsh, Douglass, or Hayes, but they could put themselves in a strong position to qualify for other international meets like the Pan American Games, the World Junior Championship, and the LEN U-23 Championships.

The pick for fourth is Beata Nelson, who finished third at Trials last year. Though her chances of making a Worlds or Olympic team seem bleak, she has a high chance of making the Pan American Games with her best time of 2:11.55, which is faster than anyone active U.S. swimmer not-named Walsh, Douglass, Smith, Huske has been over the last two years. Nelson benefits from being a very consistent swimmer, having gone sub-2:12 three different times in 2022, which makes us confident that she will be able to replicate at least another 2:11-mid time at Trials.

Two swimmers knocking on the door of that sub-2:12 barrier include Bella Sims and Zoie Hartman. Hartman swam a personal best time of 2:12.04 to take second at U.S. nationals last year, and would have been fast enough to finish fourth at Trials. Despite the fact that her season-best time is only 2:15.10, she’s looked very strong in-season in other events like the 100 breast (she swam her fastest time in the event since May 2021 at the Atlanta Classic), which indicate that she’ll potentially have a good 200 IM in store for Trials.

The 200 IM won’t be that big of a focus for Sims, whose best events in long course are the 200 and 400 free. However, she did swim the event at prelims last year, before scratching the ‘B’ final to focus on 1500 free. Recently though, Sims seems to be leaning towards shorter distances than longer ones, and the 200 IM falls on the last day of Trials and doesn’t conflict with any of her primary events. She’s also dropped two seconds in the 200 IM over the last year, recently putting up a new best time of 2:12.19 at an in-season meet. Her times across the board recently show that she’s due for a long course breakout (ex. breaking 55 in the 100 free, breaking 2:10 in the 200 fly, etc.), and she could surprise some people when she races the event at a big meet like Trials.

The frontrunner to make World Juniors in the 200 IM is 16-year-old Teagan O’Dell. She had a bit of a plateau year last year with all of her long course best times being from 2021, but after a very successful yards season where she crushed the 200 IM national high school record, she seems primed for more meters improvements. Her PB currently sits at 2:12.53 from August 2021, but if she stays consistent (which she had trouble doing at big meets last year), expect her to be way faster come time for Trials with age on her side. A swimmer with a PB very similar to O’Dell is Isabel Ivey, who recently moved from Cal to train at Florida, a long course powerhouse. She’s shown very strong progression in the 200 IM, dropping from a 2:16.46 to her personal best time of 2:12.56 from the Westmont Pro Series.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks:

Rank Swimmer Personal Best Season best
1 Alex Walsh 2:07.13 N/A
2 Leah Hayes 2:08.91 2:10.04
3 Kate Douglass 2:09.04 2:12.04
4 Beata Nelson 2:11.55 2:12.76
5 Bella Sims 2:12.19 2:12.19
6 Tegan O’Dell 2:12.53 2:15.87
7 Isabel Ivey 2:12.56 2:12.56
8 Zoie Hartman 2:12.04 2:15.10

Dark Horse, Molly SweeneyDuring her freshman year of high school, Sweeney has made huge strides in her swimming, such as posting a 1:55.40 200-yard IM that would have scored at 2023 NCAAs. She also dropped nearly four seconds in the meters version of this event, going from a 2:17.08 t0 a 2:13.52 to rank as the eighth-fastest U.S. female for the 2022-23 season. She’s expected to be one of the youngest swimmers entered in the 200 IM, and given her recent improvements, her ceiling is sky-high.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 months ago

I’m going to take a different tack. I will pick Douglass and Hayes. I do think KD probably swims it. The day before is a rest day and it’s not the toughest double (this & the 50). Even if we presume Walsh is a better LC swimmer I do not think that on it’s own could entirely account for the significant margin over her in Knoxville. So I would hazard a guess that all 3 will finish within a sec of each other in the 2:07 mid to 2:08 mid range.

