Katie Meili’s Pan Ams Record Would Have Won Worlds Gold

Even with the human swimming highlight reel that is Katie Ledecky, the United States’ overall performance on day three of the 2015 FINA World Championships had a glaring black hole.  For the first time since 2001, the Americans failed to advance a female swimmer of the 100m breaststroke final.

At these championships, the two U.S. representatives were immediately cut to just one sole swimmer after the prelims, as 2012 Olympian Micah Lawrence finished 19th with her time of 1:07.73.  Still feeling the effects of a nagging injury, Lawrence’s performance was her worst outing since the 1:07.85 she registered at the 2010 Pan Pacific championships.

With Lawrence out after the first round, Jessica Hardy was the American breaststroker left to advance to the semifinals, after having clocked a respectable 1:06.68, her fastest of the year, to snag the third overall seed after prelims.  While the rest of the field sped up in semi’s, however, Hardy added about a half a second to her time to notch a 1:07.22, positioning her in 10th and out of the top 8.  And  just like that, America would go without female representation in the 100m breaststroke final for the first time in the last seven World Championships

In another year, at another time, the fact that two swimmers selected to represent a country were simply outperformed by their competitors would be the end of the story.  However, with the controversial selection of the United States’ Worlds team occurring an entire year in advance, this opens the door to many “what if” questions. In light of how other would-be Worlds roster members fared over the course of the previous year, it begs the comparison between post-selection times and current Worlds performance.

This is an especially poignant point with rising breaststroke star Katie Meili.  Having been on fire since the 2014 Summer Nationals, the SwimMAC Elite swimmer has been dropping time with virtually every swim.  At 2014’s Summer Nationals, Meili clocked a time of 1:07.44 and has continued to put up descending times of 1:07.16 at the Pro Swim Series in Mesa, as well as marks of 1:06.79 and 1:06.50 at the Pro Swim Series in Austin.

Where Meili truly broke out and established herself as the absolute real deal was in Toronto at the Pan American Games just this past July.  In prelims, Meili lit the pool on fire, scoring a lifetime best and new Pan American Games record of 1:05.64, dropping almost an entire second from her previous fastest time.  Her Pan American effort also rocketed Meili to number two in the overall world rankings, only behind Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte.  Meili would go on to win gold in a time of 1:06.26.

With her 1:05.64 clocking, Meili secured her spot as the fastest American this season by 1.29 seconds, with the closest American being Lily King at the World University Games.  In fact, Meili’s performance cemented her as the second fastest American performer in the last two seasons, with only Hardy’s 1:05.18 from the 2013 World Championships being faster.

Additionally, in a case in point for the opponents of the United States’ Worlds team selection process, Meili’s 1:05.64 (albeit in prelims) would have won the gold medal at these world championships.  Russia’s Yuliya Efimova swam away with the top prize today in Kazan in a time of 1:05.66, so indeed Meili would instead be standing on top of the podium, in theory, had she potentially been given the chance to contest her best event in Kazan – though it’s worth acknowledging that Pan Ams didn’t come with the fatigue of a three-round, semi-final format.

This is a similar, though not identical, phenomenon we saw in the women’s 100 fly earlier in the meet. Kelsi Worrell’s Pan Ams best would’ve netted her a medal at Worlds, yet no American made the final in that event either.

Throughout the remainder of these World Championships, Meili may prove to not be the only case of the “early selection” blues.  However, the shimmer of hope to those lamenting the lack of an American in today’s finals is that there is a big talent getting primed and ready to rock come Rio.

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Lane Four

For all of the years I have been either a participant or spectator, I will never understand the selection process United States swimming has adopted for choosing international teams a year out from the competition. I am sincerely hoping that the powers that be will wake up and listen why so many are against choosing a team a year out. Ironically, on the other hand, I remember back in 1982 when the United States World Championship team was chosen barely two weeks before the first race. This was not enough time to allow the athletes to recover and regroup from the pressure of the trials. As a result, the meet was a disaster – but Kazan is worse. Much worse.… Read more »

Jim C

I have a partial solution. Instead of fifth or sixth best 100 and 200 free swimmers, if there is room for such, we might give coaches wild cards to select relay swimmers at a later date.

StuartC

Some thoughts/observations: Looking at all the swims so far, it appears that the team is swimming flat. They don’t look sharp and “race ready”! The Europeans appear to very “race ready”. I bet that many of the US swimmers go faster at Nationals because they will have done some racing and are getting sharper! Also, many of their best swims are in prelims and then they struggle in semi and finals. Are they not in the best shape or could it be their taper? It doesn’t appear that the taper they had worked OR could it be that they had USNationals on their minds and so didn’t fully taper? I find that hard to believe!BUT Do many of them have… Read more »

Kirk Nelson

My feeling is ‘flat’ swimming just tends to snowball for a team. If a team starts out on the wrong foot it’s often very difficult to recover.

About Loretta Race

Loretta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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