Looking Back at Day 1 of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials

It’s June 21st, and in addition to being Father’s Day, today was supposed to be the start of the 2020 US Olympic Trials. Although the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021, we still want to honor the would-have-been start of the 2020 Olympic Trials, by reliving Day of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Trials. So without further ado, let’s go back and remember what was going on during the first day of the Olympic Trials back in 2012 and 2016.


The “Lochte Rule”

With the 400 IM being on Day 1 of the 2016 Olympic Trials, we got to see the “Lochte Rule” in full-effect. Here’s a refresher for what was then a fairly new rule. This was a rule so-called “Lochte Rule” came about in November of 2015, when FINA released a new interpretation of the underwater rule for freestyle flip turns in IM races. The new rule states that in an IM, a swimmer may not push off the wall on their back during the freestyle leg of the race. FINA released the decision following the summer of 2015, when Ryan Lochte had pioneered a new technique in his 200 IM, pushing off for freestyle on his back, and remaining on his back through much of his underwater kicking, and the resulting enforcement has been commonly coined the “Lochte Rule”

With the 400 IM on the opening day of the 2016 US Trials, we were able to see the enforcement of the “Lochte Rule” on the biggest stage since FINA announced the new rule interpretation 7 months earlier. We noted that the “Lochte Rule” was being heavily enforced in the 400 IM, resulting in several disqualifications, including that of Savanna Faulconer, who at the time was a Junior National Team member, and preparing to begin her collegiate career at Florida.

Lochte Misses the Olympic Team in the 400 IM

We didn’t have to wait long for an upset at these trials. Ryan Lochte, who was (and still is) the World Record holder in the 200 IM, and the Gold medalist in the 400 IM at the London 2012 Olympics, finished 3rd in finals of the 400 IM, missing the Olympic Team in one of his top events.  Lochte revealed after the race that he had pulled a groin muscle during prelims that morning, and due to that his goal was to build a big lead on the front half of the race and try to hold on coming home. Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland both were able to beat Lochte to the finish, punching their tickets to Rio. 17-year-old Sean Grieshop also made waves in the event, breaking the World Jr Record in prelims, and qualifying 5th for finals.

Dana Vollmer is Back in Business

One of the most anticipated showdowns of the 2016 Olympic Trials was the women’s 100 fly, where we would get to see Kelsi Dahlia (then Kelsi Worrell) face-off with American Record holder Dana Vollmer. Vollmer took a break from the sport after the 2012 Olympics, where she won the Gold medal in the 100 fly, and gave birth to her first child. It appeared Vollmer had gotten back to top shape coming into the 2016 Trials, and she immediately put that on display.

The heats went pretty much as expected, with Worrell (Dahlia) and Vollmer going 1-2, and leading the field by a considerable margin. The roles flipped in the semi-finals on Night 1, with Vollmer taking the top spot for finals, and Worrell finishing a close 2nd. Despite two close finishes, we hadn’t yet gotten to see Worrell and Vollmer go head-to-head in the same heat, setting the table for what was surely going to be an electric finals heat on Day 2.

Big Things Happening in the Men’s 100 Breast

Then 17-year-old Michael Andrew showed up for his first-ever Trials race, taking 5th in prelims of the Men’s 100 breast with a 59.96. The performance made Andrew the youngest American to break 1:00 in the event in history. Andrew backed up his prelims performance in semi-finals on Night 1, dropping his time to 59.85, and moving up to 4th heading into the final heat on Day 2.

Cody Miller was the top seed in heat 1 of semi-finals, posting a quick 59.09 to scare the U.S. Open and U.S. Nationals Records, both of which were held at 59.01 by Mark Gangloff. Kevin Cordes took no time to respond to Miller, breaking the American, U.S. Open, and Meet Records with a 58.94 in heat 2 of semi-finals. Even after breaking all those record, Miller was only .15 seconds behind Cordes heading into finals, setting up one of the headline events for Day 2.

Connor Jaeger‘s Heroic 400 Free

For much of the final heat of the men’s 400 free, it looked like Clark Smith had the event locked down. He took off from the very beginning, swimming under World Record pace, with a clear strategy of getting out and trying to hold on. Towards the 3rd 100 of the race, Conor Dwyer made his move, taking over the lead at the 300 mark. Connor Jaeger turned the jets on after a relatively lackluster first 200, and battled his way to be neck-and-neck with Dwyer at the 350. Jaeger then tore home in an impressive 28.05, getting his hand on the wall a second before Dwyer. Smith ended up fading to 5th, behind Townley Haas and Zane Grothe.

In his post-race interview, Jaeger said he “thought he was done” at the 200 mark, but found it in him to keep battling, and ended up winning the race and punching his ticket to Rio, only missing the U.S. Open Record by .26 seconds.



Phelps vs Lochte in the 400 IM

Day 1 of the 2012 Olympic Trials gave us one of the most wonderful things in the swimming world: a Michael Phelps vs Ryan Lochte showdown in an IM. The pair were also tasked with fending off Tyler Clary, an underdog who had posed a legitimate threat to the Phelps-Lochte duo heading into this final. Clary made his intentions clear from the beginning, opening up a lead at the beginning of the backstroke leg, before Phelps and Lochte fought their way back to him.

Lochte and Phelps took over on the back half, battling all the way, with Lochte ultimately coming out on top. Lochte swam a 4:07.06, establishing the top time in the world up to that point that year. Phelps, the defending Olympic champion and World Record holder, was right behind, touching in 4:07.89. Clary finished 3rd in an impressive 4:09.92, marking a stunning 3 swimmers in the field under 4:10.

