Four Storylines To Watch At The Russian Olympic Trials


The 2021 Russian National Swimming Championships is set to kick off on Saturday from Kazan, and everything will be on the line over seven days of racing.

The meet will be the country’s sole Olympic qualifying opportunity, and it will also serve as a qualifier for the European Championships, European Junior Championships, and the World University Games.

Russia’s Olympic qualifying procedures are straightforward. The first two finishers in each individual final in Olympic events under the FINA ‘A’ cut will make the team.

For the relays, the criteria states that the priority will go to swimmers who made the team individually, with the potential for up to two swimmers to be added by the federation at the end of the meet as relay-only athletes.

For the purposes of following along with the Olympic team qualifiers over the duration of the meet, this essentially says the third and fourth-place finishers in the 100 and 200 freestyle won’t automatically be added to the team.

It’s no secret that Russia possesses a wealth of swimming talent, which gives us no shortage of intriguing storylines heading into the competition. Here are four to watch for:

Kolesnikov’s Coming Out Party

He’s just 20 years old, holds world records in two events, is a two-time world champion and 13-time European champion. So this won’t be Kliment Kolesnikov‘s breakout meet – he’s already done that.

But, despite all of his early career success, there remains an untapped potential in the long course pool that should be on full display both over the next week and at the Olympic Games in a few months time.

Kolesnikov’s LCM best times in the backstroke events are from 2017 and 2018. He was dominant at the 2018 Euros in Glasgow, setting the world record in the 50 back (24.00) and also winning gold in the 100 back (52.53), but at the 2019 World Championships, he missed the 100 back final.

Though he won bronze in the 50, there seems to be another level he’s capable of hitting.

The Moscow native was a star during the 2020 International Swimming League season, setting the world record in the SCM 100 back (48.58) while showing off his versatility in the 100 free, 200 back and 100 IM.

This week he’ll race all three backstrokes and the 100 free. Going head-to-head with Evgeny Rylov in the backstrokes, the two are expected to record times that solidify their status as premier Olympic medal contenders. Rylov won medals in all three distances at the 2019 Worlds, including winning a second straight title in the 200, and now it seems time for Kolesnikov to take that next step.

More on the 100 free down below, but it’s an incredibly loaded event nationally for the Russians, and we could very well see Kolesnikov and Rylov fighting it out for the fourth relay spot, though both have the capability of challenging for an individual slot if they want to.

The Vet & The Rising Star: Efimova v. Chikunova

Russia possesses two of the three fastest women in the 200 breaststroke since the beginning of 2019, and they’re slated for a great head-to-head battle in Kazan.

On one side is 28-year-old Yuliya Efimova, a two-time Olympic medalist in the event that has won three of the last four World Championship titles.

On the other side is 16-year-old Evgeniia Chikunova, the 2019 World and European Junior champion, who stunned everyone when she clocked 2:21.07 at those Euro Juniors (which were actually held at the same pool these Olympic Trials will be at).

Efimova was nine-tenths quicker that summer, winning the world title by well over two seconds in 2:20.17, with her best time standing at 2:19.41 from 2013. She isn’t likely to go all-in here, with the ability to qualify for the Olympic team easily without much of a taper, but she may have to turn things up a notch if challenged by Chikunova in the 200.

After going 2:21.07 in the semi-finals at Euro Juniors, Chikunova was well off in the final (2:23.06, though she still won gold), but has since shown it was far from a one-off, having been 2:21.87 this past October.

Maria TemnikovaDaria Chikunova and Anastasia Makarova will be among those keeping Efimova and Chikunova on their toes in the breaststroke events.

Another is European Junior medalist Tatiana Belonogoff, who notably changed her sporting citizenship from Great Britain to Russia in early 2020.

Men’s Logjam At 100m Distances

All four men’s 100m events are stacked — though some more so than others. Who will miss out on an individual spot?

100 Butterfly

Andrei Minakov has established as the country’s top 100 flyer, breaking 51 seconds twice at the 2019 World Championships en route to the silver medal.

The second spot isn’t so clear, with five others seeded under 52 seconds. Mikhail Vekovishchev is coming off a standout ISL season at the end of 2020, and Egor KuimovOleg KostinEgor Pavlov and Daniil Pakhomov are right there.

100 Backstroke

This one’s the most clearcut, at least coming in, with Rylov and Kolesnikov at the top. However, Grigory TarasevichNikolai Zuev and Mark Nikolaev were all 53.8 or better in 2019.

