2023 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
- June 27 – July 1, 2023
- Indianapolis, IN
- Indiana University Natatorium
- LCM (50m)
- Meet Central
- SwimSwam Preview Index
Men’s 200 Free — By The Numbers:
- World Record – Paul Biedermann, 1:42.00 (2009)
- American Record – Michael Phelps, 1:42.96 (2008)
- U.S. Open Record — Michael Phelps, 1:44.10 (2008)
- 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Champion- Kieran Smith, 1:45.25
- World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut- 1:47.06
Last August, in an article highlighting the big takeaways from the 2022 U.S. National Championships, we outlined that the men’s 200 free at the 2023 World Trials was going to be an absolute dogfight. By the end of 2022, there were a whopping 10 different men who had swam faster than the time it took to qualify for the 2022 World Championship team (1:46.93 from Trey Freeman’s sixth-place finish at the 2022 Trials), in addition to many other up-and-coming swimmers pushing that 1:47 barrier.
Heading into the 2023 U.S. National Championships, we know that there are a handful of swimmers with times capable of making the 2023 U.S. World Championships team in the 200 free. However, the narrative at Trials isn’t going to be about who has the potential to make the Worlds team, it’s about who ends up swimming fast at the right time.
The 1:45 Swimmers
For how competitive the men’s 200 free is, the pick for the top four (which is likely who will be swimming in the finals of the 4×200 free relay at Worlds) was relatively easy to decide. Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Carson Foster, and Luke Hobson were the only men to get under the 1:46-point barrier last year, and with all four swimmers coming off positive momentum surges, there projects to be a big gap between them and the rest of the field right now.
Let’s start off with Kibler, the pick to finish first overall. I didn’t pick him to make the Paris Olympic team this January because I wasn’t sure if he would succeed training full-time with high schoolers as a post-graduate, but so far, he has been proving the doubters wrong. Over the last year, he’s clearly been the best 200 freestyler in the U.S., clocking the fastest long course time of 2022 amongst Americans (1:45.01), finishing fourth overall at short course worlds with a new best time, and going a 1:45.82 at Indianapolis Sectionals to clock a nation-leading time for the 2022-23 season. Everything seems to be going right for him right now, so what’s the harm in predicting that success happening again at Trials?
If Kibler isn’t the one coming out on top, then it will likely be Smith. His times haven’t been as fast as Kibler’s recently in both long course and short course, but we can’t forget that he walked away with victories at both the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials and 2022 U.S. Trials. In addition, he also recently won a short course world title in the 400 free and produced a time of 1:46.84 in the LC 200 free at the Atlanta Classic, which makes him the second-fastest American man this season. Last year, he ran out of steam at Worlds and was well off his best times in the 200/400 free, but that meet was the end product of a long training and competition cycle that included SECs, NCAAs, Trials and Worlds. Now that Smith is out of college, he’s gotten a full season of pure long course training, which should make him more well-rested this time around.
Foster, who recently turned pro, also has a strong case to make in the event. We haven’t picked Foster to land in the top two, due to the recent consistency of Kibler and Smith, but if there’s anyone that’s going to upset them, it’s him.
For the longest time, Foster has felt like a can of potential waiting for the right time to explode, and that time seems to be now. After constant struggles to swim fast at the right moment, he finally broke out in long course last summer to medal in the medley events and help Team USA to 4×200 free relay gold, but those performances felt like the tip of the iceberg. Last year the narrative was about him getting over a mental block, but this year after fully committing to a long course focus, the story is now about what he’s truly capable of. His best time of 1:45.57 makes him the third-fastest active American and he’s currently ranked fourth in the U.S. with a 2022-23 season-best of 1:47.25, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he was much faster at Trials and later Worlds.
Hobson is arguably the biggest dark horse out of this “top four” group. He’s never qualified for a major international team before, failing to make the 2022 Worlds even though his prelim swim in Greensboro would have been fast enough to do so. However, he’s been on a tear since that Trials meet, dropping a time of 1:46.14 at U.S. Nationals and later a 1:45.59 at the Duel In The Pool in Australia. Then, during the short course season, he won NCAA titles in the 200 and 500 free in addition to leading off Texas’s 800 free relay with a 1:29.63 to tie for the fourth-fastest performer of all-time. The fourth-fastest long course freestyler of 2022 has had so many things trending positively in his direction over the last year, which we’re predicting will culminate in a World Championship berth.
Knocking On The Door
Out of all the people that will be mentioned in this category, only two will be slated to qualify for Worlds alongside the top four. And with many of these people having similar personal bests, it’s going to get very competitive.