At the time, there were questions around whether Michael Phelps would actually swim the 400 IM in London, due to Phelps saying he was done with the event after 2009. However, Coach Bob Bowman confirmed after finals of the 400 IM that Phelps would in fact be competing in the 400 IM at the London Olympics.

Dana Vollmer a World Record Threat?

Heading into Trials, American butterfly star Dana Vollmer made it clear she had her eyes set on breaking 56 seconds in the 100 fly, which would take her under the World Record. Even though Day 1 of Trials only had heats and semi-finals of the women’s 100 fly, Vollmer got to work right away. In semi-finals, Vollmer posted a new personal best of 56.42, breaking the American, U.S. Open, and U.S. Nationals Records in the process. SwimSwam named Vollmer’s race the top swim of Day 1, and we were all waiting anxiously to see what she had in store for us in finals.

A Great Men’s 400 Free

Day 1 of the 2012 Olympic Trials gave us what may be the best men’s 400 free race on American soil we’ve ever seen. 4 men were jockeying for those top 2 spots: Peter Vanderkaay, Michael Kleuh, Charlie Houchin, and Conor Dwyer. In the end, these 4 were only separated by .65 seconds. Charlie Houchin was out the fastest, holding the lead for about 375 meters. The race was still tight, however, and Houchin faded just a little bit on the last 25 meters, which was enough for him to fall to 4th.

Peter Vanderkaay had held it tight with Houchin through the first 375, and was able to speed up just a little on the last half lap, getting his had on the wall first 3:47.67. Though he won and earned his Olympic spot, the time was relatively pedestrian for Vanderkaay.

Conor Dwyer took advantage of the fading Houchin, putting the pedal to the metal at the end, and finishing 2nd in 3:47.83, which was his first sub-3:50 of his career. Swimming from lane 1, Michael Klueh looked like he might just get it done, tearing into the finish in 3:48.17. Unfortunately for Klueh, he was 3-tenths behind Dwyer, and just narrowly missed earning a spot on the Olympic Team.

Elizabeth Beisel Dominates Women’s 400 IM

After cruising through prelims with a 4:35, and taking the top seed for finals by 4 seconds, Elizabeth Beisel dropped the hammer in finals, established a new textile best time for Beisel at the time. Beisel tore away from the field thanks to a phenomenal 2:26.07 on the back/breast 200 (1:08.48/1:17.59). After that, there was no catching Beisel, and she brought it home for a 4:31.74. Caitlin Leverenz came in 2nd, re-establishing herself as a medal contender at the London Olympics. She swam a 4:34.48, thanks to a great 1:15.91 on the breaststroke leg.



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Tea rex
2 years ago

Phelps should have predicted his 400 IM result in London. Probably would have at least medaled in the 200 free, but I’m glad he didn’t have that schedule as an excuse for his 200 fly

2 years ago

The 400 free in 2016 was a great race. Clark Smith in lane one set a fast pace from the outset. Connor Jaeger was back in 4th at the halfway point and then started to kick like crazy. He said he was beginning to panic and decided to make his move before it was too late. He went into the lead on the 7th lap and stayed in front.

Conor Dwyer also made a strong move but then started to run out of gas down the stretch. Zane Grothe and Townley Haas were desperately trying to catch Dwyer for the second spot but couldn’t close the gap.

Pacing is everything in the 400 free. You find out in… Read more »

PK Doesn’t Like His Long Name
2 years ago

I don’t think I can agree with the 2012 Men’s 400 free being the best instance of that race on American soil. 2008 had 3 guys go 3:43 and 2 of them were under the American record. The times from 2012 were too pedestrian imo to be considered in that class.

2 years ago

Did anyone else find the Swimming world a little depressing after the 2012 Olympics. I still watched everything of course but the Phelps vacuum was too immense and from 2012 OGs to the time he came back was just a sad time for me personally in the sport. Funny I didn’t feel the same after 2016 OGs

Reply to  Pvdh
2 years ago

Well, there wasn’t anyone to pick up the torch really. Angel was a one trick pony, Magnussen was only the 50/100 and his relay teams couldn’t elevate him regularly. Adrian was a great freestyler but just did the 50/100. Le Clos was just starting. Nobody from Russia Etc etc. Peaty is/was dominant in only one Olympic event.

Now we have Dressel and Chalmers(to a lesser extent). Lots of rising stars.

There was also the lack fulfillment of MP coming back but not really being quite himself. Odd that a 4 Gold 2 Silver performance was a let down, but it was.

Crazy to think that if he had beaten LeClos and won the relay, maybe he never… Read more »

Reply to  Pvdh
2 years ago

Don’t hate me, but I actually got more interested in the sport after Phelps ‘left’. A long period of domination can also reduce the interest in many events (particular for non-US fans).

2 years ago

I had forgotten how fast Phelps was in the IM at the 2012 Trials. That time would have netted silver in London but he couldn’t come close to it in London despite swimming pretty well in his other events.

47.1 100 free split
1:44 200 free split
1:54.2 200 IM
51.2 100 fly (50.7 relay)
1:53 200 fly.

Reply to  Horninco
2 years ago

51.2 winning the Olympics…how far we’ve come. Phelps was right. Butterfly had stagnated for a really long time.

Reply to  Pvdh
2 years ago

Remember 2013, when our two 100 flyers at Worlds were Lochte and Eugene Godsoe?

Reply to  Horninco
2 years ago

Don’t forget he went 50.8 in semis after swimming the 200 IM final