Reply to  KeithM
3 months ago

It find it hard not to go with the depth of experience of both Walsh and Douglass (especially at what level both of them are on right now). Both will likely have a little deeper well to pull from to finish the race. While Leah has been flat start 48 in her 100 free, it’s hard to argue Douglass won’t be faster than her in the last 50 split of her IM.

Walsh is still the world class IMer, so I see a close race to the 150, but Walsh being in the lead, with Douglass and Hayes not far behind…with Douglass catching up to Walsh while Hayes comparatively fades…

Walsh – 2:07.5
Douglass – 2:08.3
Hayes – 2:09.1

Reply to  jim
3 months ago

Douglass swims faster over the water than Walsh. She has proven that. She now can swim butterfly faster than Huske and Curzan, as well as Maggie. DO NOT sleep on Kate’s abilities.

3 months ago

Sounds like the crowd has soured on Douglas’ 200IM since the last pro swim

Reply to  John26
3 months ago

The backstroke split in Atlanta was especially rough. If she’s not 32+ on that leg at trials, she’s going to have a really tough time. I thought out-splitting Alex at short course worlds and NCs in addition to her 50.4 100 yard back were great signs, but they may have just pointed to how good she is underwater.

3 months ago

Two clear truths have to be acknowledged

I. Whomever qualifies will be a medal contender

II. At least one of them is fairly certain to medal (colour of which = indeterminate)

For mine; I would back Walsh in for one spot. Just not sure where this one fits on Douglas’ “list” as this may be a tougher ask than 200BRS and (maybe) 50FR. She most certainly CAN qualify in this one, and it would not surprise if she does but I’m leaning very very slightly to Hayes.

A very well reasoned preview, Yanyan.

3 months ago

Someone’s gonna be upset but I’m gonna post this here anyway:

The entry list for Aussie trials is out: https://swimmingausprd.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2023-Australian-Swimming-Trials-Start-List.pdf

It’s not sorted by seed time but I made a sorted version here: https://pastebin.com/Acv97isk

Missing: Jenna Strauch, Zac Incerti, Jack Cartwright, Cate Campbell

3 months ago

I understand the hype around Kate, but for me at least her 2’12 in the 200im was very underwhelming, even more compared to her 50free. I dont think she will swim the im.

3 months ago

If Doug swims the 200 IM, Doug makes the 200 IM. She’s not going to swim an event she wouldn’t make. Let’s not write her off. She’s the FASTEST EVER in 2/3 of the course. Yes they are short course… blah blah blah. She’s going to make it if she swims it.

Reply to  Hooya
3 months ago

She’s the fastest ever in yards, but not SCM or LCM. That’s 1/3, not 2/3.

Reply to  Sub13
3 months ago

you forgot that she smoked your girl MCKeown in SMC at SCM worlds in Dec. Forget that? Over a body length homeboy.

Reply to  Hooya
3 months ago

So what about the 50 free and 100 fly at last year’s trials then? Why did she bother to swim them?

Not writing her off at all but she’s not at a Ledecky-esque level of superiority in her events to warrant that statement.

Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
3 months ago

Kate Douglass is not even at a Franklin-esque level between the ages of 16 and 18. That’s six individual gold medals in a three year span.

Reply to  Hooya
3 months ago

I agree. Her butterfly, back, and breastroke have gotten faster. I see her going 2:06 high if she is well prepared. Everyone is picking Alex but why hasnt Alex swam the 2 IM this season?

3 months ago

Molly Sweeney takes it all

Snowpipers of Alaska
3 months ago

I’ve been following the SwimSwam website for close to 20 years now, and I must admit this is one of the better event previews I’ve ever read. Chief among those reasons is that you have to actually flip the monthly calendar 2 pages to even find the date the event will be contested. Will be a fun watch, and for our enjoyment I do hope Douglass competes in it.

Reply to  Snowpipers of Alaska
3 months ago

If swimswam launched in 2012 (11 years ago), what were you following the other 9 years? Was there a beta Version under another name?

Reply to  LBSWIM
3 months ago

The Swimmers Circle launched in (2009?)

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago


About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

Read More »