2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Preview: Experienced Youth, Veterans Collide In Women’s 200 Free

2024 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

Women’s 200 Free — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record: 1:52.23 — Ariarne Titmus (AUS), 2024
  • American Record: 1:53.61 — Allison Schmitt, 2012
  • U.S. Open Record: 1:54.13 — Summer McIntosh, 2023
  • World Junior Record: 1:53.65 — Summer McIntosh, 2023
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Ariarne Titmus, 1:53.50
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Katie Ledecky, 1:55.11
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 2:00.89
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time: 1:57.26

Let’s be frank. This event is all about finding the right squad to secure a 4×200 free relay silver medal for the USA in Paris.

After putting two women under the 200 free world record earlier this week, Australia looks to be as close as a sure bet as there is to win gold. Not only that, but especially as Katie Ledecky doesn’t seem likely to swim this individually in Paris (more on that below), it’s tough to see a path forward for a US woman to contend for an individual medal in this event.

That may sound like a little doom and gloom, and we’ve certainly seen Team USA rise to the occasion come the Olympics before, so anything’s possible. Either way, there’s an exciting mix of veterans and younger swimmers — many of whom have experience in international competition — who should be able to put together one heck of a relay in Paris and challenge the American record in the 4×200 free relay. Here we go.

The Legend Lives On – But Will She Swim This Event?

From 2014 to 2018, Katie Ledecky medaled in this event in five straight major long course international championships. That tally included a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, where she nearly broke Allison Schmitt’s American Record in the event. However, since 2019, Ledecky hasn’t competed in the event at the international level, giving up her spot to the #3 finisher at the respective Trials in several instances.

USA Swimming had traditionally oscillated as to whether or not the 7th-place swimmer at Trials would make the team as a relay swimmer when one of the top-two opted out of the individual race, but they’ve altered the rules to disallow that this year. Should Ledecky race the 200 free, and win, the 3rd place finisher will get the opportunity to swim the individual event at the Olympics, but the US would only take three additional relay-only swimmers.

We’re assuming Ledecky has no intention of swimming the individual race at this Olympic Games, but she’s been the only US woman under 1:55 this year (1:54.97), and she has the track record that she’s a slam dunk to swim the relay come. With all that in mind, it’s tough to suss out whether or not Ledecky will opt to swim the 200 free this week.

However, we’ll proceed under the assumption that she will swim all three rounds of the race. Her only race before this is the 400 free, this race doesn’t conflict with any of her events in the Trials. The final is Monday night, and Tuesday morning she’ll have prelims of the 1500 — an event where she has a huge margin of error.  So swimming this event at Trials gives her some options should something (e.g., illness) befall her in the second half of the week and she somehow misses out on qualifying for either the 800 or the 1500 free.

The Sandpipers Trio

Beginning with the last Olympic Trials, a trio of Nevada Sandpipers have become mainstays in this event. In 2021, the then 16-old Bella Sims made the Olympic team with 5th place in this event and went on to lead off prelims of the 4×200 in Tokyo. She’s made the relay finals in 2022 and 2023, splitting 1:54-mid both times, including that memorable relay anchor in 2022 for the gold. Sims competed individually at the 2023 World Championships, finishing 6th after hitting a lifetime best of 1:55.45 in semis.

Sims parlayed that international experience into a strong freshman season at Florida (whose team she’s officially representing here at Trials). She helped the Gators to a national title in the 4×200 free relay, then won individual titles in the 500 free and 200 free. She sits 3rd on the psych sheet with that 1:55.45 best time. She’s “only” been 1:58.43 so far this season, but given what we’ve seen from her over the last few years and this NCAA season, she sure seems to be in contention to secure an individual swim in this event.

Then 15-year-old Katie Grimes also made the Tokyo team, albeit in the 800 free. She hasn’t really demonstrated much in this event, although she is seeded 10th with a 1:57.55. It’s not clear if she’ll actually swim the 200 free, as the 400 IM and 200 free finals fall on the same night, albeit on opposite ends of the program. She may try to throw down a time in prelims that could get her considered for a spot on the 4×200 relay, as the US has a pretty strong track record of taking hot hands in the 400 IM or stroke 200s and adding them to this relay.

Claire Weinstein is seeded 2nd behind Ledecky with a 1:55.26, a time she posted en route to winning this event last year. She’s as good of a bet as anyone not named Ledecky to win this, although she’ll be aiming for a little more consistency this summer. Last year she actually got let off the 4×200 relay after failing to advance out of the semis. But she was solid in 2022, leading off the US relay that eventually won the gold medal. Still only 17, she’s been 1:58.08 this season, and there’s no reason to doubt she’ll be in contention for one of the top spots in this event.

