2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Will Youth or Experience Prevail in the Men’s 200 Breast?

2024 U.S. Olympic Trials

MEN’S 200 Breast — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record: 2:05.48 — Qin Haiyang, China (2024)
  • American Record: 2:07.17 — Josh Prenot (2016)
  • U.S. Open Record: 2:07.17 — Josh Prenot, United States (2016)
  • World Junior Record: 2:08.04 — Dong Zhihao, China (2023)
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: 2:06.38 — Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia
  • 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Nic Fink — 2:07.55
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 2:15.99
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time — 2:09.68

We saw a changing of the guard in the men’s 200 breaststroke at 2023 U.S Nationals–the last major selection meet. There, both Matt Fallon and Josh Matheny broke through and made their first senior Worlds roster. Fallon went on to win bronze in Fukuoka and the two positioned themselves as “next up” in this event for the Americans.

In Indianapolis both will be trying to make their first Olympic team. But to do so, they’ll need to defend their international team roster spots not only against Olympians but a field of swimmers who have been on the national team for years but are also trying to make their first Olympic team.

The New Age

Think back to the last Olympic Trials. It’s the fourth day in Omaha—we’re about halfway through the meet and the Tokyo team is starting to really take shape. During the prelims of the men’s 200 breaststroke, 18-year-old Matt Fallon posted an intriguing personal best of 2:10.13 to lead the way out of the heats.

It seemed like the more established names in the field would take control during the evening’s semifinals but instead, Fallon continued to impress. Armed with some of the strongest back-half speed in the sport, Fallon maintained his position as the top qualifier for the final. He dropped more than a second off his best time from prelims, notching a 2:08.91.

Fallon didn’t have enough left in the tank in the final and wound up 8th, but he made a name for himself. He skipped the 2022 International Team Trials due to injury but later that summer became the 7th fastest American all-time in 2:07.91. A year later, he made his first senior international team by winning the 200 breast at U.S. Nationals in 2:07.71, jumping to 6th on the all-time list.

Top 200 breaststrokers aside from Fallon have also come to rely on the back half of their race and at the 2023 World Championships, Fallon showed that his closing speed could hang with the best of them as he picked up a bronze medal in 2:07.74, three one-hundredths off his best.

Fallon returns to the Olympic Trials with more experience under his belt as he tries to qualify for his first Olympic team. But now, sitting atop the results through the heats and semis won’t be a surprise. Instead, it’s the expectation. Fallon has built himself into the favorite for this race and the main question for him will be whether he’ll be able to keep calm in his position as “the hunted” against a field full of veterans, many of whom have proven multiple times they can be fast at the right time.

Fallon isn’t totally on an island though. Josh Matheny will also be trying to follow up his breakout year with a first Olympic qualification. After a disappointing 2021-22 freshman campaign at Indiana, Matheny broke through at the 2022 U.S Nationals and kept rolling through to the next season.

At the 2023 U.S. Nationals, he made his first senior Worlds team, qualifying in the 100 and 200 breast. In the 200 breast, he swam a personal best of 2:08.32, joining Fallon as the only sub-2:09 performance in the final. He made the final in Fukuoka, finishing 8th after he posted his fastest time of the meet in the semis (2:09.04).

Matheny owns a season-best of 2:10.49 from the 2023 U.S. Open, which puts him right in the heart of the pack.

Like Fallon, he arrives in Indianapolis with a newfound target on his back. At the last Olympic Trials, he finished 20th and missed the semifinals. That means he’ll need to rely on what he learned at Worlds about round management as he navigates his new position. Matheny has a realistic shot at the Olympic team in this event as long as he can withstand the charge from those looking to unseat him.

Experience Strikes Back

In 2021 at his third Olympic Trials, Nic Fink won the 200 breaststroke and qualified for his first Olympic Games. He finished 5th in Tokyo (2:07.93). Since then, he’s developed into the United States’ most consistent breaststroker in all three distances. And at the same time, he’s become a consistent podium threat on the senior international stage.

