The Best Race To Watch Each Night Of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials


Day 1: Sunday, June 26th: Men’s 400 IM Final

Runner-up: Women’s 400 IM: Three-way battle between Dirado, Leverenz and Beisel.

With only three finals on the opening night, the men’s 400 IM stakes the claim as the best race to watch during the first finals session. Unlike previous years, there is no clear-cut favorite to win this one. The past two Trials have featured the defending Olympic champion, Michael Phelps, and his friendly rival Ryan Lochte. It has been almost a foregone conclusion those two would take the top two spots at Trials in 2008 and 2012, but this year is different.

We know for sure Phelps isn’t swimming it, and defending Olympic champion Lochte recently announced he is for sure swimming it, making this race all the more exciting. However, it’s not a slam dunk qualification for the 31 year-old. But if he swims up to his capability, there’s no one in the field who can beat him. His time of 4:05.18 from London outclasses everyone in the field by a wide margin. Tyler Clary‘s best non-suit swim is 4:09.03, and Chase Kalisz is the only other man in the field to have cracked 4:10 (4:09.22). Kalisz, Clary, and some other youngsters will be looking to give the defending Olympic gold medalist a run for his money.

Kalisz should be favored to take a spot, as he won a medal at the last two World Championships. Clary has won a pair of World Championship medals in this event himself, and is the fourth fastest performer in history at 4:06.96. Jay Litherland (4:12.43) and Josh Prenot (4:13.15) went 1-2 in this event at the 2015 World University Games, and Gunnar Bentz was the National champion in 2015.

With the potential of a 3-5 man battle for Olympic spots around the 4:09 area, plus the chance of a few others jumping up with some big swims such as Michael Weiss, Sean Grieshop and Andrew Seliskar, this one is bound to be exciting. All of the lead changes and momentum swings that come with a 400 IM makes it all the more exciting.

Day 2: Monday, June 27th: Women’s 100 Fly Final

Runner-up: Women’s 400 Free: Katie Ledecky WR watch.

The anticipation for the inevitable duel between defending Olympic champion Dana Vollmer and the upstart two-time NCAA champion and SCY American record holder Kelsi Worrell has been growing ever since it became clear Vollmer’s comeback was for real.

Worrell appeared to be Vollmer’s heir apparent after capturing Pan American gold in 2015 and swimming a time fast enough to win bronze at the World Championships. The two clashed at US Nationals early in Vollmer’s comeback, with Worrell winning and Vollmer finishing 4th.

The two met at the Arena Pro Series in Mesa in April, and Vollmer showed she was back on top form. She went 56.94 to win, going faster than Worrell ever has. Worrell was just 0.03 off her own best in 57.27, a promising sign for both heading into Rio.

The battle for the top spot between the two will be intense, but there are many others who will make this final fun to watch. Katie McLaughlin, Kendyl Stewart and Claire Donahue are just three of many who could drop a fast one in Omaha. If Vollmer or Worrell slips up, one of them is more than capable of stepping in and grabbing an Olympic spot.

Day 3: Tuesday, June 28th: Men’s 100 Back Final

Runner-up: Men’s 200 Free: Six Olympic spots up for grabs. Dwyer, Lochte, Haas, Phelps?

There’s no denying it – this could be the race of the Trials. Three men all capable of winning the Olympic title will be vying for two spots on the team in what shapes up to be an amazing race.

Matt Grevers has to be considered the favorite coming in as he is the defending Olympic champion and the second fastest man in history after his 52.08 performance four years ago in Omaha. His spot on the team is far from a sure thing with both David Plummer and Ryan Murphy capable of beating him on any given day.

After missing the final at the World Championships Plummer has seriously stepped up his game. He put up a time of 52.51 (a best time) at the FINA World Cup in Dubai that would’ve beaten Grevers for bronze in Kazan, and has gone even faster this year. He clocked a time of 52.40 at the Arena Pro Swim in Indianapolis to sit atop the world rankings. Assuming Plummer wasn’t rested or shaved for that swim, we could see something remarkable from him in Omaha.

Murphy erased his ‘new kid on the block’ status with a 52.18 lead-off on the mixed medley relay at the World Championships last year. He wasn’t able to recreate that performance in either the mixed or men’s medley finals, but is back on form this year with a world ranking of 3rd with his swim of 52.57 in April.

