Breakout Names from the 2016 U.S. Open That Became Tokyo 2020 Olympians

The dual-site 2021 Speedo Spring Championships are taking place this week in Greensboro, NC and Irvine, CA. This meet serves as a summer-concluding championship meet for fast swimming following the U.S. Olympic Trials, for most. Similarly, the 2016 U.S. Open meet served as a last-chance racing opportunity for some swimmers who just missed the Olympic team and others who are maybe a bit too early for an Olympic Team still.

Both of these meets showcase a different type of value that many can overlook. Numerous names that were at the top of these 2016 U.S. Open results wound up writing their names on top of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials results.

So while it’s easy to write them off as an afterthought of the Olympics and Olympic Trials, they’re so much more than that: they’re the beginning of the new chapter of the Paris 2024 Olympic (triad?), the spot where the next round of Olympians will stake their claim for the future, and a moment to capture some confidence.

  • Click here to view all results from the 2016 U.S. Open.

Among the 2016 U.S. Open highlights was a men’s 50 free showdown between 19-year-old Bowe Becker and 17-year-old Michael Andrew. In the final, Becker out-swam Andrew in the A-final, 22.23 to 22.42. On the same day, Andrew placed 5th in the 200 IM final at 2:03.39, splitting 26.07/31.62/35.79/29.89. Also earlier in the meet, Becker placed 13th in the 100 free B-final following 50.09 in prelims.

At the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, Becker placed fifth to grab a 4×100 relay spot. His stellar leg in prelims earned him a spot on the finals relay, where he aided a gold medal performance. Meanwhile, Andrew won the 100 breast and 200 IM at Trials, as well as placing 2nd in the 50 free. In Tokyo, Andrew just missed the podium in his three events, however, was a member of the gold medal-winning 4×100 medley relay.

After placing third at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Andrew Wilson won two U.S. Open titles, sweeping the breaststroke events. Wilson first won the 200 breast in a meet record time of 2:09.73. Brit James Wilby finished in second at 2:10.01. In the 100 event, Wilson also took a win at 59.51, just 0.09s off the U.S. Open meet record. Wilby settled for second in 1:00.77. Both Wilson and Wilby swam breaststroke on the prelims 4×100 medley relays for their countries. Wilson walked away with a gold medal while Wilby now has Olympic silver.

In the women’s 100 back, a 14-year-old Regan Smith finished in second at 1:00.26 behind Aussie veteran Holly Barratt (59.96). Smith also placed 6th in the 200 back A-final following a 2:11.41 swim. While she didn’t qualify for the Olympic team in the 200 back, she remains the current world record-holder. In Tokyo, Smith became a third-time medalist, picking up silver in the 200 fly and 4×100 medley relay along with bronze in the 100 back.

Aussie Alexander Graham finished third in the 100 free A-final at 49.97. His country-mate Zac Incerti faded to 16th in the B-final after swimming 50.42 in prelims. For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Graham and Incerti were prelims/finals members of the 4×100 and 4×200 free relays, both becoming double Olympic bronze medalists.

In the men’s 200 fly 18-year-old Zach Harting took the 2016 U.S. Open title with a time of 1:57.64, dropping from 1:59.22 in prelims. In the same way, Ashley Twichell, who was 27 at the time, won the 800 free with a time of 8:25.31, dropping from her 8:28.96 seed. Both Harting and Twichell became Tokyo 2020 Olympians.

Lurking in the women’s distance free events was 15-year-old Erica Sullivan, who finished 5th place in the 800 free at 8:37.92. She also finished in second place in the 1500 free at 16:25.92. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Sullivan swam a monster 15:41.41 to earn Olympic silver behind USA teammate Katie Ledecky in the first-ever women’s 1500 free Olympic final.

On the men’s side, a then-16-year-old Bobby Finke placed third in the 1500 free at 15:14.75, along with a 5th-place finish in the 800 free at 8:01.99. At BOTH this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Finke swept both the 800 free and 1500 free, nailing an American record of 7:41.87 in the 800 and 14:39.65 in an electric 1500 final.