While finishing his master’s degree, then working full-time, and changing his training base, Fink has racked up an impressive individual medal count over the past three World Championships.

Fink’s Recent Worlds Individual Medal Haul

Gold Silver Bronze
2022 World Championships 50 breast 100 breast
2023 World Championships 50 breast 100 breast
2024 World Championships 100 breast 50 breast, 200 breast

In the last year or so, it seemed that Fink was shifting his focus towards sprint breaststroke. Over the last three Worlds, his only medal in the 200 breast is bronze in 2024, whereas he’s medaled in the 50 and 100 breaststroke each year. At the 2023 U.S Nationals—the selection meet for the World Championships—Fink finished 3rd behind Fallon and Matheny, missing out on a roster spot in the event.

But the 50 breast is not on the Olympic schedule, which could prompt Fink to refocus on the 200. He clearly hasn’t entirely dropped it—he went 2:08.85 to snag bronze in February in Doha. That time makes him the 3rd fastest American this season. He’s the 4th fastest American in the event’s history, courtesy of the 2:07.55 he swam to win at the last Olympic Trials.

So while he certainly will have his hands full with the younger swimmers quickly rising up the all-time American ranks themselves, that doesn’t mean they are a lock to overtake him in Indianapolis. If he’s been training for the 200 breast, he’s capable of getting his roster spot back in this event.

In a recent interview with NBC, Fink avoided making a pronouncement about his swimming career past the Olympics. “I think I’ve certainly heard that call [to slow down] more and more these days, but I don’t like to close the door on anything,” he said. “You just never know. The focus is this summer and then we’ll see, after that, what’s in store.”

At 31, it makes sense that Fink is beginning to field questions about his retirement from the sport. He’s far from the only one in this field getting those questions.

The Last Dance?

At various points in this Olympic cycle, it looked like we’d seen the last of Jake Foster in a swim cap. In 2022, he said he would likely retire if he got into medical school. He did get in and ultimately deferred for a year to pursue his Olympic dream.

He was training as a pro, and we thought he was done with the NCAA after he wrapped up his senior year at Texas in 2023. But then he showed up at a January dual meet, swimming a league-leading and personal best time in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Between that swim and a quiet NCAA Championships, Foster went to the 2024 World Championships—his first senior LCM Worlds. He finished 4th in the 200 breaststroke, adding time after moving through to the final as the top qualifier (2:08.78). His time in the semis was particularly promising, as it’s just .46 off his lifetime best of 2:08.32 from the 2023 U.S. Pro Championships.

He’ll be a factor in the 100 breaststroke as well, but this event is his best opportunity to make the Olympic team in what is likely his last summer of elite swimming. He’s steadily improved over this quad, setting lifetime bests in 2021, 2022, and 2023. His early season results at Worlds point towards the trend continuing this year which should be a confidence boost for Foster as he’ll need to be right on his best (or better) to make the team.

Foster’s retirement situation is a bit different because of his medical school acceptance but his Texas teammate Will Licon will be 30 this August. Licon hasn’t said anything about retirement, but he’s of an age with Fink and the question is starting to loom.

Licon has finished a heartbreaking 3rd place in this race at two consecutive Olympic Trials. He also finished 3rd at the 2018 U.S. Nationals, 4th at the 2022 World Trials, and 5th at the 2023 U.S. Nationals. Despite having one of the fastest lifetime bests in the field (2:07.62), he’s been snakebitten when it comes to selection meets.

It’s going to take under 2:09 to make the team, a mark which Licon has cleared six times in his career. But his last time under that barrier was at the 2021 Olympic Trials (2:08.50) and the field has caught up to him in the last three years. Licon can still compete with them, but it’s going to take a big swim at the right moment for him to reverse the curse.