This race is going to be a must-see on Tuesday night. Throw in Murphy’s Cal teammate Jacob Pebley, 50 back Short Course world silver medalist Eugene Godsoe and potentially Texas Longhorn Jack Conger and this is going to be one fun race to watch.

Day 4: Wednesday, June 29th: Women’s 200 Free Final

Runner-up: Men’s 200 Fly: Probably Phelps’ first final, Conger and Shields battle part 1.

Like the men’s 100 back the women’s 200 free shapes up to be a three-way battle that will leave one swimmer capable of medaling or winning at the Olympics out of the event.

First, there’s reigning World Champion Katie Ledecky. She pulled off the quad in Kazan winning the 200 through 1500 freestyle events, and looks like she could do the triple at the Olympics (1500 isn’t competed for women). In January Ledecky posted a best time of 1:54.43, over half a second faster than she went in Kazan, signalling she has something big coming in this race.

Then there’s 2013 World Champion Missy Franklin, who also won bronze behind Ledecky in Kazan. Franklin hasn’t been swimming her best in-season times this year, but with this being her second go around at the Olympic Trials she should be able to get the job done.

Then there’s Allison Schmitt, the woman picked by many to finish 3rd in this event, who happens to be the defending Olympic Champion. Not only did she win this event in London, she won it by nearly two seconds. Schmitt’s best last year was her 1:56.23 to win the Pan Am Games, but will need to get back into the 1:54-range if she wants to qualify individually.

There are many other players who will make this race exciting, including Leah Smith, Katie McLaughlin, and Melanie Margalis to name a few. Remember, with six spots up for grabs in this event it’s going to be ultra competitive.

Day 5: Thursday, June 30th: Men’s 100 Free Final

Runner-up: Men’s 200 Breast: Huge battle brewing between Cordes, Prenot, Fink, Miller, Licon, etc…

Often referred to as the glamour event of swimming, the men’s 100 free final is one swim fans have been anticipating for a long time.

It will be round 1 of Nathan Adrian vs Caeleb Dressel, and with the top-6 qualifying it will be dog fight for those spots. Will we see Phelps and Lochte in the final? Will the veterans such as Matt Grevers, Anthony Ervin and Jimmy Feigen hold their spots, or will the younger generation including Jack Conger, Michael Chadwick and Maxime Rooney take over?

Whatever happens it’s going to be one of the most exciting races of the meet, and with 40 swimmers seeded under 50 seconds anyone could have a breakout meet and surprise the big dogs.

Day 6: Friday, July 1st: Men’s 200 IM Final

Runner-up: Women’s 100 Free: Six spots up for grabs, no clear-cut favorite. Will Ledecky be there?

In their last battle on American soil (except for maybe the 100 fly), Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will put on a show for the crowd. The owners of the fastest 15 times ever recorded in this event, this will be one for fans to just sit back and enjoy. A world record could happen too, it’s happened before. Phelps broke it at this meet in 2008, and the two have consistently been going 1:54s since then.

Nothing’s for sure in this sport, but Phelps and Lochte look to have the top two spots locked up. Only if Lochte elects to swim the 200 back final can someone step in and challenge him. Only the women’s 200 back semis separate the two, but for now, the race appears to be for 3rd among the rest. Still, that’s going to be very intriguing in itself. Conor Dwyer was 5th at the World Championships last year, Josh Prenot upset Lochte at the Duel In the Pool in December, and David Nolan and Will Licon have won the last two NCAA titles in this race.

Day 7: Saturday, July 2nd: Men’s 100 Fly

Runner-up: Women’s 800 Free: World record watch will be in full effect with Ledecky swimming her best race.

Probably the most anticipated race Phelps is in, in part due to the impending battle at the Olympics with South African Chad Le Clos. But the race here will be spectacular as well. Phelps is the odds on favorite as the only man in the field to break 51 seconds, and he has broken 50 seconds. It won’t be an easy win however, with many worthy contenders looking to give him their best.

Tom Shields just missed a medal at the World Championships last year in 4th, and is poised to break 51 for the first time after going a personal best 51.03 last year. Jack Conger finished runner-up to Phelps at US Nationals in a PB of 51.33, and was a solid 51.7 at the Longhorn Elite Invite earlier this month.

Shields and Conger are expected to be the two fighting for 2nd, but there are five more men seeded under 52 seconds who could do some damage. Tim Phillips, Matthew Josa, Matt Ellis, Giles Smith, and Ryan Lochte (if he swims it) are all capable of moving up and challenging for an Olympic berth.

