How Have Olympic Redshirts and Deferrals Worked Out in the Past?

With Stanford swimmers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan recently declaring their intention to redshirt for the 2023-2024 NCAA season to prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, we’re expecting redshirt announcements to ramp up in the coming weeks. However, that still leaves a critical question on the table: how have Olympic redshirts worked out in the past? 

Anecdotally, taking the Olympic year away from the NCAA has become more common over the past few Olympic cycles, along with some swimmers deferring their college enrollment until after the Olympic Games. Since the 2015-2016 season, notable Olympic redshirts have included Simone Manuel, Taylor Ruck, Dean Farris, Javier Acevedo, and Grant House. That’s not to mention the entire 2020-2021 ASU roster, as the entire team took a redshirt season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – though it coincided with the pre-Olympic year. Other than ASU, no other team opted to redshirt their whole roster for the 2020-2021 season. However, the Ivy League canceled their entire season, resulting in a second redshirt season for Harvard swimmers Dean Farris and Raphael Marcoux.

Abbey Weitzeil, Erica Sullivan, Emma Weyant, Regan Smith, and Katie Ledecky also altered their college plans to keep consistency with their training schedules, deferring their college enrollments until after the Olympic Games. 

Going through the SwimSwam archives, we’ve compiled a list of notable redshirts and deferrals prior to the 2016 and 2020(1) Olympic Games for both the men’s side and the women’s side. If there are any names that were omitted, please feel free to add them in the comments. 

Notable Olympic NCAA Redshirts and Deferrals from 2015-2021 – Men

Swimmer Team Year(s) Redshirted or Deferred
Result at Olympics
Chase Kalisz Georgia 2015-2016
2016: 1x medalist (1S)
Jordan Wilimovsky Northwestern 2015-2016 2016: 2x finalist (pool and open water)
Santo Condorelli USC 2015-2016 2016: 1x finalist
Aaron Greenberg Yale 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Matt Josa Queens/Cal 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Shane Ryan Penn State 2015-2016
2016: 1x Semi-finalist
Brendan Casey Virginia 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Tom Kremer Stanford 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Dylan Carter USC 2015-2016
2016: Competed, did not advance through prelims
Josh Fleagle Ohio State 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Andrew Wilson Emory 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Jarod Arroyo Arizona State 2019-2020, 2020-2021 (team redshirt)
2021: Competed, Did not advance through prelims
Ruslan Gaziev Ohio State 2019-2020, 2020-2021
2021: Competed, Swam 4×100 Free Relay in Prelims for Canada (4th in finals)
Michael Brinegar Indiana 2019-2020
2021: Competed, Did not advance through prelims
David Schlicht Arizona 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Trey Freeman Florida 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Giovanni Izzo NC State 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Andrew Capobianco Indiana 2019-2020
2021: 1x medalist (1S), diving
Grant House Arizona State 2019-2020, 2020-2021 (team redshirt) Did not qualify
Dean Farris Harvard 2019-2020, 2020-2021 (season cancelled) Did not qualify
Javier Acevedo Georgia 2019-2020
2021: Competed, Did not make it through prelims
Mario Koenigsperger USC 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Brandon Loschiavo Purdue 2019-2020
2021: Competed (diving), did not make it to finals
Raphael Marcoux Harvard 2019-2020, 2020-2021 (season canceled) Did not qualify
True Sweetser Stanford 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Andrei Minakov Stanford 2020-2021
2021: Competed, 3x Finalist, 1x semi-finalist

