2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: So Many Storylines, So Little Time

2024 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

Women’s 50 Free — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record: 23.61 — Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), 2023
  • American Record: 23.91 – Kate Douglass (USA), 2024
  • U.S. Open Record: 24.00 – Abbey Weitzeil (USA), 2023
  • World Junior Record: 24.17 – Claire Curzan (USA), 2021
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Emma McKeon (AUS), 23.81
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Simone Manuel, 24.29
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 25.69
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time: 24.70

The women’s 50 freestyle in America hasn’t been this intriguing in at least a generation, if not longer.

This is a race ripe with storylines of all different flavors, mashing together into a race where there’s plenty to think about, but barely enough time to think.

The Big Choice

Kate Douglass is finally running into the inevitable issue of her veritable versatility: at the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, at the end of what will surely be a long meet for her, the 50 free semifinals come shortly before the 200 IM final.

She’s entered in both races, but in both cases the fields feel so competitive (especially in the 200 IM, where she’d be less rested for the final) that she’ll have to make the choice.

She won silver at the 2024 World Championships in the 50 free behind only the World Record holder Sarah Sjostrom, and in the 200 IM Douglass is the two-time defending World Champion.

That 200 IM (previewed previously) is a tough race domestically, with names like Alex Walsh, Torri Huske, and 2022 Worlds bronze medalist Leah Hayes chasing her. Internationally, that race is an absolute bloodbath, especially if Canadian Summer McIntosh and Australians Kaylee McKeown both swim it (McKeown swam 2:06.63 for the Australian Record earlier this week).

In the 50 free, she’s definitely out-in-front in the US (though in such a tight race, not without reproach), but has a huge mountain to climb to catch Sjostrom.

This is a 50 free preview, but the choice is what matters here. I sort of think she might be good enough, in a Trials meet without relays, to navigate this double and then not have to make a choice until the Paris Olympics. Either event would be a flex to win gold in. Douglass is rarely afraid of anything in swimming, so it seems on-brand to go after the double.

If Douglass swims this 50 free, she is the favorite. Her 23.91 from Worlds is the American Record and ranks her 8th-best in the history of the event.

That was about four-tenths better than her previous best from the US Open Championships, which in turn was about two-hundredths better than her previous best from the Speedo Atlantic Classic in May 2024.

She consistently drops time in this race every season. While that inevitably will come to an end, her flat-out speed in yards (20.84 in 2023) combined with her demonstrated ability in long course gives no indication that she has peaked yet.

The Defending Champion

The 2021 champion enters this meet in a very different status. Simone Manuel‘s battle with Overtraining Syndrome became public at the 2021 Olympic Trials, and in spite of a rough meet for her overall, she still managed to win the 50 free and book her spot in Tokyo.

Since then, she’s spent a lot of time away from the pool and made a comeback training at Arizona State. Since Bob Bowman was announced as the head coach at Texas, Manuel has split time between Bowman’s elite crew and the new Arizona State head coach Herbie Behm, who focused on the sprinters as an assistant.

One of a handful of women who have been under 24 seconds in her career, Manuel has been building her way back into her return to the elite level of the sport and hit paydirt in April at the Pro Swim Series in San Antonio. There she swam 24.34, which was much faster than the 25.59 that she swam during the same weekend a year earlier.

It’s clear that everything Manuel has been doing in her comeback is targeting these Trials rather than, say, last year’s Worlds. She seems to be coming in for a perfect soft landing, and let’s not remember that in spite of the OTS, she has never not been one of the best racers in the world.

If she makes the team, this is the storyline that goes mainstream.

The kid with something to prove

I don’t know if she feels like she has something to prove.

But the rest of the swimming world is waiting for Gretchen Walsh to prove something in long course.

Arguably the best yards swimmer in history, Walsh did things at the NCAA Championships in March that seemed unfathomable. She swam 20.37 in a flat-start 50 free, more than half a second better than Douglass did. She split 19.95 on a relay, a time that would earn her a roster spot on most collegiate men’s teams in the country.

And yet the bucket on her back is whether or not she can pull it together in long course at the biggest meets.

And of course she can. We’ve seen her do it. We’ve seen her sister Alex do it (genes do matter in swimming). We’ve seen her have big swims at big collegiate meets (NCAAs has big pressure). She swam great at last year’s US Trials.

The reality is that she’s hitting about 50/50 in big time long course meets, but maybe it’s just easier to remember the misses (she was 11th at Worlds last year in 24.71). But she should be coming out of the collegiate season with a lot of confidence, and she swam a best time (24.29) in this event at the Pro Swim Series meet in San Antonio, as well as the 100 fly (56.14). She’s starting to have some of that “I can swim anything I want, any time I want” swagger that we’ve seen out of some of her Virginia teammates.

