2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Young Stars Clash in Battle for 2nd Spot in the 1500 Free

2024 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

WOMEN’S 1500 FREESTYLE – BY THE NUMBERS

  • World Record: 15:20.48, Katie Ledecky (USA) – 2018 Pro Swim Series, Indianapolis 
  • American Record:  15:20.48, Katie Ledecky (USA) – 2018 Pro Swim Series, Indianapolis
  • U.S. Open Record: 15:20.48, Katie Ledecky (USA) – 2018 Pro Swim Series, Indianapolis 
  • World Junior Record:15:28.36, Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Katie Ledecky (USA), 15:37.34
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Katie Ledecky, 15:40.50 
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 16:45.69
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time (‘A’ Cut): 16:09.09

Katie Ledecky’s Bread and Butter

The women’s 1500 freestyle is being competed at the Olympic Games for only the second time this year following its introduction to the event’s lineup in Tokyo. In Tokyo, Katie Ledecky claimed the top spot on the podium by a wide margin, swimming a time of 15:37.34, finishing almost 5 seconds ahead of the field. Since then, Ledecky has only gotten faster, posting a time of 15:30.15 at the 2022 World Championships before dropping a 15:26.27 in 2023. In fact, at the 2023 World Championships, Ledecky finished over 15 seconds ahead of the field, only increasing her margin of victory from Tokyo. Therefore, it only appears imminent that Ledecky wins this race at Trials and then progresses on to the gold in Paris. 

It might also be worthwhile to watch the World Record line in this race, with Ledecky’s current record standing at 15:20.48. Though she hasn’t hit that time since 2018, Ledecky hasn’t had many opportunities to race the 1500 tapered and could have more in the tank with some rest. 

The only question that remains is: who will be joining Ledecky in Paris? 

The Young Distance Stars

Behind Ledecky, there are a slew of young distance stars itching to get a bite at Olympic glory. 

Katie Grimes was the youngest member of the 2021 US Olympic Team, making the roster in the 800 freestyle at just 15-years-old (reminiscent of a young Ledecky). Since then, Grimes has matured into a seasoned distance star. In addition to finding her stride in the pool, Grimes has become one of the top open water swimmers in the world. Last year, she had a stunning race in the open water 10km at the 2023 World Championships to book a ticket to her second Olympic Games in Paris. This season, she holds the 2nd fastest time in the country with her 15:57.31 from the CA Meet of Champions, only coming in behind Ledecky. In addition, Grimes’ time ranks her over 10 seconds ahead of her remaining competitors. 

Given that Grimes has already qualified for Paris, it’s almost certain that she will not be fully rested at Trials. However, since she has been training to race 10km at the Olympics, she will probably have a really great anaerobic base for the longest event in the pool. 

Jillian Cox has also risen through the rankings since Tokyo, qualifying for the 2023 World Championships in the 800 freestyle via a massive personal best at the US National Championships. At those same Championships, Cox finished 5th in the 1500 with a personal best time of 16:18.40. Just before that meet, she swam a time of 16:31.00 Mission Viejo Pro Swim Series. This season, she has already been 16:20.83, setting herself up very well for this event at Trials. 

Kate Hurst might not be well known on the senior level right now, but she certainly will be after Trials. Hurst won the 1500 free at the 2023 World Junior Championships, swimming a personal best 16:09.37 in the process. That time currently ranks her 3rd in the country this season behind Ledecky and Grimes. Though she hasn’t competed in the 1500 much since World Juniors ended last September, Hurst has proven that she can show up when it counts, taking down some of the best junior swimmers in the world. The only question remains: can she translate that success to the senior level? 

Kayla Han was the other entrant in the 1500 freestyle at World Juniors last fall, where she finished 5th in a very tight race (16:19.07), missing a medal by less than a second. Since then, Han has gained even more valuable experience, representing the United States at the 2024 World Championships in multiple events. Han is also not a stranger to the Olympic Trials stage as she was the youngest competitor at the 2021 Trials meet at only 13-years-old. Her best time only stands at 16:16.94, slower than the likes of Grimes and Hurst, but Han is still very young having just turned 16, leaving plenty of room for her to have some big drops. 