Notable Olympic NCAA Redshirts and Deferrals from 2015-2021 – Women

Swimmer Team Year(s) Redshirted or Deferred
Result at Olympics
Katie Ledecky (Deferred) Stanford 2015-2016
2016: 5x medalist (4G, 1S), 2x World Records, 1x American Record
Simone Manuel Stanford 2015-2016
2016: 4x medalist (2G, 2S), 2x American Records
Abbey Weitzeil (Deferred) Cal 2015-2016
2016: 2x medalist (1G, 1S), 1x American Record
Cierra Runge Cal/Wisconsin/ASU 2015-2016
2016: 1x medalist (1G), prelims relay swimmer
Kierra Smith Minnesota 2015-2016 2016: 1x finalist
Chantal Van Landeghem Georgia 2015-2016
2016: 1x medalist (1B)
Kendyl Stewart USC 2015-2016 (fall semester) Did not qualify
Brooklynn Snodgrass Indiana 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Ashley McGregor Texas A&M 2015-2016 Did not qualify
Liliana Ibáñez López Texas A&M 2015-2016
2016: Competed, did not advance past prelims
Kassidy Cook Stanford 2015-2016
2016: Competed, did not advance to finals (diving)
Faith Knelson (Deferred) Arizona (Vanderbilt) 2019-2020, 2020-2021 Did not qualify
Ida Hulkko Florida State 2019-2020, did not return
2021: 1x Semi-finalist, 1x Finnish Record
Taylor Ruck Stanford 2019-2020, 2020-2021
2021: 2x medalist (1S, 1B), 1x Finalist
Mabel Zavaros Florida 2019-2020, 2020-2021 Did not qualify
Mackenzie Padington Minnesota/NC State/UBC 2019-2020, retired Did not qualify
Sarah Bacon Minnesota 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Kristen Hayden Minnesota/Indiana 2019-2020, 2020-2021 Did not qualify
Federica Greco Rutgers 2019-2020 Did not qualify
Erica Sullivan (Deferred) USC/Texas 2018-2019, 2019-2020, 2020-2021
2021: 1x medalist (1S)
Emma Weyant (Deferred) Virginia/Florida 2020-2021
2021: 1x medalist (1S)
Regan Smith (Deferred) Stanford 2020-2021
2021: 3x medalist (2S, 1B)

Examining the list, there is a clear trend. Out of the 11 women who either redshirted or deferred for the 2015-2016 season, 8 went on to qualify for the Olympic Games. However, many of those athletes who qualified for the Olympics were already international-caliber athletes prior to the Olympics. Katie Ledecky is a clear outlier, as she had already competed in the 2012 Olympic Games, several World Championships, and held several World Records prior to her deferral from Stanford for the 2016 Olympic Games. Likewise, Manuel, Weitzeil, and Runge had already represented the US at the senior-international level prior to this point. 

Kierra Smith and Chantal Van Landeghem had also both represented Canada on the international stage prior to their NCAA careers, making them  likely to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in 2016. All of these athletes managed to qualify for the Olympic Games, and most of them came home with a medal, or multiple medals in the cases of Ledecky, Weitzeil, and Manuel. 

American diver Kassidy Cook was also already on the international scene prior to her redshirt season and Olympic qualification in 2016, as she had missed qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Team by less than a point. 

On the men’s side, we also noted 11 redshirts during the 2015-2016 season, with no deferrals. Out of the 11 swimmers taking redshirts, a much smaller number ended up qualifying for the Olympic Games: only 5 men. Jordan Wilimovsky went into his redshirt season in an unusual circumstance, already being qualified to represent the US at the 2016 Olympic Games in open water swimming via his finish at the 2015 World Championships. He still used the season to take advantage of some additional long-course training, adding the 1500m freestyle to his Olympic lineup after Trials. Though Wilimovsky didn’t medal in Rio, he narrowly missed making the podium in both his events, finishing 4th and 5th. Chase Kalisz was the only redshirt swimmer that season to win an Olympic medal on the men’s side, as he took home silver in the 400 IM representing the US. Competing for Canada at the time, Santo Condorelli managed to qualify for his first Olympic Games during his redshirt season at USC. Shortly after changing his sporting citizenship, Shane Ryan also qualified and competed for Ireland at the Games, while Dylan Carter also qualified for Trinidad and Tobago. 

Like the women’s side, all of the men who managed for qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games during their redshirt, had all previously competed on the International Stage: Kalisz and Wilimovsky represented the US at the 2015 World Championships, Ryan represented the US at the 2013 Duel in the Pool and was a member of the US National Team prior to his citizenship change, Conddorelli represented Canada at the 2015 World Championships, and Carter represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2015 World Championships. 