The Veteran Who Could

Another swimmer who took a break after the Tokyo Olympics, Abbey Weitzeil (who was the short course sprint wunderkind before Douglass and Walsh) was great at last year’s National Championships. She swam a best time of 24.00 in the 50 free to book her ticket to Worlds, and she was a bit better in Fukuoka than Walsh was (though she also added time).

Now training under Durden, Marsh, and the rest of the revamped women’s staff at Cal, she has been firing on all cylinders. She too was fast in San Antonio (24.27), and her 24.50 in mid-May seems right on track too. She’s generally ahead of schedule, and at 27 she too might have another little push (sub-24??) in her bag.

Torri Huske‘s Redshirt & Stanford’s Momentum Paying Off

While Claire Curzan has opted out of this 50 free at Trials, her former Stanford teammate Torri Huske is still entered (I suspect she’ll choose this over the 200 IM, though like Douglass she has both on her lineup).

Without the NCAA season to deal with, Huske has been on a tear over the last 9 months. Ironically, it seems like the whole Stanford group has been invigorated in that same time period, so in a way she’s getting the best of both worlds.

While the 100 fly, where she was the 2022 World Champion, has been getting most of the attention, her 50 free has been sharp too. She hit a 24.31 in Westmont in March, about six weeks earlier than the other swimmers we’ve talked about. That’s her lifetime best.

So Many Contenders

While the American sprinters still lag behind their Australian counterparts on the women’s side, there is a lot of momentum in this race that helps round out the field.

The veterans include Olivia Smoliga, another from that Sun Devil crew; Erika (Brown) Connolly out of Tennessee, and Catie DeLoof , who has bounced around to a few different training homes in the last four years.

DeLoof has been a regular on the outside looking in for this 50 free, but always tapping on that window, and at 27 she’s another swimmer in the field who went a best time this year at the Pro Swim Series in San Antonio (24.56). After letting the 200 free go in the last few years, her 50 has gotten steadily better – her previous best was a 24.68 from the 2021 Olympic Trials, after which her times stagnated a bit.

At last year’s US Nationals, she had a bad start and breakout. She clawed back into the field a bit and was better than a lot of the other contenders above the water – if she gets that start worked out, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we could see her somewhere in the 24.2 range at this meet.

Smoliga, who was tied-for-3rd at Nationals last year with Douglass, has been thriving under Behm. At 29, she is the third-oldest woman entered in the 50 free (and oldest in the top 20). She has been better this season than she was in the leadup to her PB of 24.48 at last year’s US Nationals, but in both cases she just isn’t as fast in season as some of the other swimmers in this field. She was 24.9 in San Antonio, 24.6 in Westmont, and 24.9 at the US Open in December.

That really stands out just because of how many swimmers in this field have been lifetime bests this season already.

Connolly hasn’t been under 25 seconds in this event since last year’s US Nationals (where she was 24.91), but she’s only two years removed from a 24.48 personal best.

There are also interesting names like Gabi AlbieroGrace Cooper, and Maxine Parker (the 8-9-10 seeds, all born in 2002), who should be entering the peak of their careers. Parker is now in year 2 of that Virginia women’s group with boundless momentum. She dropped big time in yards to go 21.61, but her best long course time is still the 24.75 that she swam at the 2019 World Junior Championships.

Albiero, the Pan American Games champion, feels like maybe she lost a little momentum during her senior season at Louisville after a breakout junior year. She was 21.54 in yards (her best is 21.30) and in her two long course outings since NCAAs was 25.08 and 25.31 in long course. Last year, she hit her best time in the 50 free at a Sectionals meet, so this may just be a change of plans with her coach (and father) Arthur Albiero trying to target the Olympic Trials.