Another junior swimmer to watch out for is Grimes’ Sandpipers of Nevada teammate Claire Weinstein. Though more known for her 200 freestyle prowess, Weinstein has recently been experimenting with some longer events, placing 3rd in the 800 freestyle at the 2023 US National Championships. Weinstein is currently entered to swim this event at Trials, holding the 4th seed with her best time of 16:09.85 from 2023. In the past, there has been an event conflict between the 200 free and 1500 free at many major international meets, limiting the possibility of Weinstein trying out the event. However, that conflict does not exist in Paris or at Trials. If Weinstein decides to swim this event, she could very easily be in contention, especially if she’s anywhere close to her best.

Former Sandpiper Bella Sims is also entered in this event, holding the 11th seed. However, Sims is entered in a whopping 11 events right now, meaning she’ll likely drop this one, especially considering its proximity to the 100 freestyle at Trials if she wants to go for a relay  spot. 

2021 Olympians Looking for a Rebound 

There are three members of the 2021 Olympic Team who will be looking to make it back to the world’s biggest stage. 

Erica Sullivan is one of the biggest names to watch in this event. Sullivan won the silver medal in this event in Tokyo, throwing down a huge personal best 15:41.41 to finish fairly close to Ledecky and give the Americans a 1-2 sweep in the event. Since then, Sullivan has encountered a few injuries that have hindered her progress, including a shoulder injury that kept her out of the 2022 US International Team Trials, preventing her from following-up her Olympic performance. Though she hasn’t been close to her best time since 2021, Sullivan posted a 16:16.94 at the US National Championships last summer to finish 4th, a finish that was promoted to 3rd place following the recent suspension of Kensey McMahon for a positive doping test

Paige Madden was also on the Olympic Team in 2021, competing in the 400 freestyle and 4×200 freestyle relay. Like Sullivan, Madden has struggled a little since Tokyo, failing to qualify for the 2022 or 2023 World Championship Teams. However, Madden seems to be on an upswing recently, posting a personal best in the 400 freestyle a few weeks ago (4:03.02). Like Weinstein and Sims, Madden might opt to drop this event in favor of shorter races. Yet, she holds the 5th seed with a best time of 16:09.93, which she set this year at the Pro Swim Series in Westmont. 

Ashley Twichell represented the US in open water at the 2021 Olympics. Since then, Twichell has taken a significant break from the sport, having her first child with husband Derek Wall in May 2022. However, that has not stopped Wall from pursuing another Olympic berth, this time in the pool. She posted a time of 16:22.69 in the 1500 free at the Atlanta Classic earlier this year, good for 10th in the country this season. Though Twichell will need to drop some significant time to have a shot at another Olympic Team, she has proven that she should not be underestimated. 

NCAA Newcomers

 has slowly built up her NCAA and international resume over the past few seasons to become one of the top distance swimmers in the country. At the 2024 NCAA Championships, Stege finished 5th in the 500 free (4:37.26). Earlier in the season, she represented the US at the 2023 Pan American Games, her first senior level international team. At Pan Ams, she posted a PB in the 1500 free en route to a major gold medal winning performance, swimming a time of 16:13.59 that ranks her 6th on the psych sheets for the meet. 

Aurora Roghair has also had a huge year. The Stanford star capped off a strong NCAA season with a personal best and runner-up finish in the 1650 free at the National Championships (15:41.11). She then carried that momentum into the long course season, posting a personal best of 16:19.79 in the 1500 freestyle at the Trojan Invite last month. That time currently ranks her 12th on the psych sheets and 8th in the country this season. If Roghair continues this momentum, Trials could be another huge opportunity for her. 

Another name to watch out for is Paige McKenna, who won the 1650 free at the 2022 NCAA Championships. McKenna didn’t have the best NCAA season this year, only finishing 9th in the 1650 at NCAAs. However, she posted a 16:22.76 last summer at the European 23 and under Championships, taking 2nd at the meet. She currently enters the meet seeded 13th behind Roghair. 

Like Grimes, Mariah Denigan is already qualified to swim in Paris in the open water events. The Indiana swimmer had a decent showing at the NCAA Championships this year, but has not competed in any meets since then. She holds a lifetime best of 16:12.44 from the 2022 International Team Trials, which would put her right in the mix. 