The Youngsters

Alex Shackell of the Carmel Swim Club also made the finals of the 2023 4×200 squad as a 16-year-old last year, thanks to a 5th place finish at Nationals (1:56.70), and then a 1:56.05 relay prelims swim. She anchored the finals relay and nearly matched her morning time without really having any chance of affecting the USA’s placing. Her Nationals time puts her at #5 on the psych sheet, although her season-best of 1:58.94 puts her much further down the national rankings. But that’s fairly close to her best time in-season time last year, so she should very much be a factor in Indianapolis and beyond.

The Sarastora Sharks’ Addison Sauickie is the defending junior world champion in the 200 free, having earned gold last summer in Israel with a 1:58.09, then leading off the USA relay in 1:58.17 en route to another gold. The Sarasota Sharks swimmer and Stanford commit is seeded 11th with a time of 1:57.98, a personal best that she actually hit the heats at Junior Worlds.

Several of Saucikie’s Junior Worlds teammates are on the psych sheet for this event. Leah Hayes (Fox Valley)won bronze at Worlds with a 1:58.18, swam on the victorious 4×200 free relay, and swept the IM events. Madi Mintenko (Pikes Peak) earned a silver medal in the 400 free and anchored the 4×200 free relay. Anna Moesch (Greater Somerset YMCA) swam on the prelims of that relay, while Erika Pelaez (Eagle Aquatics) picked up multiple backstroke medals. Mintekno is seeded 12th with a 1:58.07, while Hayes is also seeded in the top 16 with at #15 a 1:58.19

The College Crew

Erin Gemmell is the other woman seeded under 1:56, and she’s seeded 4th at 1:55.97 after finishing 4th in this event last summer with a 1:56.23. In 2022 we thought she might make the Worlds roster as a relay swimmer when she finished 7th and then Ledecky scratched the individual event, but USA Swimming, like we said, USA Swimming hadn’t been super consistent with what to do in that situation, and she got left home. She bounced back in 2032 with that 4th place finish at Nationals, then hit her lifetime best time at Worlds leading off the 4×200 free relay finals.

Gemmell had a strong freshman year at Texas, hitting personal bests in the 100, 200, and 500-yard freestyles. She’s the sixth-fastest American woman this year in long course (1:57.26) and should be in the mix for an individual berth.

Indiana’s Anna Peplowski, didn’t have a ton of long course experience in the event until about 2022. Last year she qualified for the team with a 7th place finish, but was actually faster the month before Trials. She had a solid relay swim at Worlds, splitting 1:56.88 in prelims against a 1:57.02 personal best.

This season, she’s already hit a new lifetime best of 1:56.99, which makes her the second-fastest woman in the country behind Ledecky. If you’re bearish on her, you can point to the fact that she’ll need to improve that season-best time on Trials, something she didn’t do last year, in order to make the relay. If you’re bullish, you can’t point to the fact that it seems like she’s still figuring out this event, and she may have a ton of room for improvement.

Stanford’s Aurora Roghair had a breakout college season and she followed that up with a strong long course season. That’s included standout performances at last month’s Trojan invite, where she hit a trio of lifetime bests, including a 1:58.11 in this event that has her seeded 13th.

Tennessee freshman Camille Spink has some international experience in this event — she earned a bronze medal at last fall’s Pan American Games with a 1:58.61. That’s her lifetime best, and puts her at #17 on the psych sheet.

She’s a bit further down the psych sheet, but keep an eye out for Emma Weyant. Like Grimes (and Hayes), she may opt out of this event to focus on the 400 IM. She’s seeded 35th with a 1:59.78, but she’s been as fast as 1:58.36 back in 2019. Florida teammate Izzy Ivey just hit a lifetime best of 1:58.19 at the Atlanta Classic, good for 14th on the psych sheet, while Virginia freshman Cavan Gormsen rounds out the top 16 seeds with a 1:58.34 from last year. Stanford’s Kayla Wilson also has international long course experience, having taken 5th at last fall’s Pan American Games (1:58.91), and the US to a gold medal in the 4×200 free relay.

The 90s Quartet

There are only four women who were born prior to 2000 entered in this event, and all four have 4×200 relay experience at the international level for Team USA.

Virginia alum Leah Smith has been a mainstay in this event and its associated relay for the last decade, starting with a gold medal in the 4×200 at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. Since then, she’s won a medal at every major international event the USA has contested, except for the Tokyo Olympics, where she had a rough Trials and failed to make the team, and the odd 2024 World Champs.

