Heartbreak Is Imminent: The Most Cut-Throat Events At The 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials

Often referred to as the most pressure-packed meet on earth, the U.S. Olympic Trials can be cruel.

As the deepest country in the sport, there are always swimmers fast enough to make an Olympic final, or maybe even medal, left at home due to the two-per-country rule.

There’s no greater example of the type of carnage that can happen than what happened to Regan Smith in 2021, as the reigning world champion and world record holder in the women’s 200 backstroke missed qualifying for the Olympic team in the event after having an ‘off’ swim in the Trials final.

In the women’s 200 IM, Alex Walsh won the 2021 Trials in a time of 2:09.30 and went on to win Olympic silver in Tokyo. Madisyn Cox was third, four one-hundredths back in 2:09.34, and retired after the Trials having never made an Olympic team.

For the men, first and third were separated by seven one-hundredths in the men’s 100 breast in 2021, and the 100 back has always been a bloodbath, no more so than 2016, when Matt Grevers was denied a chance to defend his Olympic title when Ryan Murphy and David Plummer went 1-2.

Heading into 2024, there’s no debate that the women’s field is deeper than the men’s as a whole, and the statistics back that up.

Below, find the events in which at least two American swimmers have produced a time this season faster than what was required to make the final at the last Olympics in Tokyo.

This gives us a gauge of which events have the most competitive depth domestically.

Note that swimmers who haven’t quite gone a time fast enough to make the list but are close are included at the bottom with a dash instead of their domestic ranking.

WOMEN’S 200 BACK – 8 (TOKYO FINAL: 2:08.76)

Swimmer Time
1 Regan Smith 2:03.99
2 Claire Curzan 2:05.77
3 Phoebe Bacon 2:07.24
4 Rhyan White 2:07.38
5 Katie Grimes 2:08.01
6 Kennedy Noble 2:08.03
7 Teagan O’Dell 2:08.09
8 Isabelle Stadden 2:08.42
Leah Shackley 2:08.87

Seeing the women’s 200 back sit atop the list with eight swimmers under the Tokyo Olympic cut-off this season alone is no surprise, as Smith has been on fire in the event over the last year and Claire Curzan is coming off winning the 2024 world title in Doha. Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White are also capable of going 2:05, making this possibly the most brutal event on the schedule with at least four women who could win a medal in Paris.

WOMEN’S 200 FLY – 7 (TOKYO FINAL: 2:09.07)

Swimmer Time
1 Regan Smith 2:04.80
2 Alex Shackell 2:07.13
3 Rachel Klinker 2:07.70
4 Emma Sticklen 2:08.57
5 Katie Grimes 2:08.70
6 Dakota Luther 2:08.94
7 Kelly Pash 2:09.02

Another race that should be dominated by Smith, the women’s 200 fly was relatively weak in Tokyo so the 2:09.07 time isn’t as fast as the cut-off in some other events. With Hali Flickinger retired, the second spot is up for grabs with youngster Alex Shackell leading the way.

WOMEN’S 100 BACK – 5 (TOKYO FINAL: 59.30)

Swimmer Time
1 Regan Smith 57.64
2 Claire Curzan 58.29
3 Katharine Berkoff 58.61
4 Rhyan White 59.20
5 Olivia Smoliga 59.25
Teagan O’Dell 59.51
Kennedy Noble 59.51
Isabelle Stadden 59.56

The women’s 100 back is arguably as “cut-throat” as the 200 back due to the presence of Katharine Berkoff, who joins Smith and Curzan to give the Americans three legitimate medal contenders in Paris. Only two of them will get the opportunity to vie for one, and there’s a few other women capable of challenging for a spot with White and veteran Olivia Smoliga in the hunt.

WOMEN’S 200 IM – 5 (TOKYO FINAL: 2:10.59)

Swimmer Time
1 Kate Douglass 2:07.05
2 Alex Walsh 2:07.63
3 Torri Huske 2:08.47
4 Regan Smith 2:09.50
5 Leah Hayes 2:10.24

This is one race where, while the U.S. has more than two elite swimmers, the top two at Trials is locked in barring an upset. Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass both stood on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics and represent the last three World Championship titles in the event, with Walsh winning in 2022 and Douglass going back-to-back in 2023 and 2024. Rising star Leah Hayes won bronze at Worlds in 2022, but didn’t qualify for the team last year due to the deadly Douglass-Walsh combo.

WOMEN’S 100 FLY – 4 (TOKYO FINAL: 57.19)

Swimmer Time
1 Torri Huske 55.68
2 Gretchen Walsh 56.14
3 Regan Smith 56.36
4 Claire Curzan 56.61
Alex Shackell 57.58

Torri Huske has solidified herself as a near-lock in the women’s 100 fly after scaring her American Record in-season, but the race for the second spot could be wild. Gretchen Walsh is the frontrunner, but Smith, Curzan and Shackell are in the hunt, as is Douglass, who has only raced one prelim this season but went 56.43 last summer.