Day 8: Sunday, July 3rd: Women’s 50 Free

Runner-up: Men’s 1500 Free: Jaeger chases his American record, Wilimovsky & McBroom battle for 2nd spot. Will Clark Smith make some noise?

With only two events on the last day of competition there wasn’t much to chose from, but the women’s 50 free should be exciting with a nice mix of youth and experience.

On the older side there is top seed Madison Kenendy who won the 2015 US National title, and Dana Vollmer, Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Weir who have a combined 19 Olympic medals among them and have an average age of over 30. Kennedy appears to be at the top of her game, but Coughlin and Vollmer especially have the experience of delivering when the pressure is highest.

On the younger side there is Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil and Olivia Smoliga, among others, who will be very fast. Weitzeil is the SCY American record holder, and Manuel was a finalist at the World Championships last year. Smoliga is seeded just 13th, but swam the second fastest 50 yard free ever behind Weitzeil at NCAAs making her a threat.

Also in the field is 2012 Trials champ Jessica Hardy, butterfly star Kelsi Worrell who broke 25 seconds for the first time in March, and distance phenom Katie Ledecky. All three could add some spice to an already exciting final.

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bobo gigi
7 years ago

Deck Pass Live with Kaitlin Sandeno and Ariana Kukors. Quick trials peview.
I like watching Kukors behind the mic. Hopefully we’ll see her often in the future. She’s beautiful, smart and talks quietly!

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
7 years ago


bobo gigi
7 years ago

My final “2016 US olympic team barometer” before trials.
Not much confidence in some events.
Sometimes it’s hard to know who will swim what.
But let’s have fun.
Reminder: it’s not a prediction about the trials’ results but who will represent USA in Rio.

50 free. Nathan Adrian/Anthony Ervin
100 free. Nathan Adrian/Caeleb Dressel plus Michael Phelps/Maxime Rooney/Jack Conger/Ryan Lochte for the relay
200 free. Conor Dwyer/Ryan Lochte plus Michael Phelps/Townley Haas/Maxime Rooney/Grant Shoults for the relay
400 free. Clark Smith/Conor Dwyer
1500 free. Connor Jaeger/Clark Smith
100 back. Matt Grevers/David Plummer
200 back. Ryan Murphy/Tyler Clary
100 breast. Kevin Cordes/Cody Miller
200 breast. Kevin Cordes/Josh… Read more »

7 years ago

race of the meet will be male 100m back final…..

7 years ago

I wouldn’t consider the W 100 fly to be one of the main races to watch. Vollmer and worrel are such strong favorites. And while it will be exciting to see them race (I think volmer will win), at trials the most exciting race is for 2nd since only the top 2 make it. The races that have a few close serious competitors for a top two spot are more excitjnv than a race for 1st.

7 years ago

I think no matter what happens in the men’s 100 back I’m going to be sad. It’s awesome and sucks we have 3 of the fastest 5 backstrokers in the world Plummer deserves it Grevers wants it Murphy seems unstoppable I’m just not sure what’s gonna happen.

Pa swimmer
7 years ago

200 breast will be very interesting.

7 years ago

I’ve spent the entire day before Trials reading everything I can find and I can’t help getting mad about television coverage before it’s even happened. I probably just need to calm down. The close-up shot of the lead swimmer always burns me up. Please show THE RACE and not the head of a swimmer. There is really only one good angle – imagine what a spectator in the stands sees and show that shot. Please save all those close-ups and side angle shots for the slow-mo replays. I should have just gone to Omaha! Does somebody know the right person to get a little attention to this? Or maybe I’m the only one who cares about seeing the first place… Read more »

7 years ago

I totally agree that we need to see the whole width of the pool. But showing others during KL’s races is usually impossible. It’s hard to pan out enough to show twenty to thirty meters of pool!

Reply to  Jimswim
7 years ago

Thanks Jim for your comment. Yes, I’m prepared to hear Rowdy say (as he does every time Katie swims): “Look how far ahead Katie is. Why, you can’t even see another swimmer in the screen!” Well, I could if you would zoom out. True, on a few races it’s reasonable to leave out the lagging lanes. But watching a single swimmer without at least one other swimmer in the screen has no perspective, and is meaningless. I’m okay with zooming back to get just one other swimmer in the case of a Ledecky-stye romp. And in those races where there are leading swimmers separated by several seconds and then another bunch, it can be useful to just show the lead… Read more »

7 years ago


About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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