Other Young Names to Watch

  • Carmel, Indiana high schooler Alex Shackell, who is the 23rd seed in 25.24, is a good shot to make the team in other races, which could give her momentum to do something in this 50.
  • NC State’s Katharine Berkoff is focused on the 100 back, but her 50 free keeps getting better and better. She’s the 25th seed in 25.26
  • Another high school junior Erika Pelaez is the 29th seed in 25.29. While the 100 free is her best bet, she’s been stalled in this 50 free for 18 months. Given that she’s dropped in other races during that time period, she feels due.
  • World Juniors runner-up Annam Olasewere will have to fight back some tough swims at her last couple of meets (25.69, 25.73, 26.94, 25.54, 25.11 in San Antonio), but she has swum her best on the biggest stages so far – a young swimmer not afraid of the spotlight.
  • Another Indy local, Julie Mishler, from the Fisher’s Area Swimming Tigers is flying a bit under the radar as the Indiana high school runner-up, but she’s a great long course swimmer who went from 25.60 at Junior Nationals last year to 25.07 at Sectionals in March.
  • Floridian Rylee Erisman is the 15th seed at only 14 years old and has been swimming like a runaway train this year in both the 50 and 100 free. She could be one of the revelations of this meet. While the pressure cooker of Trials can boil young swimmers, her older brother Ryan is also qualified, which gives her a good support system.
  • It’s a bit early to talk Olympics or even finals with 13-year-old Gabi Brito, but this is the meet-before-the-meet for her: even at the younger end of the age group, the 25.42 she swam last week is the #4 swim all-time by a 13-14. Erisman holds the record, and the two swimmers between them (Missy Franklin and Lia Neal) are both multi-time Olympic medalists.
  • Anna Moesch comes from the same Greater Somerset County YMCA program that produced swimmers like Matt Fallon and Jack Alexy, both expected to make the Olympic Team. She swam a best time of 24.87 at Y Nats last summer, and since then has dropped a quarter-second in the 50 yard free. She has an outside chance of making the team in the 100 or 200 free, so those will be her focus races, but if she goes-for-broke at the end of the meet, a final is within reach.

A hero for Masters swimmers everywhere, 37-year-old mother of three Brooke Boak returned to big-time training recently and hit her the Olympic Trials cut in her first official 50 meter free since 2008.

Watch an interview with her below:

SwimSwam Picks:

RANK SWIMMER SEASON BEST
PERSONAL BEST
1 Kate Douglass 23.91 23.91
2 Gretchen Walsh 24.29 24.29
3 Simone Manuel 24.34 23.97
4 Abbey Weitzeil 24.27 24
5 Torri Huske 24.31 24.31
6 Olivia Smoliga 24.69 24.48
7 Catie DeLoof 24.56 24.56
8 Anna Moesch 25.15 24.87

If Douglass scratches, Maxine Parker seems like the next swimmer up.

Darkhorse: Lily King, not to be confused with Olympic breaststroker Lilly King, hails from suburban Pittsburgh. At the Buffalo Sectionals meet in March, she swam 25.28 in the 50 free, which knocked nearly half-a-second off her 2023 season-best time of 25.75 from last summer’s Junior Nationals.

In November 2022, at only 15, she swam 25.41. She’s on an upward trajectory, and imagine the chaos if she somehow made the team.

In This Story

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Jingleberry
1 month ago

It was obvious she went all woke and victim during the BLM stuff, I knew she wasn’t there mentally. She was more than willing to quit Stanford and went from swimone to swimdone. I said what I said. She has an outside chance of making the 4×100, but no individuals. Zero. Zippo. Nada.

Viking Steve
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

dude…..public service announcement….

you are embarrassing yourself

Tani
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

Couldn’t agree more. Very well said!

Breezeway
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

Either Simone curbstomped your mother or consistently beat your favorite swimmer

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  Breezeway
1 month ago

I think they’re probably just racist

Breezeway
Reply to  Just Keep Swimming
1 month ago

Very true

chickenlamp
Reply to  Just Keep Swimming
1 month ago

yes. a racist dingleberry

HWS
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

“went all woke and victim” by….still qualifying for the Olympics? not making any excuses for her performances? Please unpack what you’re trying to say because right now you sound like a whiny troll at absolute best.

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

Without fail, the racists in the comments come crawling out. Ultimately, you lot are so deeply threatened by Simone so you resort to racism. Awful and pathetic.

RealCrocker5040
Reply to  Jingleberry
1 month ago

This folks is why most of our country and the rest of the world is ashamed by the right leaning people of the USA

Last edited 1 month ago by RealCrocker5040
Tani
1 month ago

Let’s hope the US women surprise us at Trials, otherwise I think they will have their a**es handed to them at the Games.

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

The objective of the Olympic Team Trials is to qualify for the Summer Olympics. Save the personal/season best times for the Summer Olympics (reference DiRado and Ledecky at the 2016 Rio Olympics for further proof).

Snarky
Reply to  Tani
1 month ago

The reality (historical trends) is that the Aussies underperform when they travel outside their hemisphere or where time zone changes are harder—like this summer. The US team has done very well in Europe over the years. Other than the women’s free relays and women’s shorter frees I think the US is going to see a lot of podiums. Even then I think the US women have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

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

London, Barcelona, Budapest has been kind to USA Swimming in the post supersuit era.