Two other veterans to watch are Brandon Fischer and Tommy Cope. At 35, Fischer heads to Indianapolis for his fifth Olympic Trials. He balances his swimming career with a full-time job as a mechanical technologist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

He swam a season-best 2:15.11 at this spring’s Fran Crippen SMOC and is aiming for a top-six finish at Trials to get back on the U.S. National team but his main goal is “‘to do the best I can and push myself beyond the limitations of what I think I can do,’” he told SwimSwam earlier this month. And though he’s one of the older swimmers in the field, he gave no hint in that interview that retirement is on the cards anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Cope hasn’t been as fast as Fischer this season (2:16.15), but he has the faster lifetime best—a 2:11.39 swum at the 2023 U.S. Nationals. It took 2:10.76 to make the last Olympic Trial final so both will likely need lifetime bests to make the final.

Returning Faces

Throughout his career, Cody Miller has always been better at the 100 breast than the 200. That still holds true in this new era of his career. And since the last Olympic Trials, he’s only swum the 200 breast at five meets. But at the 2023 U.S. Open, the 32-year-old put up a head-turning 2:09.80 for his first swim under 2:10 since 2019.

That was a huge swim from Miller, who’s put himself back in the conversation for Olympic qualification in both breaststroke events after a couple of breaks from the sport in the last three years. It’s more of a long shot in the 200 breast but his 2:09.80 is one of the fastest times from an American this season. It gives him a strong case for at the very least, a lane in the final–which he didn’t make in 2021.

Daniel Roy is another swimmer in the midst of a rapid return to form. Miller never officially hung up the goggles but Roy, a five-time All-American at Stanford, did. Now he’s back in a big way—at the Federal Way Sectionals in mid-March, Roy clocked 2:09.57, slotting in as one of the five fastest Americans this season.

One of the most impressive things about Roy’s swim is that it came just two and a half months into his comeback to the sport. His lifetime best sits at 2:08.89 from the November 2020 Stanford Invite and it seems that and more is well within his reach if he continues on this trajectory he’s set for himself this year.

And what about Charlie Swanson, a member of the 2022 World Championship team? He’s still in the water, last competing at the San Antonio Pro Series (as of publishing). After breaking through and making the Worlds roster with a personal best of 2:08.84, Swanson did not make much noise in 2023. He’s been pretty quiet this season too, with his season-best standing at 2:14.52 from San Antonio. But he’s shown he can get his hands on the wall and make the team—a skill which can’t be discounted at one of the most pressure-packed meets in the world.

NCAA Swimmers Make A Push

Along with Fallon and Matheny, there are several other collegiate swimmers looking to make an impression. Matheny and his Indiana teammates flexed their breaststroke group’s depth in yards this season and are now hoping to transition that success into meters.

Hoosiers Maxwell Reich and Jassen Yep both made the 200 breast ‘B’ final at the 2023 U.S Nationals, with Yep winning in a lifetime best 2:11.38. He’s just three-hundredths off Reich’s lifetime best (2:11.35). It’s Yep who has the faster season-best though again it’s close, 2:12.21 to 2:12.53.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Noah Nichols, who holds a lifetime best of 2:11.83 swum at the 2023 U.S. Nationals. He’s yet to crack 2:14 this season but could have a big drop in store.

With six of the 2021 ‘A’ finalists expected to be back in contention, it’s going to be an uphill battle for swimmers Reich, Yep, and Nichols to break into the final in Indianapolis. The question of the modern era or old school winning out isn’t just about the Olympic roster spots—it applies to who makes it to the final eight as well.

AJ Pouch is one of the current college swimmers (along with Fallon) who featured in that 2021 final. Pouch finished 5th in that final (2:10.35) and has gotten faster since. At the 2022 U.S. Nationals, Pouch set his lifetime best at 2:09.07. He’s been 2:12.88 so far this season, but on paper holds an advantage over Reich and Yep for a spot in the ‘A’ final based on his resume and personal best.