She’s currently training at Longhorn Aquatics and has a season-best time of 1:58.90, against a lifetime best of 1:55.97 from 2017. She’s seeded 4th in the 400 IM, so there’s some chance she drops this event to focus on that, although the math says she has a better path to the team here.

Another former Cavalier, Paige Madden, is a few years younger than Smith and sits 8th on the psych sheet with a 1:57.25. She’s bounced around training sites since graduating from UVA, and recently followed Bob Bowman from ASU to Texas. She’s been looking particularly sharp in the 400 year, and has the third-fastest time among US women this season, with a 1:57.00 from the Speedo Grand Challenge.

While she’s better known for her exploits in the two shorter freestyle events, Simone Manuel is no stranger to the 4×200 relay. She earned a gold way back in 2012 as part of the USA’s winning relay at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships (Leah Smith was also on that relay). At the senior level, she led off the USA’s relay at the 2019 World Championships, hitting a personal best of 1:56.09 as the US quartet went under the existing world record, but finished behind Australia.

It seemed as if Manuel’s time in this event had drawn to a close, as she didn’t have a single swim between March 2020 and March 2023. But she’s swum it five times this season alone and has gone sub-1:58 on three occasions, including a 1:57.03 at the Speedo Grand Challenge last month.

She may scratch out of this event to focus on the 50 and 100 free later in the program, but if she swims it she sure seems to be a threat to put herself in a position to make the relay squad.

Back in 2019, Gabby DeLoof also earned a silver medal at Worlds, thanks to a prelims swim where she teamed up with Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith, and Melanie Margalis. Her lifetime best of 1:56.65 comes from the 2018 Nationals. Unlike Manuel, she’s been trending the wrong direction lately, and she has yet to crack 2:00 this year. Still, it’d certainly be a fun story if she managed to make the US team in this event with a five-year gap since she last made an international roster.

MIA

Two notable names not on the psych sheet: Regan Smith and Alex Walsh. Both are versatile swimmers who already have full schedules, but have some 200 free chops. Walsh led off the prelims relay in Budapest and owns a personal best of 1:57.82.

Smith’s contested this event a little more recently, and is the fifth-fastest American this season with a 1:57.23. In the past, we’ve seen the US coaches be willing to employ a 400 IM or stroke 200 type of swimmer who’s having a strong meet onto this relay, and you’d have to think Smith may be capable of a 1:55, but with four women already likely in that range, it doesn’t seem quite as likely we’ll see a Maya DiRado-Hail Mary type of move this summer.

SwimSwam Picks:

RANK SWIMMER SEASON BEST
PERSONAL BEST
1 Katie Ledecky 1:54.97 1:53.73
2 Bella Sims 1:58.43 1:55.45
3 Erin Gemmell 1:57.26 1:55.97
4 Claire Weinstein 1:58.08 1:55.26
5 Anna Peplowski 1:56.99 1:56.99
6 Paige Madden 1:57.00 1:56.44
7 Simone Manuel 1:57.03 1:56.09
8 Alex Shackell 1:59.84 1:56.70

Darkhorse: Rachel Stege – Stege is near the bottom of the psych sheet with a 2:00.72 seed time from last month. She set her lifetime best of 1:59.90 back in 2019, so it seems like she could be capable of a big drop. She’s been outstanding over the last year, including a gold medal in the 1500 and a silver medal in the 800 at the Pan American Games. She’ll probably be focused on the longer distances this week, but if she does choose to contest this, watch out for a quick time from the very first prelims heat.

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Swimfan
1 month ago

Well the top 6 should be under 1:57 again this this year like last year (ledecky,Weinstein, sims, gemmell, shackell, and smith) and with the resurgance of madden and Manuel and peplowski (2nd fastest American this year at 1:56.99) someone gonna be left off the finals could put a 1:56

We’ll find out starting 11am to see who’s hot and on there taper

jeff
1 month ago

just like in the 100 free, there’s a distinct lack of top level 200 freestylers from the early 2000s. From female American swimmers born between like June 1999 to June 2004, Anna Peplowski is the only high level one I can think of who puts a focus on the 200 free and she’s a pretty recent emergence in the event.

Besides her, it goes straight from like Brooke Forde (born 3/1999) to Erin Gemmell (born 12/2004)

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

Women’s 200 meter freestyle
Yang, Junxuan – 1:54.37
Peplowski, Anna – 1.56.99

We are not even talking about the same zip code.