WOMEN’S 50 FREE – 4 (TOKYO FINAL: 24.32)

Swimmer Time
1 Kate Douglass 23.91
2 Abbey Weitzeil 24.27
3 Gretchen Walsh 24.29
4 Torri Huske 24.31
Simone Manuel 24.34

Douglass’ status in the 50 free is up in the air. She broke Simone Manuel‘s American Record in February, but at the Trials and Olympics, would have the semis come right before the final of the 200 IM. With or without Douglass, the race is razor-thin on paper with Abbey Weitzeil, G. Walsh, Huske and Manuel all within seven one-hundredths this season.

MEN’S 200 IM – 4 (TOKYO FINAL: 1:57.64)

Swimmer Time
1 Shaine Casas 1:56.06
2 Carson Foster 1:56.97
3 Maximus Williamson 1:57.29
4 Chase Kalisz 1:57.43

Shaine Casas is arguably the biggest wildcard of the entire Trials, and as he could just as easily win multiple events or fail to advance out of the heats. Casas may opt to race the 100 fly over the 200 IM, but if he’s in the medley event, he’s talented enough to win. Carson Foster is the reliable pick to touch first, while youngster Maximus Williamson and veteran Chase Kalisz are also in the running to fight for a spot with competitive times posted this season.

WOMEN’S 100 BREAST – 3 (TOKYO FINAL: 1:06.59)

Swimmer Time
1 Lilly King 1:05.67
2 Lydia Jacoby 1:05.74
3 Emma Weber 1:06.50
Kate Douglass 1:06.67
Kaitlyn Dobler 1:06.71

Like the women’s 200 IM, the 100 breast is another event where there would need to be a big upset to upend the top two, as the Americans have the last two Olympic champions in Lilly King and Lydia Jacoby.

WOMEN’S 100 FREE – 2 (TOYKO FINAL: 53.11)

Swimmer Time
1 Kate Douglass 52.98
2 Torri Huske 53.08
Gretchen Walsh 53.17
Simone Manuel 53.25
Abbey Weitzeil 53.53

The Americans don’t have the crop of female 100 freestylers that Australia does, but there’s still a competitive field with no shortage of candidates to grab the two individual spots in Paris. Douglass, Huske and G. Walsh are joined by Manuel and Weitzeil at the top of the domestic rankings this season, and any of those five could win in Indianapolis. There is a chance we see one of them, most likely among the first three, have a big drop and go sub-52.5.

WOMEN’S 400 IM – 2 (TOKYO FINAL: 4:37.37)

Swimmer Time
1 Katie Grimes 4:32.45
2 Leah Hayes 4:36.84

This list is missing two key figures in the women’s 400 IM picture at Trials: Alex Walsh and Emma WeyantKatie Grimes is the clear favorite after winning silver at the World Championships in 2022 and 2023, but Walsh was 4th at Worlds last year in 4:34.46 and won another NCAA title in March. Weyant won silver in Tokyo and bronze at the 2022 Worlds, and was only left out of the conversation to qualify for Fukuoka due to a prelim disqualification. There’s also Hayes, who won the World Junior title in September in a 4:36.84 PB. The women’s 400 IM might fly under the radar but projects to be one of the best races in Indianapolis, at least for the second spot.

WOMEN’S 1500 FREE – 2 (TOKYO FINAL: 15:58.96)

Swimmer Time
1 Katie Ledecky 15:38.81
2 Katie Grimes 15:57.31

The women’s 1500 free makes this list with two swimmers fast enough this season to make the Tokyo final, but it doesn’t figure to be much of a race in terms of Paris spots in question with Katie Ledecky and Grimes the clear 1-2.

WOMEN’S 200 BREAST – 2 (TOKYO FINAL: 2:23.73)

Swimmer Time
1 Kate Douglass 2:19.30
2 Lilly King 2:23.27

The women’s 200 breast is another one where the U.S. two Olympic medal contenders and then a pretty big drop off. This might have been a tight battle if Annie Lazor hadn’t retired, but Douglass has been on fire in the event lately and Lilly King is the 2022 world champion and won silver in Tokyo.