Trenton Julian is one of the most experienced swimmers in his field, having swum on the finals squad of the gold medal-winning 4×200 free relay at both the LC and SC World Championships in 2022. In addition, his best time of 1:46.66 from the Duel In The Pool made him the sixth-fastest American of 2022.
However, there’s pause for concern regarding Julian’s qualification chances due to the fact that he’s been wildly inconsistent ever since Budapest. At U.S. Nationals, he couldn’t make the ‘A’ final in his two best events, the 200 free and 200 fly. Furthermore, at both LC and SC Worlds, he was considerably faster in the 200 fly prelims compared to the semis and finals. This sort of up-and-down behavior won’t cut it in an event that has become so cut-throat recently, so not picking Julian feels like the right thing to do in a “better safe than sorry” situation.
Mitchell is known to perform well when the lights shine the brightest, as shown by his gutsy 400 free time trial that qualified him for the Tokyo Olympics. He was out of the international picture last year after missing the U.S. selection meet due to a mono diagnosis, but after switching his training base to Florida (aka long course mid-distance central), he has looked better than ever. Last summer, he dropped over two seconds in his 200 free to go 1:46.90 at U.S. Nationals (with a nifty 26.66 closing 50 to boot), and then later finaled in both the 200 and 500 free at NCAAs for the first time in his inaugural season at Florida—in the past, his short course swimming paled in comparison to his long course success. A healthy Mitchell in a training environment known for long course success seems like a recipe for international team qualification in a new event.
Much like Mitchell, Jett also has a lot going for him. His standout long course event is the 200 fly, but he also broke out big time in the 200 free, dropping over a second in a year and setting a best time of 1:47.41 at the Knoxville Pro Series to rank as the fifth-fastest American this season. He also got over his inconsistencies in yards at NCAAs (in prior college meets, he seemed to always have one or two not-so-good swims to complement a good swim), making the ‘A’ final in all three of his events and finishing second in the 200 free with a massive best time of 1:30.74.
To summarize, we picked Jett and Mitchell based on two factors: one being overall long course ability and the other being how successful they were at both conference championship meets and NCAAs—though yards and meters are very different, a swimmer’s performance at their most recent big meet should serve as a good indicator of their current form. Other swimmers like Grant House (1:46.68 personal best) and Jake Magahey (1:46.62 personal best) didn’t have the greatest NCAAs compared to Jett and Mitchell, but could also find themselves with a Worlds berth if they end up having a strong long course season. Magahey in particular had missed Trials last year due to illness, but went on to clock personal bests in the 200 and 400 free at U.S. Nationals (both of which would have made the Worlds team had he swam the events at trials), so it will be interesting to see what he does this year. He’s also coming off a 1:47.81 showing this past weekend at the Bulldog Summer Invite.
The biggest sleeper pick in this field though is Coby Carozza—no writers picked him to qualify for the Paris Games in the 200 free. That being said, he has the experience of being on the World Championship team in 2022, set personal bests at NCAAs, and holds a long course best time of 1:46.86 which ranked him eighth in the nation last year. If things don’t go right for the swimmers projected in front of him (who seemingly have more hype surrounding them), he’s going to be right there. Another interesting prospect is 18-year-old Henry McFadden, who went a best time of 1:47.23 at the Knoxville Pro Series. Though the future is very bright for him, he’ll likely need a few smaller international meets under his belt before getting the whole “swimming fast at the right moment” thing dialed in under pressure (he added over a second at Junior Pan Pacs in the 200 free last year), so he seems like a better bet for Pan American Games or U-23 Worlds.
Jack Dahlgren holds a personal best of 1:46.92 which would make him a contender in this race, but with his name on the World University Games roster (which begins just five days after the swimming portion of the World Championships starts), he seems all-in on that meet. Luca Urlando, who went 1:46.51 as a high schooler, swam his first meet in eight months at the Sun Devil Open after being out with a shoulder injury, but it’s unclear how far his training after months without competition will take him.
SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks:
|Rank||Swimmer||Season Best||Lifetime Best|
Dark Horse: Aaron Shackell — The 18-year-old from Carmel Swim Club has had a huge season in the 200 free, dropping from a personal best of 1:50.84 to 1:47.70 to rank as the seventh-fastest American this season. In addition, he also set the National High School record for the 200-yard with a time of 1:32.85. The same concerns about experience and youth that are present for McFadden are also present for him, but don’t count either of them out just yet.