Here Are the 10 Swimmers Who Impressed Us Most Last Weekend

There were several high-profile meets around the world last week/end, and we’ll be honest; it’s no easy feat to keep up with it all.

Inspired by this tweet, here’s a review and summary of what impressed us the most from the recent action.

This list is not objective, but rather is what this writer was impressed by most over the weekend. What this writer is impressed by is different from what Rowdy Gaines is impressed by which is different from what your 10-year-old age group-er is impressed by. Some of these are doubled up as it made sense to do so, and that technically makes this a list of 11! Sorry.

Let’s get into it.


The United States backstroke legacy is incredibly strong. And, just as Regan Smith is re-writing history, her 17-year-old contemporary Phoebe Bacon isn’t all that far behind her in the 100 back.

Bacon, who has been a notable name (among several) to follow Smith’s when it comes to the next wave of U.S. junior talent, solidified herself as a heavy contender for a 100 back spot on the 2020 Olympic Team over the weekend. Defeating Smith at the 2019 U.S. Open, as well as 2016 Olympian Olivia Smoliga, Bacon rocked a 58.63 for her first venture under 59 seconds and the title.

Not that this predicts anything, but Smith was 58.45 and 58.55 six weeks before blasting her WR 57.57. Besides that 57, she has never been under 58.4. Bacon has a whole half-year to work towards the Olympic Trials and, potentially, the Olympics. She’s on the right track. A 58.63 is a great swim for any female backstroker at any point in the year; at this point in Bacon’s career, it’s outstanding.


Do we see transfers making big gains at their new school? Certainly. Do we see them drop full seconds in a 100 and become one of the fastest relay swimmers in history? Not quite as often. And rarely in half a year’s time.

After two seasons at UNC, Texas native Alvin Jiang relocated closer to home, and the move looks to be paying off in the best way. Among a flurry of best times, Jiang leaped into the upper echelon of 400 medley butterfly splits this weekend, becoming one of some six or so men (it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number) to have ever split sub-44 seconds with a 43.82. A look at his astounding progressions this semester:

Pre-Texas This semester
50 free 19.96 19.46
100 free 44.90 41.97 relay split
100 back 46.33 45.26
100 fly 46.22 44.93
200 fly 1:49.79 1:43.89


The talk of British swimming has long been breaststroke, especially on the men’s side, most recently thanks to Adam Peaty‘s revolutionary stroke, tempo, and speed.

On the women’s side, the sprints have fallen off since the height of Fran Halsall‘s career. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Teenager Freya Anderson and current NCAA title contender Anna Hopkin packed a powerful one-two punch at the 2019 European Short Course Championships, felling records and snagging medals.

Anderson set a new British mark in the 200 freestyle (1:52.77) to clinch gold against a star-studded field that included the best long course 200 freestyler in history, Federica Pellegrini. She took down the field for gold in the 100 free, too, hitting a 51.49 as Hopkin finished fourth there in 51.90, a great showing for the Brits. Anderson was three-tenths from Halsall’s national record, while Hopkin was also sixth in the 50 free (23.86).

Things really heated up in the 200 free relay, where Anderson, Hopkin, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, and Georgia Davies combined for a 1:36.18 for fifth overall, re-setting their national record from prelims, which had smashed the 19-year-old record from 2000 by over two seconds.


Allison Schmitt, one of the veterans of Team USA, has preserved her career admirably. While her summer 2019 was not up to the standard we’d expect from her, Schmitt showed at the 2019 U.S. Open that she will still be very much a factor at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Winning the A-final in the 200 free in Atlanta, Schmitt notched a 1:56.47, albeit a tad slower than Katie Ledecky‘s 1:56.29 in the B-final. Nonetheless, Schmitt’s time checks in within her top 20 performances ever, and it’s actually faster than she was at the 2015 U.S. Winter Nationals (1:56.77) before she’d go on to make the 2016 Olympic team.


The best distance swimmer on the men’s side at the 2019 U.S. Open wasn’t an American. Brazilian Guilherme da Costa was a revelation in Atlanta, taking U.S. Open titles in the 400 free, 800 free, and 1500 free. He won the 400 (3:46.57) by over a second, the 800 (7:47.37) by over two seconds, and the mile (14:55.49) by over seven seconds. For his hard work, he was rewarded with new South American continental records in all three events.

Also impressive was Team Santa Monica’s Zhang Ziyang. The teenager was third in the 400 free (3:48.21), sixth in the 200 free (1:47.71), sixth in the 1500 (15:13.29) and seventh in the 800 (7:58.57).


