2023 U.S. Trials Previews: Foster, Kalisz Frontrunners Once Again In Men’s 400 IM

2023 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S 400 IM — BY THE NUMBERS:

Days away from Michael Phelps taking the record from Mary T. Meagher for having the longest continuous period of time holding a swimming world record, our attention turns to see which of his fellow Americans can climb their way out of his colossal shadow and make an attempt, however unlikely, to supplant him atop the men’s 400 IM record board.

The storylines heading into the 2022 U.S. International Trials in the 400 IM were varied. Confidence should have been high since the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists were both American. Yet both came into the meet with little to no form (and by no form, literally no form). Chase Kalisz, the reigning Olympic champion, had not even swum the event that season and Jay Litherland, the silver medalist, had not broken 4:19, whereas in the lead-up to Olympic Trials the previous year his season best was 4:14.9.

Perhaps the bigger storyline than the questionable form of the two above was if Carson Foster could get over that hurdle and make a senior international team after placing 3rd at the 2021 Olympic Trials in the 400 IM, 4th in the 200 IM, and 8th in the 200 free. Foster came into the 2022 Trials with something to prove, especially having gone a time faster than what won Olympic gold in Tokyo (4:08.46) right before the Games got underway at a meet in Austin.

As often as not, however, the uncertainty heading into the meet was swiftly dismissed as the results came in. Foster proved himself more than worthy, touching first in 4:09.33 while Kalisz picked up where he left off from the previous summer, finishing as the runner-up in 4:10.50. The pair went onto Budapest and finished in the same order, winning the silver (4:06.56) and bronze (4:07.47) medals behind French phenom Leon Marchand.

Fourteen months later, the storylines could not be any different.

PROVEN MEDALISTS

Having shaken that monkey off his back, Foster kept on firing at all cylinders post-2022 Trials. He left Budapest with a pair of individual silver medals and a relay gold, added more hardware to his collection at Short Course Worlds, and after a successful junior year at Texas turned pro just this past May.

Coming into this meet, he certainly is not resting on his laurels. At the Westmont stop of the 2023 Pro Swim Series, Foster threw down a blistering 4:09.69 — a time that currently has him ranked as the fourth-fastest in the world behind only the aforementioned Marchand, Japan’s Daiya Seto and Russia’s Ilya Borodin, the latter of which is won’t be competing at the World Championships.

One spot behind Foster, sitting fifth in the rankings, is Kalisz. He posted a time of 4:10.09 at the 2022 U.S. Open Championships back in December, and then swam 4:13.06 at the Westmont Pro Swim, finishing third behind Marchand and Foster.

After ultimately finishing in 6th at the 2022 Trials in 4:14.44, Litherland packed his suit and goggles, set his eyes westward, and landed in Tempe to train under Bob Bowman at ASU. The 2021 Olympic silver medalist currently sits outside the world’s top 25 but ranks as the fourth-fastest American with the 4:16.45 he swam at the Sun Devil Open two weeks ago. That was the same meet at which Regan Smith broke the American record in the 200 fly, so perhaps Litherland is not as primed to make a run at making it back to an international team, or perhaps he and Smith are just on different training schedules.

Bobby Finke courtesy Chris Pose

The last of the proven competitors does not have any international medals in the 400 IM, but is perhaps the most well-known of all the swimmers mentioned in this article. Known for closing like a freight train and a double medalist from the 2022 Worlds, the last of the swimmer in this group is Bobby Finke. Last year he finished 3rd in this event last year, only .07 seconds behind Kalisz (after the breaststroke the difference between the two was 3.75 seconds).

This year, Finke swam 4:15.93 at the Fort Lauderdale stop of the Pro Swim Series back in March, a swim that cracked the world’s top 25 and sits as the 3rd fastest American. Of the four swimmers mentioned, Finke has swum the event the most this year, putting up respectable times of 4:17.64 in Knoxville and 4:16.63 in Atlanta a few weeks ago. As the 400 IM is on Day 3, Finke will not run into any potential scheduling conflicts with the 400 free (the two events have coincided at the Olympic Trials in the past, though they won’t next year). The 400 IM is also well spaced out from the distance free events, with the 1500 on the first day and the 800 on the fifth and last day.

THE “NON-IMERS”

Until the psych sheets are released, it is impossible to know just who is and is not going to enter this event. While there are several swimmers with times capable of making the top 8, we just don’t know if they are going to swim it. David Johnston finished 4th in this event last year, swimming 4:13.24. He also finished 3rd in 800 and in the 1500. At the 2023 NCAA Championships, he finished runner-up in the 500, so he may focus more on the 400 free, an event he ended up DNSing last year.

His season best in the IM is 4:17.27, swum at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim Series. As this meet occurred just last month, it may show his intentions to swim this event. However, he did also swim the 400, 800, and 1500 free.

Joining Johnston in the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ category is Kieran Smith. The mid-distance freestyler currently holds a season-best of 4:19.67 from January but has not swum it since then. With the 200 free coming the day before and the 400 free the day after, he seems much more unlikely than Johnston to swim it. In fact, Smith has not swum this event at an international team selection meet since 2018.

COLLEGE STARS

Behind Carson Foster’s 3rd and Johnston’s 5th at NCAAs, there is a plethora of young American talent hoping to make it onto the world’s team. Jake Foster came tantalizingly close, finishing 3rd in the 200 breast last year and 5th in this event, touching in a 4:13.76, just .02 off his lifetime best. He deferred his admission to medical school to turn pro, and while he has put up some remarkable times in the breaststrokes, his season’s best is 4:20.85.