Jalen T
Reply to  Tani
1 month ago

The entire USA team will be embarrassed. I expect only 1-3 individual golds. Probably only one relay gold as well.

Trials Countdown
Reply to  Jalen T
1 month ago

Fortunately the US team is not influenced by your hopes from Downunda! Katy-Gold 800 and 1500, Torri Gold 100 Fly and 100 Free. Kate Gold in 200 breaststroke and 200 IM with Torri a close Silver, Regan Gold 200 Fly and will be a tossup in the backstroke events. Lily and our favorite Alaskan will be a handful in the 100 breaststroke. Over under on individual golds 8. Relays will be tough but will pull out two. Sorry but you will be disappointed! USA!!!

Doe
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

I think it will be china in 100 breast. (I’m american)

Jalen T
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

I see you haven’t watched swimming since 2021. The delusion is strong. Regan Smith is gonna choke as usual, Douglas and Huske are more likely to finish last then first, Lily King and Jacobs haven’t been relevant for the past three years LMAO

Joel
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

I don’t think they are Australian

Robbos
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

I think you are wrong on many fronts here.

Genevieve Nnaji
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

People who have been long in Swimswam know Jalen T is not from Australia

RealCrocker5040
Reply to  Genevieve Nnaji
1 month ago

Nothing Jalen T says is worth paying attention to

Iceman
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

Whatever you are smoking I want some of it…Tori gold in the 100 fly and 100 free? Half of Team Australia is faster than her in the 100 free even the relay girls that won’t be swimming individual are gonna annihilate her

backstrokebro
1 month ago

Agree with the other commenters on here. it sucks, but KD probably won’t swim it.

I’ll also take Manuel over Gwalsh here. Yes, Gretchen had a stunning SC season. But their SBs are only 0.05 apart, and Manuel is one of the most clutch swimmers of all time. 100 free in Rio? 100 in Budapest ’17? the sprint double in Gwangju ’19? Snatching the dub under bad conditions at the last OTs? Manuel is making the team here.

I think I will take Gwalsh over Weitzel for 2nd, but that could go either way for me. I would also not be terribly surprised to see Huske just sneak right by everyone

applesandoranges
Reply to  backstrokebro
1 month ago

I hope you’re right. It has been five years since her last clutch swim and at five years older, though still young, she might not be as clutch as she once was. I hope I am wrong.

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

I certainly hope Simone Manuel silences the critics.

Tani
Reply to  backstrokebro
1 month ago

Huske is terribly overrated. Yes she has a good time here and there, but when it really matters does she deliver? Look at her track record—> the answer is no. The word “clutch” would never apply to her!

Trials Countdown
Reply to  Tani
1 month ago

OMG. She burst onto the scene as a high school graduate last Olympics, but will stun you this summer. If you could see her practicing she is a different swimmer after the last year training under Coach Meehan! Stand by.

Jean Marie
Reply to  Trials Countdown
1 month ago

Ignore the troll.

Austin K
1 month ago

Douglass’ PB from 2023 is 20.84

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Austin K
1 month ago

W 50 FR (LCM)
24.40 dated 13 May 2023
24.48 dated 01 Jul 2023
24.38 dated 30 Nov 2023

Last edited 1 month ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Post grad swimmer
1 month ago

But what about Santo

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Post grad swimmer
1 month ago

When in Rome …..

Boknows34
Reply to  Post grad swimmer
1 month ago

Applying for a new nationality.

Viking Steve
1 month ago

If she is not swimming the 50 at the Olympics, she is not going to swim it a OTs just for funzies…

I think she cares about winning the 200IM at OTs (and while KD is the favorite, Alex is legit competition who will not be doing a double)

I also think she cares about what time she puts up in relation to international competition (and wants at least a mid 106).

Also, she seems like a pretty direct person to me. If she says she’s probably not swimming it….she is probably not swimming it….

Last edited 1 month ago by Viking Steve
oxyswim
Reply to  Viking Steve
1 month ago

DeSorbo has also told the media he talked to his group about picking events that they have the best shot to medal in and win, not just make the team. Swimming the 50 negatively affects one of her 2 best events and there’s no relay spot at stake.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

Nope.

Kate Douglass will not swim the W 50 FR and risk failing to qualify for the W 200 IM.

The person who chases two rabbits, catches neither.

I”ll take the two veterans, Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil in the W 50 FR.

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

I don’t think there’s a risk. She and Walsh are well clear of the rest of the field.

Jean Marie
1 month ago

I think Simone will surprise everyone at the trials by taking both the 50m & 100m freestyles.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Jean Marie
1 month ago

Douglass vs Manuel in the W 100 FR.

Manuel vs Weitzeil in the W 50 FR.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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