MEN’S 50 FREE – 2 (TOYKO FINAL: 21.78)

Swimmer Time
1 Ryan Held 21.68
2 Michael Andrew 21.71
Caeleb Dressel 21.84
David Curtiss 21.85
Jack Alexy 21.86
Santo Condorelli 21.89
Jonny Kulow 21.89

Caeleb Dressel at his best is head and shoulders above the rest in the 50 free, but regardless of whether or not he’s on 21-low form, this should be an exciting battle on the last night of racing in Indy. Jack Alexy won silver at the 2023 Worlds in 21.57, and Ryan Held and Michael Andrew have proven they can hit similar times recently.

MEN’S 100 BACK – 2 (TOKYO FINAL: 53.20)

Swimmer Time
1 Hunter Armstrong 52.68
2 Ryan Murphy 53.17

As we know, the men’s 100 back has historically resulted in an Olympic medal contender being left home at U.S. Trials. That probably won’t be the case this year with Hunter Armstrong and Ryan Murphy the obvious picks to qualify. Justin Ress or possibly Shaine Casas could be in the 52s to make it interesting, but that’s uncertain and Armstrong and Murphy have both been in the 51s.

MEN’S 100 FLY – 2 (TOKYO FINAL: 51.30)

Swimmer Time
1 Caeleb Dressel 50.84
2 Shaine Casas 51.03
Michael Andrew 51.66
Zach Harting 51.68
Dare Rose 51.72
Santo Condorelli 51.79
Trenton Julian 51.90

Maybe one of the more interesting races at Trials is the men’s 100 fly, where Dressel figures to have one Olympic roster spot locked in and Dare Rose is the favorite for the other after his monster summer in 2023 when he won bronze at Worlds. The two major wildcards on the men’s side, Casas and Andrew, have been sub-51, so if either is cooking, things could get interesting.

OTHER EVENTS

  • Men’s 100 free – Despite having only one swimmer under the Tokyo final cut-off this season, the men’s 100 free has at least two medal contenders in Paris. Defending champion Dressel is joined by 2023 Worlds silver medalist Alexy, and the only swimmer under the Tokyo finals cut-off this season (47.82) is Notre Dame’s Chris Guiliano, who blasted a time of 47.49 in February.
  • Men’s 200 free – Luke Hobson has emerged as the frontrunner in the men’s 200 free, making the Worlds final last year and being the only American sub-1:46 this season in 1:45.26—it took 1:45.71 to make the Tokyo final. This race will be hotly contested in the semis and the final for relay berths, but Hobson, Drew Kibler and Kieran Smith are the clear favorites for individual spots.
  • Men’s 400 free – Smith was the only swimmer under the ‘A’ cut in the 2021 Trials final of the men’s 400 free, leading Jake Mitchell to race a swim-off where he hit the mark and qualified for Tokyo. The Americans haven’t been deep in this event for quite some time, and that remains the case in terms of Olympic medal prospects. Smith is the fastest U.S. man this season at 3:46.80, two one-hundredths shy of the ‘A’ cut.
  • Men’s 800/1500 free – These two races should be comfortably won by Bobby Finke, and the only real battle will be the race for second, led by the likes of David Johnston and Charlie Clark.
  • Men’s 200 back – Ryan Murphy has only been 1:57.50 so far this season, but figures to cruise to victory here. The fastest American so far in 2024 is Jack Aikins, who went 1:56.21 at the Doha Worlds, making him the lone swimmer under the Tokyo final cut-off (1:56.69).
  • Men’s 100 breast – Nic Fink towers over the field in this event, and there are several men trailing him capable of going 59-low-to-mid to vie for the second spot. Michael Andrew at his best is on Fink’s level.
  • Men’s 200 breast – Similar to how Fink is the clear #1 entering Trials in the 100 breast, the same can be said for Matt Fallon in the 200 breast. This race has proven to be “cut-throat” in a sense over the last two Trials, with Will Licon narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification with consecutive third-place finishes. Jake Foster and Fink join Fallon with swims under 2:09 this season.
  • Men’s 200 fly – No one has been under 1:55 in the U.S. this season, with Trenton JulianLuca Urlando and Chase Kalisz the only three sub-1:56. Thomas Heilman and Carson Foster were the top performers last year, and are the only two swimmers on paper within range of reaching the podium based on recent performances.
  • Men’s 400 IM – No American has been under the 4:10.20 Tokyo final cut-off in the 400 IM so far this season, and when we get to Indianapolis it’s expected to be Foster’s race to lose. He coughed up a big lead in 2021 and will be looking to make amends. Kalisz is reliable and will likely qualify, though Finke, Johnston and Jay Litherland could be in the hunt if Foster or Kalisz falters.
  • Women’s 200 free – Katie Ledecky has been the only U.S. medal contender in the 200 free for quite some time, and she’s withdrawn from racing it individually in recent years. Ledecky (1:54.97) is more than two seconds faster than the next-best American this season, which is Anna Peplowski (1:56.99). Bella Sims or Claire Weinstein could make things interesting if at their best.
  • Women’s 400/800 free – Two races where Ledecky wins easily, with Sims, Weinstein, Paige MaddenLeah Smith and Katie Grimes all in the running for the second 400 spot. In the 800, it’s Grimes with one hand on the second spot, though Weinstein isn’t too far off.