100 Breaststroke

A staggering five Russian men are seeded under 1:00 in the 100 breast (along with Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Balandin and Kyrgyzstan’s Denis Petrashov), led by two-time 200 world champion Anton Chupkov (58.83). Kirill Prigoda is the odds-on favorite for the #2 spot, but Ilya Khomenko, Alexander Palatov and Vladislav Gerasimenko will give him no room to breath.

100 Freestyle

Arguably the most stacked event of the meet, the men’s 100 freestyle features three swimmers seeded sub-48 and three more under 49.

Vladislav Grinev was 47.43 in 2019 and went on to win bronze at the World Championships, Vladimir Morozov has seemed to falter in this race at the biggest meets but has broken 48 seven times (including three in 2019), and Minakov sent shockwaves around the world when he surprised with a World Junior Record of 47.57 in October.

If that wasn’t enough, Kolesnikov, Rylov and Vekovishchev lit it up last year in the ISL, throwing down 45 SCM relay splits and 46-second flat start swims, and all seem to be capable of going 48-low at a minimum.

Teenager Alexander Shchegolev is another swimmer on the rise, swimming a pair of 48.8s in October.

Will Any Female Contenders Emerge?

2012 was the last time a Russian woman not named Yuliya Efimova won a medal in an Olympic event at either the Olympics or World Championships. Will a serious medal contender prevail over the next week?

Chikunova is the first that comes to mind, with a serious chance to breakthrough in the 200 breaststroke. But other than her, there are several others on the verge.

Anastasia Kirpichnikova should be a player in the 800 and 1500 freestyle, Daria Vaskina won the bronze in the 50 back at 2019 Worlds and has been 59-mid in the 100, and Maria Kameneva is strong in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 back.

Someone like Arina Surkova, who broke the National Record in the SCM 50 fly during the ISL season, could also surge up the world rankings in the 100 fly if she comes in with her long course game on point.

Bonus: Men’s 200 Free

The men’s 200 freestyle is another loaded race, led by Mikhail DovgalyukMartin Malyutin, Aleksandr Krasnykh, Shchegolev and Vekovishchev. One name lurking lower in the entry list is 29-year-old Danila Izotov, one of just four men ever to crack the 1:44-barrier. He hasn’t broken 1:47 since Rio, however, so it would be a surprise to see him challenge for a top-two spot.

Another potential factor in both the 100 and 200 free is 20-year-old Ivan Girev, who was the 2017 World Junior champion in both events. His times from that meet in Indianapolis (48.33, 1:46.40) remain his PBs, but he had some promising SCM swims in December (21.3, 46.5, 1:42.5 in the 50, 100 and 200 free) which indicate he should feature in the ‘A’ finals.

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1 year ago

Who’s the fourth man under 1:44 in the 200 free? Biedermann, Phelps, Izotov, and?

He said what?
Reply to  KoiFish
1 year ago


Reply to  He said what?
1 year ago

Agnel is the textile World record holder ! Pretty shocking that people forget him, he was an outstanding star in London, but life got in the way and he didn’t have it inside him anymore to swim at this level by the time Rio came along. But still one of France’s brightest swimmers in the short/mid distances !

He said what?
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
1 year ago

His talent was beautiful to watch. I wish he had held that passion until Rio. We would have had a two time Olympic Champion if he had.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  KoiFish
1 year ago

Funny that you remembered Izotov but forgot Agnel.

For me it’s always the other way round. Biedermann, Phelps and Agnel’s swims were all super memorable for me, and all historic in their own way.

Don’t get me wrong, Izotov’s 1:43.9 as a teen is mightily impressive, even considering the supersuit. But somehow it always slips my mind. Perhaps it’s because he lost his heat by two seconds when he set that time lol.


He was overshadowed by Biedermann’s seemingly unbreakable world record.

1 year ago

Russia versus America in the four relay is going to be like US and France was there for a while, it’s going to be a really good race

1 year ago

Where is Ivan Girev? He had great 200 free

1 year ago

Thumbs up to the Russian federation for having a clear selection process – finish first or second in a time under the FINA “A” cut and you’re in. I can think of plenty of nations which impose arbitrary and ridiculously tough standards because apparently you’re a ‘tourist’ and not worthy of being at the Olympics if you don’t have a reasonable chance of making the top 16.

1 year ago

Having tighter qualifying standards doesn’t make a selection process any less clear.

Sapnu puas
1 year ago

Izotov is only 29?!!!?

1 year ago

The photo looks like some famous 1980’s actor

Reply to  Khachaturian
1 year ago

In the photo of him that swim swam has used in the past, he looked liked a VERY healthy Sid Vicious!

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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