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Let’s be frank. This event is all about finding the right squad to secure a 4×200 free relay silver medal for the USA in Paris.

Boo. Boo!!

NCSwimFan
1 month ago

I feel fairly confident in Sims and Peplowski to be 2nd and 3rd in some order, assuming Ledecky does swim the race (which I think she does given there’s no conflict at Trials between the 200 and 1500). Like was mentioned in another comment, Peplowski was fantastic at NCAAs and isn’t the best on her turns, so it feels like she should be set for a great 200 here. Sims wasn’t the greatest in her 500 at NCAAs but her 200 and below events during the season were quite good, so I’m not too worried about her abilities here.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

If Bella Sims can split another 1:54.64. If Erin Gemmell can split a 1:54.86. If someone not named Gemmell, Ledecky, Sims can lead-off with a split within a second of Junxuan Yang (1:54.37). If Katie Ledecky can pull yet another rabbit out of the hat. If, if, if, if.

Way too many question marks!

The quest for the silver medal in the W 4 x 200 FR-R is in doubt.

gitech
1 month ago

My prediction
1. Weinstein
2. Peplowski
3. Madden
4. Sims
5. Gemmel
6. Ivey/Manuel
(Ledecky DNS)
It is very difficult this prediction

gitech
Reply to  gitech
1 month ago

Shackell could be in 4

oxyswim
1 month ago

I have a hard time seeing Gemmell over Weinstein based on anything Gemmell has done this season. Nothing this year suggests she’s taken a step forward

Justin Pollard
1 month ago

How does the US stack up against the Aussie women in this race? I’m sure SwimSwam will preview, but as deep as the US is, it’s very hard to make up for 2 1:52 low legs. After Titmus & O’Callaghan, the Aussie’s have 2 1:55 mids, so unless the US gets 2 1:53s and 2 1:54s, it seems like the relay is all Australia.

SwimCoach
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

Australia has to flop hard to not win at this point.

Admin
Reply to  SwimCoach
1 month ago

Yeah like 4/4 flop. They could have 3 flop and probably still win.

Robbos
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

Who are the two1.53?

KeithM
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

The Aussies look unassailable in this relay. It would take a DQ or tainted Crème brûlée for the US to have a shot.

Troyy
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

This relay should be a race for silver and bronze between the US and China but stranger things have happened.

jeff
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

the PBs of the top 4 here add up to about 3:38.3 which is like 2 seconds off the Australian add up time or something. If the three teenager are each able to drop over a half second and Ledecky isn’t too far off her PB then there’s a shot but thats pretty unlikely

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

That’s not how it works. Add up the results from the USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials. Compare the results from the Canadian Olympic Team Trials and Chinese Olympic Team Trials.

Last edited 1 month ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
jeff
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

US olympic trials havent happened yet weirdo

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

That’s not how it works.

An apples to apples comparison from the respective Olympic Team Trials is the solution.

The results from the 2024 Chinese National Swimming Championships:

Women’s 200 meter freestyle
Yang, Junxuan – 1:54.37
Li, Bingjie – 1:56.29
Liu, Yaxin – 1:56.56
Muhan, Tang – 1:56.85
Total – 7:44.07

Until the results from the USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials have been posted, one cannot come to any conclusion.

Troyy
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

That’s faster than the add up from Chinese Nationals in 2021 when they won gold in Tokyo.

1:54.57 Yang, Junxuan
1:56.64 Li, Bingjie
1:57.22 Zhang, Yufei
1:57.83 Tang, Muhan
7:46.26 Total

Sub13
Reply to  jeff
1 month ago

That’s not correct. Aussie trials final add up is 3:36.02. USA top 4 PB add up is 3:40.41 which is more than 4 seconds slower. That’s also not considering that Ledecky’s PB is from 2016 and she’s never been within 0.7 of it again.

jeff
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

read again – I added up personal bests, not season bests or anything like that. 1:55.26 – 1:54.86 – 1:54.60 – 1:53.60 something is a 3:38.3. Ledecky’s personal best split is also from 2022, not 2016

Matt
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

Unless the 3 young guns take massive leaps forward here/in Paris it’s australias to lose. Even then it will be tough unless it’s close at the end and Ledecky drops a 1:52

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Matt
1 month ago

If won’t even be close. USA should worry more about China and at least retaining the silver medal.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Matt
1 month ago

You’re grasping at straws.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Justin Pollard
1 month ago

USA lost to AUS by 3.88 seconds in the W 4 x 200 FR-R at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships. It’s a total embarrassment.

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