After Trials Struggles, Gretchen Walsh Suits Up And Goes Best Time In 3 Years

2022 PHILLIPS 66 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

For elite swimmers, wearing a competition suit for every race has become a norm, especially in long course. But Virginia head coach Todd DeSorbo took a different approach with one of his brightest young stars after years of struggles, and that paid off on Tuesday with her fastest time in nearly three years.

Back in 2019, Gretchen Walsh was an emerging sixteen-year-old with huge expectations placed on her shoulder. She had gone 53.74 in the 100 free at the World Junior Championships that year, making her an Olympic hopeful and the next American sprint star in the eyes of swim fans. After all, her performance was just a continuation of the several years’ worth of fast times that she had put up to become one of the most promising age groupers of her generation.

But then came the 2021 Olympic Trials, where things went south for Walsh. She failed to make it out of prelims, swimming a 55.91 that was well off what her max speed was. And although she made finals in other events, she missed an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.

A year later, many thought the 2022 U.S. International Team trials were a chance for Walsh to bounce back and qualify for the World Championships team. She had an incredible freshman year at UVA, becoming a national champion in the 100-yard free and taking second in both the 50 free and 100 back with new best times. Scoring 54 individual points at NCAAs, she clearly established herself as one of the best yards swimmers in the country. And it seemed more than likely that she would transfer her success over into meters.

“I felt a certain way at junior worlds that I haven’t felt again since I got to UVA,” Walsh told SwimSwam in the lead-up to Worlds trials. “I feel so good in the water, my strokes feel so efficient…everything I’m doing feels correct.”

When Worlds trials happened, it ended up being Olympic trials all over again. In a repeat of what happened a year ago, Walsh couldn’t get past prelims, clocking a 55.57 that was considerably slower than what she could go at sixteen. And what stung even more at that meet was that later in the 50 free, she ended up finishing in third, missing the Worlds team by just 0.01 of a second—the narrowest margin possible in the sport.

DeSorbo, Walsh’s coach, accredited her trials misfires to “internal struggles” that came from the pressure put on her as a teenager. So in order to help her get over these struggles, DeSorbo implemented a new rule: Walsh was not allowed to wear a competition/tech suit in her long course 100-meter races until she hit a certain time, with no exceptions for big meets like U.S. Nationals.

In the swimming world, it’s common knowledge that a tech suit is supposed to help you perform better, making it the optimal solution for big meets. But Walsh is widely-regarded the epitome of “no suit, no problem”,  highlighted by the fact that she once broke the American record in the 50 back wearing a practice suit. She even told SwimSwam this June that she had been going faster times in practice than she had been in meets, so would it hurt to treat a big competition like regular training for once?

“She was like, well won’t people will think that’s weird? ” DeSorbo said of Walsh’s reaction to this new proposal. “And I’m like Gretchen, well don’t you think going 55 in a tech suit is weird? Because she’s way better than that!”

The rule came into play a few weeks ago at the Virginia Long Course Senior Championships, where Walsh went a time of 54.98 in a practice suit. The no tech suit method was clearly working at the point, because that swim was her first time under 55 seconds since May 2021. Then, in the prelims at U.S. Nationals this morning, Walsh once again showed up without a tech suit, clocking another season-best time of 54.77.

It was clear at that point that Walsh had met her goals, as she showed up to finals tonight in a tech suit and ripped a 53.86 to secure the title of national runner-up behind Natalie Hinds. The now nineteen-year-old went her best time since August 2019, finally regaining the long course form that she had as a rising age grouper.

Gretchen Walsh‘s 100 Free Timeline, 2019-2022:

  • 53.74 — August 2019 (World Junior Champs)
  • 54.37 — November 2020
  • 54.51 — March 2021
  • 55.91 — June 2021 (U.S. Olympic Trials)
  • 55.57 — April 2022 (U.S. Worlds Trials)
  • 54.98 — July 2022
  • 54.77 — July 2022 (U.S. Nationals Prelims)
  • 53.86 — July 2022 (U.S. Nationals Finals)

By breaking through in the 100 free after years of underperforming, Gretchen Walsh is finally back and better than ever, ready to prove to the world what she is truly capable of in long course.

In This Story

34
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

34 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Meathead
2 months ago

Hope to see her swimming the same event in 2024!

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

How about putting Gretchen on the same strength program as Alex? Time to put some muscles on that skinny frame.

oxyswim
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

They are different athletes with entirely different builds. I highly doubt their lifting programs are all that different as is. I also don’t know how anyone could watch David Popovici do what he did this summer and assume the answer is always going to be adding more muscle.

Sherry Smit
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

That seems to be slightly toxic

f u
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

how about we not comment on world class athletes bodies?

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

I think there is a fine line, and we should all be sensitive of that line, but this comment doesn’t seem like shaming or toxic to me. I would have probably worded it a little differently, but it’s a well known fact that lots of swimmers have improved a ton by putting on muscle after reaching college.

Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones, Hali Flickinger, Dara Torres, and even Michael Phelps all come to mind as swimmers who have, at some point in their careers, improved and performed at their best after putting an emphasis on strength training and gaining muscle – and who have spoken publicly about how strength training has helped them in their careers.

We, the viewing public, comment… Read more »

ICU
2 months ago

*Laughs in Australian*

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

With Comerford slowing down, Walsh needs to pick the slack for the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.

Robbos
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

You will need more than Walsh!!!!

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Robbos
2 months ago

I’m not talking about the competition versus Australia but Canada. Australia is a foregone conclusion in the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Yanyan Li
2 months ago

Weitzeil did not qualify for the 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships. I’m not sure USA Swimming can count on Manuel, Weitzeil, Comerford going forward in the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. Thus, USA Swimming will need to rely on youngsters (Huske, Walsh, Curzan from oldest to youngest) in the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay for the future.

RMS
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

Weitzeil had what, one off meet in the last 8 years? Give her a break. She’ll be back to form.

Curious
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

I think Brown, Deloof and a few others will be in line before Walsh?

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Curious
2 months ago

Deloof?

How much more upside does Erika Brown have, if any?

Curious
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
2 months ago

Just stating more than Walsh based off of performances

Meathead
Reply to  Yanyan Li
2 months ago

Huske could very well medal in the 100 free and not be a top 4 relay swimmer. She doesn’t show up on relays

RMS
Reply to  Meathead
2 months ago

What meets are you watching?

Kevin
Reply to  Meathead
2 months ago

At least for the 4×100 free relay Huske is almost always going to be in the lead off position because she’s got a great start. Her first sub 53 was as a relay lead off

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Yanyan Li
2 months ago

Canada still has Rebecca Smith. However, the Canadian depth has become waver thin.

SwammaJammaDingDong
2 months ago

Now THAT’S a coach! We need more coaches to use their brains, use their experience, and actually coach their athletes. That means taking some risk, making some changes, and trying new things. An overwhelming number of programs (age group and college) are mirror images of each other, and the coaches are running the same sets they ran 20 years ago.

Meathead
Reply to  SwammaJammaDingDong
2 months ago

Agree…Walsh clearly was in her own head. This coach was willing to sacrifice the short term to make the long term a success. Well done

Miss M
2 months ago

So excited for G Walsh!

Curious
2 months ago

That wasn’t a best time was it?

Miss M
Reply to  Curious
2 months ago

0.12 slower than her pb

Swammer2009
2 months ago

Always been a big G Walsh fan and super happy for her!

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming through scoring countless dual meets, being a timer, and keeping track of her teammates' best times for three years as a team manager. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in …

Read More »