All of these swimmers who benefitted from their redshirt or deferral season in the form of an Olympic Games berth have one thing in common, they had already established themselves on the international scene as viable competitors, making multiple international rosters for their respective countries. None of the swimmers were considered to be aspirational redshirts – those who redshirt with the goal of having a breakthrough to make the Olympics, as they all were expected, by some degree, to qualify for the Olympics. 

A similar trend can be seen amongst those that redshirted or deferred for the 2020(1) Olympic Games. Amongst the women who deferred their enrollments, Regan Smith was already the world record holder in the 100 and 200m backstroke, Emma Weyant was the reigning US National Champion in the 400 IM, and Erica Sullivan was a World Championships team member in open water, making them likely candidates for an Olympic berth. In addition, Canadian star Taylor Ruck already had several Olympic medals under her belt prior to her redshirt seasons at Stanford in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Ida Hulkko also had an established record as one of Finland’s top breaststroke prospects, competing in the European Championships and the Short Course World Championships for her country. 

The men’s side had a significantly larger number of redshirts, but no deferrals during the same time period. In addition, there were much fewer “established” veterans who used a redshirt during this time. Russian Andrei Minakov used a redshirt season in 2020-2021, which paid off with multiple finals appearances in Tokyo. Going into that season, Minakov was already established as one of the top butterfliers in the world, winning a silver medal in the 100 butterfly at the 2019 World Championships. Most of the other redshirts that managed to qualify for the Olympics also had previous international experience: Jarod Arroyo had already represented Puerto Rico at the 2019 World Championships, Ruslan Gaziev was a member of Canada’s Pan Pac and Commonwealth Games Teams in 2018, Michael Brinegar had medaled in open water swimming at the 2019 World Championships for the USA, Andrew Capobianco dove for the US at the 2019 World Championships, and Javier Acevedo already had an Olympic Games on his resume, representing Canada in Rio. 

Out of those who did not qualify for the Olympics on the men’s side, a few swimmers stand out, most of whom could be considered aspirational redshirts. Dean Farris was coming off a big year in 2019 after winning two World University Games gold medals and setting the American Record in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCA Championships. However, Farris’ long course times did not match up to his competition nearly as well as his short course prowess, and with such a deep field in the sprint freestyle events for the US, he was already on the edge of qualification before the pandemic hit. With names like Bowe Becker, Brooks Curry, and Patrick Callan on the rise after the COVID lockdown, Farris’ odds of qualifying were not in his favor to begin with, even with his times from 2019. ASU’s Grant House found himself in a similar situation, fighting against a loaded US sprinting core to qualify. Despite winning relay medals at the 2019 Pan American Games, House also fell short of earning an Olympic berth. Trey Freeman and True Sweetser were blocked by the rises of Kieran Smith, Bobby Finke, Jake Mitchell, and the aforementioned Brinegar.

Thus, for these swimmers who were already sitting on the border of qualification, taking an aspirational redshirt seemed to have a minimal benefit towards their chances of qualifying for the Olympic Games. 

All of this being said, it leaves the question: are redshirt years or college deferrals beneficial for swimmers looking to make the Olympics? 

In the case of swimmers like Huske and Curzan, who already have established international resumes, redshirting seems to be a very beneficial move in hopes of improving their chances of qualifying for Paris. However, for swimmers on the edge of making an international roster or those who lack previous experience at the international level, there doesn’t appear to be any major benefit to taking the redshirt season. Though the COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced their performances, many of the swimmers who took redshirt seasons in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 in hopes of Olympic qualification did not end up qualifying for the Games. Almost all of the swimmers who were successful in making the Games already had strong international resumes, especially those from the United States. 

2024 also presents a unique opportunity for swimmers opting to utilize the redshirt season, as both the Olympics and long-course World Championships are slated to take place. The two meets do not usually occur during the same year. However, the pandemic-related delays caused a shift in schedule, allowing such a situation to occur. Another critical factor in this decision for many athletes may also stem from the delay of the 2020 Olympic Games to 2021, which created a 3-year Olympic cycle. Athletes who already redshirted or deferred their freshman seasons for the Olympics in 2021 might then be unable to use an additional redshirt for 2023-2024 depending on their individual circumstances. 

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1 year ago

What happens to your scholarship in these situations?