This is one fast 12-year-old. Swimming at the 2019 YOTA/Arena Capital Classic in Cary, NC, Heilman smashed five SCY 11-12 NAG records. He hit times of 21.50 in the 50 free, 47.15 in the 100 free, 1:44.28 in the 200 free, 22.87 in the 50 fly, and 1:53.66 in the 200 fly, all setting new NAG marks. The old marks were 21.78 (Vinny Marciano, 2014), 47.89 (Vinny Marciano, 2014), 1:45.43 (Winn Aung, 2015), 23.49 (Jarrett Payne, 2019), and 1:55.39 (Dean Jones, 2018). Those are all huge improvements to the old NAGs, especially in the fly events.

Heilman, who already holds the 100 fly NAG record with a 51.44 done in November, was also 1:59.69 in the 200 IM, 4:14.68 in the 400 IM, and 4:49.76 in the 500 free.


One of the most impressive things a swimmer can do is break a second barrier in a 50 free (for example, breaking 20 in the 50 free for the first time, or 19, or even 18). Cal senior Abbey Weitzeil did just that, becoming the first female 20-point 50 freestyler in history. She won the 50 free at the 2019 Minnesota Invitational with a 20.90 to a raucous reception from the crowd and her Golden Bear teammates, a feat of pure speed, strength, and power. And, while her other freestyle swims were very fast, this writer was second-most impressed by her 51.66 in the 100 back.


It feels like Alex Walsh has been an age group phenom for years, which she has been. But as versatile as she is across stroke and distance, it was in the 200 IM final at the 2019 U.S. Open that Walsh became truly great in the big pool. Her 200 IM has always been explosive, but Walsh’s final 50, where she nearly out-split American star Melanie Margalis, notorious for her fantastic back-half, was something to marvel at.

Her best swim before this weekend? A 2:11.24 from last summer with a 31.87 free leg. Now? A 2:09.01 with a 30.30 free leg. Talk about putting it together. While Margalis got to the wall first by a couple of tenths in Atlanta, Walsh’s youthful energy is translating to real-deal power; the future is bright.


While da Costa was tearing it up in the States, two Brazilian teenagers were setting marks of their own in the southern hemisphere. Stephan Steverink and Stephanie Balduccini, both born in 2004, combined for seven Brazilian age records at the 2019 Brazilian Summer Championships. Steverink re-wrote age records in the 800 free (8:07.21), 1500 free (15:26.77), 200 IM (2:04.97), 400 IM (4:21.35), and 200 breaststroke (2:18.44). Balduccini, for her part, set age records in the 100 free (56.00), 100 fly in prelims (1:01.63) and then again in finals (1:00.58), a massive performance in the fly.

Brazil’s youth stars were out in force; Raphael Windmuller set age records for 16-year-olds in the 100 breast (1:02.41) and 200 breast (2:15.40), while Francisco Saldo did so in the 100 fly (53.81).

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2 years ago

–The Jiang improvements at Texas are astounding. is this the Eddie Reese magic?
–The Heilman times for a 12 yr old are just crazy fast. And what’s amazing is that he broke five 11-12 NAG records and not one of them is Michael Andrew. As good as Andrew was ~8 yrs ago, his records have already been wiped out (multiple times)

2 years ago

When an NCAA record is unimpressive :'(

Reply to  Confused
2 years ago

Ya. Macneil tied the NCAA record too

Reply to  Karl Ortegon
2 years ago

So she tempered her own amazing swim by setting the bar that high… Essentially she got “Ledecky’d”…!

2 years ago

Bacon’s gonna drop a 57.9 at OTs. Smith goes 57.6, Baker 58.1, Smoliga 58.7

Reply to  N80M80
2 years ago

Bacon was prepared for this meet same way as she will be for Trials. Why do you think she will drop 0.7sec in her personal best in 6 month. Following your logic Regan Smith will swim under 57sec in June. They both are 17. So the improvement should be the same if you think that maturing process is the only reason for that.

Reply to  Yozhik
2 years ago

Bacon was fully tapered for Pan-Ams and went a 59.02. I think something was off for her during Pan-Ams and she’s gotten over it before this most recent US-Open. I don’t think we’re seeing her at full taper, and as a young 17 year old she has a lot of room to mature. I don’t think Smith is going to need to be fully tapered to make the team and she’ll save her full taper for trials

Reply to  Nate
2 years ago

Maybe this improvement of 0.42sec since Pan-Ams created an illusion that she is only one third of the way to her limits and twice of this current jump is ahead of her. I’m not in predictions business and asked N80M80 what makes him/ her to think why such a huge progress is possible just in 6 months. Not like that is not possible. Sarah Sjostrom in 2017 made 1sec improvement in 100FR and Regan Smith showed even greater performance just recently. And that all were at World record level that is by definition is the area close to the limits of human abilities.

