Disclaimer: Dolfin Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Dolfin Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
Last summer was a breakthrough season for Katie McLaughlin, who booked a return trip to the World Championships with a stellar 100 fly. But McLaughlin, who was a 2015 World Champs team member before missing the team in 2017, is sneakily becoming a multi-event threat for next summer’s Olympic Trials.
McLaughlin was a storied age group swimmer who appeared to be strong contender for the 2016 Olympic team before a neck injury derailed her training in early 2016. Since then, she’s gritted her way back towards the top of USA Swimming’s fields, and last weekend’s freestyle showings at the NOVA Grand Challenge suggests she could be a free relay threat at Olympic Trials.
What we’ll officially call our “Swim of the Week” was a 1:57.62 win in the 200 free. McLaughlin bested a tough field that included Cal teammates Abbey Weitzeil and Izzy Ivey as well as former Michigan standout Catie DeLoof. McLaughlin’s time was her best in-season swim since 2015 – well before the neck injury. McLaughlin was 1:57.55 in June of 2015 at an in-season meet, but then couldn’t better that time for three years. Last summer, she finally cracked it with a 1:56.88 at the Pan Pacific Championships.
That time was the 6th-fastest among Americans for the season, and could have qualified McLaughlin for a prelims relay leg at 2019 Worlds, but she missed that spot on two quirks of the selection process: first, the 1:56.8 came in prelims at Pan Pacs, and only finals times were eligible for Worlds selection. Second, only A final times at U.S. Nationals were eligible, and McLaughlin missed that A final, only to win the B final in a time that would’ve been 7th overall.
Despite that narrow miss, McLaughlin is currently the 4th American in the world this year, narrowly trailing Leah Smith (1:57.54) and Simone Manuel (1:57.24), with Katie Ledecky leading the field. She may not get a chance to swim the event at a major meet this summer, but McLaughlin could be a sneaky bet to earn a 2020 Olympic spot with a top 6 finish in the 200 free.
It’s also worth noting that at the same NOVA Grand Challenge meet, McLaughlin hit her 4th-fastest 100 free ever in 54.46. That’s just three tenths off a lifetime-best she swam at Pan Pacs last summer. Once again, her lifetime-best came in prelims at Pan Pacs, and she was the 5th American and bumped from the B final. But a 54.0 was the 6th-best time among all American women last season, so McLaughlin has a real shot to contend for a relay leg there, too.
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