Also making that NCAA final was Georgia’s Ian Grum. The senior placed 7th, one spot ahead of J. Foster, but sits behind him in the long course rankings with a season-best of 4:22.22 from the beginning of this month.

Ahead of both Foster and Grum in the US LCM rankings are Texas A&M’s Baylor Nelson and Tennessee’s Landon Driggers. While both swam in the consolation final at NCAAs, they find themselves in the top eight of American 400 IMers this season. They hold down the 6th and 8th spots on the rankings with their times of 4:18.38 and 4:20.85, respectively.

The Unknowns

The qualifying period for the meet ranges back to January 2022, so it would be remiss of us to not mention Kevin Vargas’s 4:11.45 from the 2022 Phillips 66 National Championships. However, Vargas has not swum since the 2023 SEC, after which he stepped aside from swimming due to mental health reasons. Two returning ‘A’ finalists from the 2022 Trials meet, Sean Grieshop and Jason Louser, are also both unknown commodities. Grieshop’s season-best 400 IM is only 4:24.27 and Louser has only competed at two long course meets this season and did not contest the 400 IM at either of them.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Carson Foster 4:09.69 4:06.56
2 Chase Kalisz 4:10.99 4:05.90
3 Bobby Finke 4:15.93 4:10.57
4 David Johnston 4:17.27 4:13.24
5 Jay Litherland 4:16.45 4:09.22
6 Jake Foster 4:21.20 4:13.74
7 Baylor Nelson 4:18.38 4:16.47
8 Ian Grum 4:22.22 4:17.87

Dark Horse(s): Maximus Williamson and Ryan Erisman – Williamson placed 10th in this event at last year’s Trials, swimming 4:20.01. That swim qualified him for the Jr. Pan Pacs, where he went on to earn a silver medal in a personal best of 4:17.58. While he has dropped his yards time down into NCAA A-final scoring range, his season best in meters is only 4:28.01. Erisman, who swims for Laker Swimming in Florida, is just 16 years old and holds a season and personal best of 4:22.12. A time that ranks him 12th among US men this season. While both are quite long shots for the Worlds teams, they each have a very good chance of making the Junior Worlds Team. 

See all of our selections for the 2023 U.S. Nationals with the SwimSwam Preview Index here.

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Danjohnrob
9 months ago

I’m wondering if Litherland is trying to emulate Tyler Clary and Elizabeth Biesel and make a run at qualifying for the 4×200 Free Relay for Paris. Neither of them were successful, but maybe Bob can help Jay get there…

mds
9 months ago

You say that Carson “…after a successful junior year at Texas turned pro….”

Look again. For the swimmer Carson had become, his final University of Texas meet, and thereby his year, was an abject failure. I don’t know why (ilness, missed taper, pressure, other), but by the numbers, not a stellar swan song.

Swam backstroke on 2Texas relays: 14th of 23 leadoffs in 4×50, 16th of 21 leadoffs in 4×100;
200 IM: 1:39.93 for 4th; not highly successful for a Silver medalist in the 200 IM in each of the most recent Worlds,
both LCM and SCM, 3.59 behind Marchand and 1.83 from Lasco, as well as 0.93 from Gonzalez.
400 IM: 3:36.02 for 3rd;… Read more »

Johnny
Reply to  mds
9 months ago

How many relays can a swimmer be on, at the NCAA National Championships, if he swims three individual events?

jeff
Reply to  Johnny
9 months ago

I believe 4 relays is the max regardless of the number of individual events.

Lap Counter
9 months ago

No love for Litherland, Tokyo silver medalist?!? And now at ASU….who SwimSwam says can do no wrong?!?

Swimnavalexpert
9 months ago

Y’all are sleeping on Cooper Lucas. 4.19 lcm and 3.42.09 scy. He trains with Williamson and is right in hunt for best in class!

Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

I recognize there are many elite 400 IM guys out there, and understandably it’s hard to include all of them in a Top 8 projection and that some very deserving names will be passed up. Among them:
— Ryan Lochte.
— Me.
— Peter from our Masters swim team. I know, I know, his age could make it difficult for him here to grab a berth, but he’s REALLY good…

VASWAMMER
9 months ago

I don’t agree with saying Finke is more well known than Kalisz. Kalisz has won more medals and been on the international scene for much longer.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  VASWAMMER
9 months ago

Chase Kalisz is the gold medalist in the M 400 IM at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. In what world is Bobby Finke a better IMer than Chase Kalisz?

Last edited 9 months ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
jeff
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

Umm., maybe reread everything cuz no one said anywhere that Finke is a better IMer than Kalisz

Lap Counter
Reply to  VASWAMMER
9 months ago

Personality wise Finke > Kalisz!

PFA
9 months ago

I don’t think Carson will break Phelps’ WR at trials. If he does then we’re in for a race for gold at worlds but I don’t think he would even target it here.

Do take Carson for 1st but chase will again need to hold off finke to get a spot here. If he gets top 2 here then I believe he’ll get top 3 at worlds. One thing is clear though it’ll likely take a 4:09 or faster to make the team.

Bob Bowman
9 months ago

Carson will choke as usual

Horninco
Reply to  Bob Bowman
9 months ago

His growing collection of international hardware disagrees with you

He will win the IM’s, finish second in the 200 fly and be on the 800 free relays

snailSpace
Reply to  Horninco
9 months ago

If he swims the 200 fly at trials I don’t see him anywhere but on the top of the podium.
But also his victory over Casas in the 200IM is far from certain.

Last edited 9 months ago by snailSpace
bobthebuilderrocks
Reply to  snailSpace
9 months ago

I’m hoping Casas is all good right now, he didn’t seem too fast at that last Texas meet.