2 years ago

Speaking of Weitzel dipping into the 20.XX, anyone know – who was the first female 21.XX 50 yard freestyler?

Reply to  Eouai
2 years ago

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was Leigh Ann Fetter who went 21.92 in 1990

Reply to  USA
2 years ago

So interesting that the first 21.xx swimmer to the first 20.xx swimmer was nearly 30 years while on the men’s side the first 18.xx was 2008ish and the first 17.xx was 2018 just 10ish years later. Interesting how times progress differently across the board

Reply to  Swammer
2 years ago

You’re not taking into account the affect of an INDIVIDUAL swimmer — i.e., Dressel. On the women’s side, there’s been a half-dozen women who have been knocking on the door for a while — especially Weitzel, Simone, Erika Brown. So you could say it’s taken 30 yrs for women’s swimming (collectively) to improve that 1 second. On the men’s side — you have the prior record of 18.47 done in a super rubber suit. And you have Ryan Held going 18.5. And then Dressel is light-years ahead at 17.6. In sum – I wouldn’t say men’s swimming improved the 1 sec faster than women’s. I’d say the freak of nature Dressel did. I bet we’ll see another female :20 much… Read more »

Reply to  swimgeek
2 years ago

I think you are right and wrong at the same time.
There are more top dogs swimming on men’s side than women(most of the time) in NCAA sprinting. Dressel is the best in the World, maybe Weitzel will be there, but she is far from there right now. How fast do you think a tapered Ranomi or Sarah could be?(I would bet 20 mid or low…). Cielo time was made in an FSPro, not a super-suit. And he wasn’t the top dog when he did(he become later). Don’t you think Manaudou 20.26 isn’t a lot faster than Cielo 18.47?
NCAA had the privilege to watch the best sprinter in the World swimming at his best and that time(17.6)… Read more »

Tea rex
Reply to  Swammer
2 years ago

Men were at 19.0 for about 15 years. I bet it will be at least 5 years before we see someone else join the 17 club

Reply to  USA
2 years ago

Fetter was the first name that came to mind.

2 years ago

At the beginning of the year, I would have thought MP’s 2Fly of 1:51 and Baker’s :58.0 were pretty safe. It was also pretty amazing that Schooling went :51 with his new dad bod.

Reply to  Scribble
2 years ago

With the talent and depth in the womens’ 100 back internationally at the moment, and given Masse has been 58.1, I don’t think Baker’s 58.0 was safe by any means

Texas swims in a short pool
Reply to  Scribble
2 years ago

Texas Eats!!!

2 years ago

Two high schoolers in Regan Smith and Phoebe Bacon could be the Olympic team qualifiers in the 100 back.

The veteran pros and Olympic medalists Baker and Smoliga are now on the bubble.

They’re all great racers, so that’s going to add to the drama of the OT final.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Reply to  marklewis
2 years ago

I can see the argument for Baker being pushed out, she’s had a lot of health issues that have inhibited her the last few years.

However, Smoliga seems to be approaching a peak in her career as well, in spite of being older than Smith and Bacon. She’s been locked in the last 2 years. I’d still have her as a favorite over Bacon.

Reply to  Braden Keith
2 years ago

I don’t know, just looking at Smoliga’s times I haven’t seen any improvement since 2016. Granted that’s not to say that this won’t change, just that I don’t think she’ll get much lower than a 58.6 and Bacon has been pretty steadily dropping time for the past few years.

Reply to  marklewis
2 years ago

No one is really entertaining the fact that this will be the highest pressure race in 2020 and what it’ll come down to more than anything is who’s best prepared for the pressure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 58-high make the team.

2 years ago

Don’t get me wrong, these guys and girls have done absolutely stunning things but I would love to hear a little more of the non top swimmers who swam well.

Reply to  Juni0r
2 years ago


Reply to  Juni0r
2 years ago

Next article: “the top 10 most un-noteworthy swims you would have never noticed “, followed by “the top 10 swimmers who had absolutely terrible performances (yes, you should point fingers and laugh at them)”

2 years ago

Correction: Schmitt didn’t make the 2016 Olympics individually in the 200 free. It was KL and Missy Franklin, but she was a relay swimmer

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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