SwimSwam Picks

Place Name Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Matt Fallon 2:08.18 2:07.71
2 Jake Foster 2:08.78 2:08.23
3 Nic Fink 2:08.85 2:07.55
4 Josh Matheny 2:10.49 2:08.32
5 Daniel Roy 2:09.57 2:08.89
6 Will Licon 2:10.96 2:07.62
7 Charlie Swanson 2:14.52 2:08.84
8 Cody Miller 2:09.80 2:08.98

Dark Horse: Jordan Willis — In an event that’s main storyline is about whether the fresh faces or seasoned veterans will win out, we haven’t really mentioned any of the junior swimmers in this event. In particular, keep an eye on SwimMAC’s Jordan Willis, who’s committed to Florida’s class of 2025. Willis swam a lifetime best 2:12.07 for silver at the 2023 World Juniors. The field is clogged with experienced swimmers, which makes it easy to say that it’s “too early” for Willis. But this could also be the U.S Junior National teamer’s moment to break through. He’s been as fast as 2:13.26 this spring and if any of the veterans mistime a swim, expect Willis to be there to take advantage. 

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Comet16
24 days ago

2 Fs Fallon and Foster

Summer in Paris
28 days ago

Fatt Mallon FTW!

Yannick Angel Martino Moravcova
28 days ago

200 Breast finals, whether male, female, or both, always seem to create a stir at U.S. Olympic Trials. The 2008 upsets in the men’s final, the 4-way race down the stretch in the women’s race in 2016, and of course Annie’s triumph in 2021 all come to mind. And situated just past the halfway point of the meet, it’s always a fun jolt for the audience. Fallon’s habit of ripping the 2nd half of the race makes for a fun watch for us, and he will deliver. But I sense one or more of the other contenders will take the race out insanely fast and try to hold on. One of them (and only 1) succeeds, and Fallon still makes… Read more »

Last edited 28 days ago by Yannick Angel Martino Moravcova
hin qaiyang
Reply to  Yannick Angel Martino Moravcova
28 days ago

It does always seem like this race is where ppl succeed with opposite stratagies. For examples fallon v matheny, stubblety cook or chupkov v anyone else

Swimdad
28 days ago

I can’t think of a scenario where Fallon and Fink fail to make the team.
Bold prediction…Fallon gets gold or silver at the games. He’s shown he can run down Marchand in San Antonio. Can he repeat that in Paris?

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  Swimdad
28 days ago

That may be the boldest prediction I’ve seen. Fallon is going up against Marchand, Qin, and ZSC, among others.

Former swimmer
Reply to  Swimdad
28 days ago

That would be awesome. You never know.

dead fish
Reply to  Swimdad
19 days ago

Dream big or go home. 😊

Wanna Sprite
28 days ago

Sorry to burst the bubble of a lot of fan favorites, but 2.5 months….. 2.5 months is all it took to get Daniel Roy to go 2:09.5. He has the highest potential ceiling out of most of these guys

Swimfan27
Reply to  Wanna Sprite
28 days ago

Agreed. I see him making the team

PFA
28 days ago

I would love to see both foster brothers make it, but with this race, I am just not fully sure what will happen could go literally any way, but I hope Jake makes it so well deserved if he does same with licon. People keep doubting that dude and telling him to retire I hope he surprises everyone dude has absolute grit.

Last edited 28 days ago by PFA
CELL
28 days ago

How is Liam Bell at LCM breastroke I’m surprised he wasn’t on here.

Andrew
Reply to  CELL
28 days ago

He’s horrible at LCM breaststroke especially the 200. He’d be the first one to admit

Swimmer.thingz
Reply to  CELL
28 days ago

He is only good at bathtub swimming

Tencor
Reply to  CELL
28 days ago

He might be a player in the 100 but not here

Admin
Reply to  CELL
28 days ago

His best in the 200 is 2:15.17 (done pre-college). I’m sure he could go faster than that in long course right now, but also not positive that all that bulk is going to turn him into a LCM contender. If it does, I’d have to think it’s the 100 not the 200.

RealCrocker5040
28 days ago

I’d loooooove to see Licon finally make it but I think that Fallon and Jake foster/Fink have too much steam

Oh well

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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