2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Battle Brewing Behind Ledecky In Women’s 400 Free

2024 U.S. Olympic Trials

Women’s 400 Free – By the Numbers

  • World Record: 3:55.38, Ariarne Titmus (AUS) – 2023 World Championships
  • American Record: 3:56.46, Katie Ledecky (USA) – 2016 Olympic Games
  • U.S. Open Record: 3:57.94, Katie Ledecky (USA) – 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series
  • World Junior Record: 3:56.08, Summer McIntosh (CAN) – 2023 World Championships
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Ariarne Titmus (AUS), 3:56.69
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Katie Ledecky, 4:01.27
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 4:15.49
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time: 4:07.90

Ledecky Looking to Defend Her Reign

Katie Ledecky has been essentially unbeatable in domestic competition in the women’s 400 freestyle, with her last loss to an American coming at the 2012 Olympic Trials when she was 3rd. In addition to her multitude of victories in the event, Ledecky also holds claim to the American record and 16 of the top 25 all-time performances in the 400 and is the only American swimmer to appear in the top 25.

With her longstanding history of being, quite simply, the best American swimmer in the women’s 400 free, it seems like a safe bet to say that Ledecky is the favorite to secure the top Olympic spot at Trials.

As the top seed, Ledecky sits nearly five seconds ahead of the rest of the field and is the only competitor entered with a time under 4:00 (her entry time is 3:58.73, which she posted at the World Championships in July 2023). It is questionable whether or not she will post a faster time at Trials next week, as Ledecky’s fastest time both this season and since her World Championships performance was posted just under a month ago, when she turned in a time of 3:59.44 at the Atlanta Classic.

However, her races in the 400 have been getting steadily faster over the past several months, with only a few weeks in between each, so it is possible that she could continue this trend in Indianapolis. Either way, as long as she can hover right around her entry time and season-best and avoid dropping into the 4:00 range, Ledecky should be able to hold onto her top spot.

A Battle for Second

With Ledecky in a strong position to emerge as the victor, the biggest battle in the event stands to be for second place and the remaining Olympic qualifying spot.

Returning Veterans

Tokyo Olympian Paige Madden will be looking to reprise her success in the 400 free and secure her second Olympic appearance in the event. In 2021, Madden snagged the second spot behind Ledecky to advance to the Games. The 25-year-old placed seventh overall in Tokyo, setting a new personal best time, before experiencing a dropoff in times over the next few competitions. Since then, Madden has been slowly but steadily progressing her way back up the event rankings and even surpassing her previous performance levels; she just posted a new personal best time of 4:03.02 in mid-May, which marked the second-fastest time by an American swimmer this season.

Madden is the #5 seed heading into Trials, but if she continues her upward trajectory then she could very well claim one of the top spots. At the 2021 Olympic Trials, Madden dropped over three seconds in prelims and another full second in finals to secure her Olympic spot, so it would not be out of the question for her to post a similar performance this time around.

Another Olympic veteran looking to make a comeback is Leah Smith, who was the bronze medalist in the 400 free at the Rio Olympics. She missed out on the Olympic roster altogether in 2021, placing third in the event at Trials. Smith will be fighting to punch her ticket to Paris and is certainly a top contender for the event final in Indianapolis.

As the #3 seed, Smith looks to be right on the cusp of pushing her way into the top two. But while her entry time of 4:03.85 was her best performance last season, the fastest she has swam thus far this season was a time of 4:06.80 back in November, and her two races since then dipped even lower. This could give her plenty of room to improve at Trials, but it also presents a bit more of a barrier to overcome given that she has not been as consistent with turning in top times.

Rising Age-Group Stars

Several young age-group stars have established themselves among the top ranks heading into the Olympic Trials, making it more than likely that at least one or two will advance to the final and perhaps even the Olympic team.

Claire Weinstein, a 17-year-old from Las Vegas, is no stranger to the Olympic Trials, having competed in the previous cycle when she was just 13. While her highest finish back then was 20th in the 400, Weinstein has since established herself on the international circuit with multiple World Championships appearances and has climbed the national rankings in the 400 free.

Weinstein posted a personal best time of 4:04.54 in March and now sits at #3 on the ranking of top times in the U.S. this season, just behind Ledecky and Madden. She has been consistently turning in strong performances across many of her other events as well, suggesting that she will be in top form for Trials with strong potential to move up the ladder. As the #4 seed overall, it would not be a huge surprise to see her in one of the top spots.

Rising high school senior Madi Mintenko is another youngster who has climbed the national rankings to be one of the top contenders at Trials. While she is the #10 seed overall in the 400, Mintenko recently posted the 7th fastest time this season in the event at the Atlanta Classic, where she raced several of the same competitors she will face in Indianapolis. Her time of 4:08.68 was not far off her personal best (4:08.06) and propelled her to 2nd place behind Ledecky, which bodes well for her performance at Trials as she takes on many of the same competitors.

Katie Grimes is hardly a new rising star, but she is still one of the younger competitors in the field, training alongside Weinstein with the Sandpipers of Nevada club. Grimes made waves during the last Olympic cycle when she posted a massive drop in the 800 free at Trials to advance to the Tokyo Games, where she placed 4th. Since then, she has established herself as one of the top distance swimmers in the U.S. and became the first American to punch a ticket to Paris when she qualified in the 10km open water swim.