Before Kieran Smith was an Olympic 200/400 freestyler, he specialized in backstroke and IM events. A 16-year-old Smith won the 200 back B-final in 2016 with a time of 2:02.34. Smith then in 2021 became a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials champion in the 200 free and 400 free, where he earned Olympic bronze in Tokyo.

While many names found success five years and a pandemic later, a few other names wound up disappearing following some promising swims. Aussie Sian Whittaker took the 200 back title at 2:08.64 while 16-year-old Eva Merrell took second at 2:09.54. Whittaker had to take a break from competitive swimming following an endometriosis diagnosis in summer 2019. She has been in the works of making a comeback in 2021. Meanwhile, Merrell hit 2:10.22 at 2017 PSS Mesa, setting herself up for a nice championship season, until she swam a pair of 2:14s at that year’s U.S. Nationals. No times have been found for her after summer 2017.

In the men’s 200 back, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Arkady Vyatchanin took the U.S. Open title in the 200 back at 1:56.65, touching out H2okie’s Robert Owen (1:56.79). Owen had a great summer 2017, hitting 1:57.17 at 2017 U.S. Nationals to land a spot on the 2017 World University Games (WUGs) roster. At WUGs, however, Own bested 1:58.32 in the event. No more times showed up for Own after that season.

25-year-old Hannah Saiz of Schroeder YMCA, a former dominant D3 swimmer, won the 200 fly with 2:10.14 after swimming a promising 2:09.61 in prelims. At the 2017 U.S. Nationals one year later, Saiz bested 2:10.83. However, the next two years she saw a decline in season bests, hitting 2:12.74 in 2018 and 2:13.57 in 2019. After the pandemic, there was a recorded 200 fly from May 2021, where she swam 2:18.74, and she is currently coaching at St. Norbert’s College in Wisconsin.

In the same way that many of the aforementioned names made an impact this Olympic cycle, a similar group that is topping these Speedo Spring Championships could set themselves up for a great Paris 2024 campaign.

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Hswimmer
4 months ago

Wow MA used to split under 30…

Walter
Reply to  Hswimmer
4 months ago

Exactly. Is he going out way too fast now?

MAndrew fan
Reply to  Walter
4 months ago

Nope. Just needs to take his training for the first 3×50’s and keep extending to the fourth. Plus go even faster on the first 150. Not in the rule books you have to break 30 to do so. But actually, one of his 6 swims he actually did break 29 at Trials. I think he ranged from 29 high to 30.6 between the 6 swims.

MIKE IN DALLAS
Reply to  MAndrew fan
4 months ago

point made! point scored!

Swim nerd
Reply to  Hswimmer
4 months ago

Now, hear me out on this, but MA should train with Gregg troy for a year or two, he’d get back to swimming that fast

Hswimmer
Reply to  Swim nerd
4 months ago

I agree have been saying that for a while to myself

Walter
Reply to  Swim nerd
4 months ago

Unless he died first.

dude
Reply to  Swim nerd
4 months ago

he’d get back to going 2:03?

DC in DC
Reply to  Hswimmer
4 months ago

Yes, but that all amounted to a time above 2 m, he has now blasted a 1:55 going all out…. While MA set a very high bar for himself, all-in-all, you have to rate his 2020/21 as VERY successful — he is AR in 100 Breast, US OLY Trials Champ in 100 BR, 200 IM, OR and WR in 4×100 MR, and finalist at OLY in 3 individual events. Not many 22-year old swimmers can boast a resume like that! Kudos to MA. Would training with a strong group help? Who knows….

MAndrew fan
Reply to  DC in DC
4 months ago

Agree! Even if he never improved and peaked here, it’s still a great accomplishment for any swimmer. Lots of Olympians with no medals and no one remembers them without googling first. I hope he continues to do him. I hope he continues to push the limits on that 150 and then entertain us with the Final 50 of Suspense.

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro started swimming at age 11, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing. After joining SwimSwam, the site has become an outlet for him to research and learn about competitive swimming and experience the sport through a new lenses. He graduated in …

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