We’ll have a better read on who’s hot and who’s not with Trials on the horizon this week at the Atlanta Classic and the host of other domestic meets going on, but right now it’s the women’s backstrokes, the 50 free and 100 fly, and the 200 IM for both genders that figure to be the most cut-throat in Indianapolis.

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Aragon Son of Arathorne
30 days ago

Its really interesting to see our depth and the implications that one bad night of sleep, germ, nerves, etc etc can make. Its also interesting that the talent in Shane Casas could upset everyone’s predictions. Mandrew and Casas are not well-liked here it seems but either could make the team with a great race that day.

My blood still boils about E Weyant getting dq’d at Nationals. That was some BS. Its a 4IM, not a 100 breast. Look the other way.

Claire Curzan Fan
Reply to  Aragon Son of Arathorne
29 days ago

agreed until last sentence. Rules are rules and have to be enforced at some point, even if it makes people mad initially. Otherwise, the rules become pointless

Speedy K
1 month ago

Watch out for Maximus Williamson

han qihao
1 month ago

I hope some unknown people make the U.S. Olympic squad, which is the biggest fun of every Olympic selection

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  han qihao
30 days ago

in the grand scheme of this sport, nobody that makes a semi final at trials is “unknown.” They don’t have to be a superstar by our standards but youd better believe they are well-known and well respected in their community.

Swimfan27
1 month ago

Seeing that women’s 200 backstroke stat is ridiculous

tea rex
1 month ago

Wondering if anyone knows of recent times where 3rd at Trials could have medaled at Games. The closest I’ve found is 2012 men’s 100 back.
Trials:

  1. Grevers 52.08
  2. Thoman 52.86
  3. Plummer 52.98
  4. (Hesen 53.03)

Olympic Final:

  1. Grevers 52.16
  2. Thoman 52.92
  3. Irie 52.97
  4. (Lacourt 53.08)
Cal Fan
1 month ago

Swimswam never fails to leave out Jett. Can’t wait to see him throw down

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  Cal Fan
30 days ago

another bad azz last name who is up there with the assassins. I was thinking about the last names yesterday and I think there are like 5-6.

dg5301
1 month ago

Speaking of heartbreak, it looks like the roster limit is likely to come into play again for the men. I wouldn’t be very surprised to see more than one relay-only swimmer miss out this time around. It feels like there are fewer expected (or even sort of likely) multi-event qualifiers than there were for Tokyo.

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Torri Huske has solidified herself as a near-lock in the women’s 100 fly after scaring her American Record in-season…

While I think Huske is for sure the favorite, “lock” depends a lot on who else is in the event.

GWalsh, Douglass, Smith and Curzan? Huske is still the favorite, but I would not be shocked if any of those 4 finish ahead of her.

The likelihood all of them swim it is pretty low, I think. (I think it’s more likely GWalsh is the only entrant vs Douglass, Smith and Curzan all swimming it.)

Sub13
Reply to  Steve Nolan
1 month ago

I would consider Huske a near-lock. There are lots of 56 lows but she’s half a second ahead of the field. I would consider it a massive upset for Huske not to finish top 2.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

How many layers of “lock” can there be? (Like when does that just turn into “favorite” lol)

She also has to still swim half a second ahead of the field, and I feel like she’s shown more variance in her results than most. (Or maybe I’m just reading too much into those couple relay splits, idk.)

Admin
Reply to  Steve Nolan
1 month ago

I love language.

Sub13
Reply to  Steve Nolan
1 month ago

This is my system:

Ledecky is a lock in the 1500.

Australian women are a near-lock in the 100 free relay.

MOC is a favourite in the 200 free.

Three favourites but with distinctly different security levels. Ledecky losing would be the biggest shock of the Games. Australian women losing the relay would be a big shock but not as much as Ledecky. MOC losing would be a surprise but to a shocking level.

Taking relay splits and overextrapolating them to predict a swimmer’s individual performance certainly doesn’t sound like something you would do.

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  Steve Nolan
30 days ago

agree… one of those girls has a great race and if she is off one iota, they will run her down like the wolves they are. Torri is swimming so well and Tokyo was heartbreaking for her, so I hope she takes care of business at trials and then Paris.

The only one I see handling her front end speed is Gretchen, but the others can close so unbelievably well, especially Kate (doubt she is swimming it).

Last edited 30 days ago by Aragon Son of Arathorne

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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