Top 8 Picks: 

Rank Swimmer Season Best Personal Best
1 Katie Ledecky 15:38.25 15:20.48
2 Katie Grimes 15:57.31 15:44.89
3 Kate Hurst 16:09.37 16:09.37
4 Kayla Han 16:19.17 16:16.94
5 Paige Madden 16:09.93 16:09.93
6 Jillian Cox 16:20.83 16:18.40
7 Erica Sullivan 16:26.45 15:41.41
8 Rachel Stege 16:13.59 16:13.59

Darkhorse Pick: Abby McCulloh – The reigning 1650 free NCAA Champion, McCulloh had a breakout season this year, dropping her best time in the 1650 by a wide margin down to 15:37.74. McCulloh has already gone multiple best times in the long course pool this season, dropping her personal best in the 1500 free to a 16:24.90 last month at the Atlanta Classic. With that time, McCulloh currently ranks 15th entering the meet. However, if her NCAA performance indicates anything, it’s that she might have more left in the tank at Trials. 

 

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Joanna Robinson
25 days ago

Kate Hurst deserves to be on the 2024 Olympic team

Swammer
1 month ago

Top 10 name to throw in the mix. Gena Jorgenson.

Eli
1 month ago

I want to point out that Rachel Stege has gone from 16:33 to 16:29 in June of 2023, and then in November from 16:29 to 16:13. If that says anything, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for her to drop another 10+ seconds, especially in the trials spotlight. I’m not saying she’s my favorite for second, but if the stars align for her (she drops another 10-15 seconds in this race), and Grimes has a “off meet” Stege could possibly grab second. Thoughts ?

Zoey
Reply to  Eli
1 month ago

In a perfect world, yes… But Stege is very inconsistent with her times. She went this crazy 4:32 500 back in november, with a 25 on her last 50, and then wasn’t under 4:35 at NC’s. Not sure if it’s an injury of some sort (I know she’s had shoulder problems in the past), but I’m not going to go as far as to say she’s a potential upset.

I miss the ISL (go dawgs)
Reply to  Zoey
1 month ago

According to people I know close to the UGA program, yes, Stege suffered a resurgence of her shoulder problems around January of this year and they lingered into SECs and NCAAs. I’m of the firm belief Stege would’ve been the 500 NCAA champ if she were fully healthy all season. That being said, apparently her shoulder has remained at bay since January, so there’s definitely a possibility she is healthy enough to surprise some people, but we know how volatile shoulder injuries are.

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

There is no comparison whatsoever in the personal best times.

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

How is Katie Grimes going to have an off meet after winning the 10k title at the 2024 Open Water National Championships six weeks ago?

Caleb
1 month ago

Grimes an obvious #2 but if she’s having a bad meet, who knows? Weinstein has never had a great 1500 but when you beat Ledecky in the 200 and then win international 5k races, you’d think she could break through here. Mystery. Outside the top 2 or 3, anyone’s guess but Roghair will make the final.

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

There is no comparison whatsoever in the personal best times.

Women’s 1500 meter freestyle
Grimes, Katie – 15:44.89
Hurst, Kate – 16.09.37
Weinstein, Claire – 16:09.85
Madden, Paige – 16:09.93
Roghair, Aurora – 16:19.79

Last edited 1 month ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
OldNotDead
1 month ago

Katie x 2

I miss the ISL (go dawgs)
1 month ago

Lets go Stege!!!

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

The “let Bella sprint crowd” won’t tolerate Sims swimming the 1500 FR in lieu of the 100 FR.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

If a “pint-sized” 16 year old from the Carmel Swim Club finishes ahead of Erica Sullivan in the 1500 FR, the University of Texas women’s swimming head coach Carol Capitani should be fired on the spot.

RealCrocker5040
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

If a pint-sized air molecule that’s already next to the touchpad reaches the touchpad before Torri Huske does in the 100 fly, the Stanford University women’s swimming head coach Greg Meehan should be fired on the spot

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  RealCrocker5040
1 month ago

I will laugh my ass off if the “pint-sized” 16 year old from the Carmel Swim Club outperforms the Stanford women’s swimming program in the W 1500 FR.

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

A bit dehumanizing if you ask me. Maybe update your title after this meet and check yourself before making a rude claim/remark to someone’s career.

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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