Dana Vollmer Returns to Competition with 16th-Place Finish in 50 Free


There were a number of big stories that came out of the opening stop of the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas this weekend. The most attention was paid to the new format changes – the 50 meter shootouts on Saturday, and the overall team format, changes, a first-hand view of young Chinese star Li Bingjie, and for our European audience finally some life in the British backstroking group.

But outside of the podiums and A-finals, there was an undercard storyline: the return to competition of one of the great swimmers of her generation Dana Vollmer.

Austin was Vollmer’s first competition back after the birth of her 2nd child Ryker Alexander Grant on July 4th.

Vollmer finished 16th in prelims of the 50 fly (27.53) and 24th in prelims of the 50 free (26.37). Neither time ranks high in her all-time personal bests, but both swims show that she’s on her way back toward the U.S. National Team, if she continues to pursue it. In her only swim of 2017, she swam a 27.59 in the 50 free at the Pro Swim Series – Mesa, while 26 weeks pregnant.

Where does Dana Vollmer fit in the current American landscape? That conversation has to start with the 100 fly – the event where she’s won her two individual Olympic medals (including gold in 2012).

Kelsi Worrell, last year’s World’s bronze medalist, seems to have affixed herself to one of the two American spots for major competition in that event. While the rest of the U.S. has definitely upped it’s game in the last 18 months, there’s still a lot of uncertainty behind her.

Sarah Gibson, the Texas A&M graduate now training with David Marsh at Team Elite in San Diego, dipped under 58 last year to take the 2nd spot behind Worrell. Mallory Comerford is rising as fast as any other American woman, and is sort of an unpredictable force – she’s a freestyle fixture now, but can she do enough in the fly to hold off Vollmer? Amanda Kendall, now training under Coley Stickels at Indiana, won the 100 fly in Austin in 58.29 – which is faster than she was at Nationals last year.

There’s a lot of talent in this race (Hellen Moffit, a healthy Katie McLaughlin, Kendyl Stewart), but none have yet even come close to the sub-57 barrier that it takes to ‘cement’ a spot on Team USA right now.

Only 2 Americans have been sub-57 in this event: Vollmer and Worrell. Vollmer has done it 13 times, and Worrell has done it 6 times. Besides them, among active American swimmers, only Claire Donahue has been under 57.8, and she hasn’t done so since 2012.

What that all boils down to for Vollmer is an opportunity. At 30, she’s on the tail-end of the traditional ‘prime age’ for swimmers, but she wouldn’t be the first to defy those norms – and has some cushion to work with too.

The other matter is whether she has enough to continue to be a part of the American free relays, or perhaps even the 50 free individually, in Tokyo. The American women’s freestyle group continues to grow in depth, and with 6 spots (usually) available for those relays, Vollmer will still be in the hunt. She swam 53.18 in the Olympic final on the 400 free relay in Rio. With Abbey Weitzeil looking back on-form, Margo Geer coming around in long course, and Katie Ledecky continuing to be a coach’s choice for even the sprint relays, a spot in the finals relay is going to be tougher-and-tougher to come by. What post-shoulder-surgery Missy Franklin looks like after her new training in Georgia will have a big say in what spots are available in future free relays. In spite of the struggles she’s had lately, remember that she’s only 22 – younger than Geer, Lia Neal, Vollmer, Worrell, and only 20 months older than Weitzeil.

Vollmer will be 32 by the time Tokyo rolls around. Whether her comeback becomes a full-bore run toward the Olympics or a more casual training will determine how big of a schedule Vollmer can attack. In an interview with USA Swimming’s Mike Watkins in December, she indicated that she was all-in for Tokyo: “We’ve always dreams of adding a little girl to our family, but right now I think we’re good at having two. But if we do decide to have more kids, it won’t be until after 2020.”

“Why not give it another try when I’m still loving swimming as much as I do?” said Vollmer. “It hasn’t been easy, and when days or sets get really hard, I reflect back to the days when I just had to feed myself and take care of just me, and I’m reminded how much I love my life and how balanced it is.

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I remember that in the beginning of 2016 season when she came back first time she told after her sub 54sec race that she is going to be a 52 sec swimmer (100 free) – the place where a swimmer should be to call herself a sprinter. It hasn’t happened to her but I liked her ambitions and determination that time and she was of a good help to American record setting relay. This time we see another Dana Vollmer – more cautious with prognosis. Let’s wait for another PSS stop. It will bring more clarity of what she is up to and what she is capable for this season.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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