2022 PHILLIPS 66 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Tuesday July 26 – Saturday, July 29, 2018
- William Woollett Aquatics Center, Irvine, CA
- Prelims 9 AM / Finals 5 PM (U.S. Pacific Time)
- Meet website
- Meet information
- Psych Sheet
- Day 1 Finals Live Recap
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.