In 2021, Grimes was not quite as strong in the 400; she placed 13th at the Olympic Trials, missing the final. While she has improved her time since then, setting a personal best time of 4:05.18 in 2023, Grimes has tended to be less consistent with her performances in the event. The closest she has been to her best since first establishing it was a season-best time of 4:08.21 just three weeks ago. Grimes is the #6 seed heading into Trials and is #6 on the ranking of top U.S. times this season, but given her recent performances and the fact that she may not be as rested, it is questionable whether or not she will be able to drop enough to claim an Olympic spot.

Collegiate Competitors Looking for a Breakthrough

The top-ranked NCAA star heading into the 400 free at the Olympic Trials is Florida Gator Bella Sims. As the #2 seed, Sims’ entry time of 4:03.25 poses the biggest threat to Ledecky, although her recent season-best time of 4:08.88 was only the 8th-fastest time by an American this season. Despite not being as high in the national rankings this season, Sims should have a significant opportunity to improve her race at Trials and hold onto her position in the field, given that she has only swam the 400 a handful of times over the past year. Sims was also a clear powerhouse during the NCAA season, winning both the 200 and 500 free at the Division I Championships, showing that she has been in top form throughout the year.

As the #8 seed heading into the meet, Erin Gemmell could easily find herself on either side of the finals cutoff barrier depending on how both her and her competitors’ races pan out. Gemmell competed in the 400 at the 2021 Olympic Trials, placing 11th overall with a personal best time of 4:11.57. Gemmell saw a tremendous improvement in her 400 free shortly after, setting a new personal best time of 4:05.07 in 2022, but she has since dipped back down below the 4:10 mark; her best this season is a 4:11.16. While Gemmell could force her way into the final at Trials, she would certainly need to post a sizable drop from her season best to secure that spot.

Jillian Cox may very well end up seeing a major breakthrough at Trials, even contending for a spot on the Olympic roster. Cox has been one of the top ranked American swimmers in the 400 free for the last few years, with the 5th-fastest time in the U.S. so far this season. While she did not perform particularly well in the event at the last Olympic Trials, she has certainly rebounded since; her personal best is a time of 4:06.60, while her season best this year is a 4:07.61. Cox has been largely consistent with her performances over her last few races, straying not too far from her best, suggesting that she will be in good form to hold onto this momentum at Trials and possibly move up the rankings.

Another collegiate star who will be looking to break into the final is Rachel Stege, who has propelled herself up the national rankings over the last few years. In 2021 Stege placed 41st at Trials in the 400; now, she is the #9 seed heading into the meet and is currently ranked 11th in the U.S. for top times this season. She set a new personal best time of 4:06.94 back in October, and most recently placed 5th at the Atlanta Classic holding her own against Sims, Mintenko and Ledecky, all of whom she will be facing off with again at Trials.

The Verdict

Ledecky is the clear favorite to take the top Olympic roster spot in this race, although in a race like this there is always the possibility of a surprise upset. Any of the top-seeded competitors could make a strong play for the second Olympic roster spot, but Madden seems to have the strongest potential to secure an Olympic spot based on her recent performances and her position in the national rankings.


Rank Swimmer Season Best Personal Best
1 Katie Ledecky 3:59.44 3:56.46
2 Paige Madden 4:03.02 4:03.02
3 Bella Sims 4:08.88 4:03.25
4 Claire Weinstein 4:04.54 4:04.54
5 Katie Grimes 4:08.21 4:05.18
6 Jillian Cox 4:07.61 4:06.60
7 Madi Mintenko 4:08.06 4:08.06
8 Rachel Stege 4:10.97 4:06.94

Dark Horse Pick: Cavan GormsenGormsen placed 8th in the 400 free at Olympic Trials in 2021 and has since lowered her lifetime best to a time of 4:08.12. As the #11 seed heading into Trials, Gormsen’s time is mere hundredths away from Mintenko’s. While she has not been quite as close to her best time at recent competitions, if Gormsen is able to make a return to top form at Trials, she may have a chance at breaking into the final.

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27 days ago

Don’t forget about Emma Weyant. She went 4:09.0 at the Atlanta Classic and was hundredths off her best time. I think she makes this final and posts a massive PB.

Barbossa Andrew
27 days ago

Is Jillian Cox related to Maddison?

Reply to  Barbossa Andrew
27 days ago


27 days ago

Paige Madden has the hot hand while the rest of the field are praying for the monster tapers.

27 days ago

I’m excited for this race, and hoping we see Ledecky under 3:58 and the 2nd place swimmer (Madden??) under 4:02.

28 days ago

She may not be rested? Wait a minute! I have been looking forward to the vaunted Olympic taper from the Sandpipers of Nevada.

28 days ago

Bruce Gemmell would like a word with the author.

28 days ago

A partially tapered Katie Ledecky posts a time no worse than 3:58.98 in the 400 FR.

28 days ago

Weinstein > Sims – Sims endurance hasn’t been great the whole year

Reply to  Noah
27 days ago

I like Sims a lot in the 200 free, her speed is still right at where she was with Sandpipers, but yeah compared to where she was a year ago in the SCY 500 (4:28 in Dec) compared to now (4:32 in Dec & at NCAAs) I think the 400 will take a dip.

That said, I don’t love where Weinstein has been leading into the meet. Think Madden is a head above Weinstein for 2nd.