Are WUGs a Good Indicator for a Subsequent Olympics Berth? (2015-16 Edition)

With the 2019 World University Games just now coming to a close, and with Worlds starting in less than two weeks, we’re taking a look back at the lead-up to 2016 Rio.

WUGs are a fun meet to follow, in that the roster is a B-team of sorts (based on how people finished at its qualifying meet), but the focus is on college athletes who often are primed to jump up to take roster spots at major international summer championships. Before we dissect the 2019 WUGs roster’s performance and how that might affect the field at 2020 Olympic Trials, let’s look back at 2015 WUGs and see who from that meet was able to propel themselves onto the Olympic team for Rio.

Click above to view the full 2015 WUGs roster, back from 2014 when the team was named. Note that while Caeleb Dressel was initially named to the team for the 50 free, he was later swapped out for Paul Powers and didn’t compete at WUGs at all.


Below, we’re listing out the 10 swimmers (six women, four men) who competed at WUGs and then were able to land a spot on the Olympic team in 2016. In parentheses, you can see how that swimmer fared in a given event in Rio.

Swimmer 2015 WUGs 2016 Olympics
Hali Flickinger 200 FL/400 IM 200 FL (8th)
Molly Hannis 200 BR 200 BR (16th)
Lilly King 50/100 BR
100 BR (GOLD), 200 BR (12th)
Lia Neal 400 FR-R
Leah Smith 200/400 FR
4×200 FR-R (GOLD), 400 FR (BRONZE), 800 FR (6th)
Abbey Weitzeil 50/100 FR
4×100 FR-R (SILVER), 100 FR (7th), 50 FR (14th)
Jack Conger 50/100 FR, 100 BK 800 FR-R (1st)
Jay Litherland 400 IM 400 IM (5th)
Jacob Pebley 50/100/200 BK 200 BK (5th)
Josh Prenot 200 BR, 200/400 IM

Out of this bunch, six swimmers earned Olympic medals in Rio, three of them earning individual medals. The top performer would be Lilly King, who won gold over Yulia Efimova in 2016 with an Olympic Record time of 1:04.93 and also earned gold swimming in the 4×100 medley relay final.

When looking back at 2015 WUGs results (Wikipedia results are here), King didn’t even win at 2015 WUGs. There, in the 100 breast, she touched in second for silver at 1:06.93 behind Japan’s Mina Matsushima (1:06.76), a full two seconds slower than what she’d end up going in Rio. Matsushima, meanwhile, missed the Japanese team for Rio altogether.

Of the Olympians who swam at WUGs, Josh Prenot, Jacob Pebley, Jay Litherland and Leah Smith had won at least one individual gold at WUGs before making the Olympic team. Jack Conger won gold as part of the 4×100 free relay, won a silver in the 100 free and 4×100 medley relay, and a bronze in the 100 back, before he went on to help the U.S. team to gold (swimming in prelims) in the 4×200 free relay. Lia Neal and Abbey Weitzeil won golds at WUGs on relays, and then won relay medals at the Olympics.


To be sure, WUGs success in no way guarantees an Olympic berth. In 2015, Reed Malone won the 200 free, Shannon Vreeland (2012 Olympian) won the 100 and 200 free, Lindsay Vrooman took the 800 free, Lisa Bratton took the 200 back, and Sarah Henry claimed the 400 IM. None of them made the 2016 Olympic team, though Bratton just missed with a third-place finish in the 200 back at Trials.+

Besides Bratton, five WUGs swimmers made it to Olympic Trials finals. Vrooman and Henry were two of them: Vrooman placed 4th in the 400 and 800 free, while Henry was 6th in the 400 IM and 8th in the 200 breast.

The other three were Seth StubblefieldMatthew Josa, and Madisyn Cox. Stubblefield took a painstaking 3rd place finish in the 100 fly, while Josa was 6th in that event and Cox placed 4th in both IMs.


Some of the 2015 WUGs team have long since retired (like 2012 Olympic 4×200 free relay champion Vreeland), some are still trying to break out to the Olympics (like Cox), and some have carved their names into legends of the sport (like Lilly King).

Today, Lilly King has evolved into the WR-holder in both the 50- and 100-meter breaststrokes, Leah Smith is one of the best distance swimmers in the world, and truly all ten of the 2015 WUGs to 2016 Olympic Team swimmers above will likely be *at least* making a final at Olympic Trials, if not making another Olympic team.

Additionally, names like Hali Flickinger, Abbey Weitzeil, and Jacob Pebley feel at least fairly safe to make the 2020 team individually.

Stay tuned for our look back at 2019 WUGs, and who from this recent batch might be best positioned to live the dream on the 2020 Tokyo roster.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

The USA women did not win gold in the 4x100m free at the Rio Olympics.

Reply to  petriasfan
1 year ago

At least they showed up for the individual event….

Reply to  Really
1 year ago

Give it up now .

1 year ago

Kylie Masse of Canada is the same story. She went to WUG in 2015 where she won the 100 back in meet record time. Next year at Rio she tied for bronze in the 100 back. She is looking strong going into 2020 as well with Worlds coming up

1 year ago

Pebley’s got his work cut out for him. Katz is on the rise and they were .01 off each other last summer

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

Read More »