Reply to  SwimDad
1 year ago

It’s up to the coach/school, and often handled on a case-by-case basis (unless you’re at one of those guaranteed four-year scholarship schools?). Redshirted athletes DO count against scholarship limits, though, if they’re enrolled and receiving a scholarship for that season.

1 year ago

If a college athlete redshirts, they can still swim USA meets.
Would they still swim under the college /USA umbrella club? Or be unattached?

I’m guessing the TYR pro series, senior nationals, and high level meets would be opportune to attend while redshirted, provided you had the budget to travel.

Sherry Smit
1 year ago

Wonder if Sims and Gemmell are gonna defer

Reply to  Sherry Smit
1 year ago

I think Bella Sims has announced her plan to defer. And based on past history I have to imagine Erin Gemmell will as well.

1 year ago

This is only a subset of all the athletes who aspire to be Olympians. One conclusion, as alluded to here, is that deferring or taking an Olympic redshirt year is a suboptimal decision. The other side of the coin is that athletes already know that becoming an Olympian, furthermore winning an Olympic medal is the longest of shots. They don’t want to live with the regret of wondering if they should attacked their goal with 100% focus. They’re process rather than outcome driven.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is… Read more »

1 year ago

Grant House’s ego is simply unmatched. Takes an Olympic redshirt year with no chance of making the team

Reply to  Andrew
1 year ago

In what world does a guy who qualifies for the Pan Am Games at 18, and especially one who specializes in a 6-slot relay event, not have a chance two years later when he’s almost 21, while training with the coach of the greatest swimmer in history Michael Phelps?

(Also, you say this as though it’s a bad thing. Every great athlete in the world has an ego. You almost have to. Does that ego have to be managed and checked and balanced and dealt with after sport? Of course. But ego comes with the territory).

Alex Wilson
1 year ago

I would like to see a list of those swimmers who did the NCAA season and then the Olympics and/or Worlds in the same season.. This is because I believe it is possible for a program and a swimmer to train successfully it do LCM and SCY at the same time. The ASU program Leon Marchand, Hubert Kos and others comes to mind. Coach Bowman has stated that both his college and pro swimmers train together.

Lap Counter
Reply to  Alex Wilson
1 year ago

First of all, you can’t compare a foreign swimmer, like Marchand, to Americans who have to put on the line at Trials to make the team. Leon’s spot is guaranteed! Maybe the same with Kos?!
I think most who redshirt just want to make sure they are all in and don’t want to say what if I took the year off? Of course, it might not make a difference but they would have 100% focus on the goal!

Reply to  Lap Counter
1 year ago

I think your point is fair, though I think you’ve exaggerated it.

No country on earth has a Trials meet as deep as the US. But there are many countries where many events are far from a guarantee. Hungary and men’s butterfly events are among those countries and events.

If Kos is on, he makes the team in his primary events no sweat. If he’s off (remember that Hungarian Nationals are often very shortly after the NCAA season, like days), there’s definitely opportunities to miss.

All that aside, many countries put pressure on their athletes to train “at home” before the Olympics. Some of that is these notions about developing team, some is control, some is funding-related, and some is… Read more »

Lap Counter
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

So you saying there is no politics in Hungary “picking” their team?

Reply to  Lap Counter
1 year ago

I don’t know if I understood you correctly, but Hungary’s nationals don’t quite work the same when it comes to selection as US/Australian/Japanese trials or even British nationals this year, where trials/nationals is the only chance to make the team.
Every championship (WCs, Olypmics) has a qualification period when it’s possible for swimmers to swim qualifying times. To make the Hungarian team you have to be the fastest/second fastest in a certain event under the qualifying time during this period, and so you may or may not qualify during nationals, because you can possible make the team at any meet. This is the reason the Hungarian team doesn’t necessarily mirror the results of the national championships. Kos qualified in… Read more »

1 year ago

I believe Trey Freeman redshirted to get knee surgery not an Olympic redshirt

1 year ago

The difference between the men’s and women’s lists are pretty obvious. Women certainly reach their potential earlier. I know there are exceptions and maybe the male college swimmers who made the team just didn’t take a redshirt but there is still a big difference.

Last edited 1 year ago by Joel

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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