Men’s 200 Meter Butterfly – US Nationals Preview
- Day 1, Wednesday, August 6th
- Defending national champ: Tom Luchsinger, 1:55.57
- Defending U.S. Open champ: Sebastien Rousseau, top American: Bobby Bollier, 1:57.32
- Time to make the 2013 US National Team (#6 Nationally at selection meets): 1:57.68 – Dan Madwed
A current irony in swimming: the event perhaps most dominated by Michael Phelps‘ long shadow over the past decade is one completely unaffected by his return. Despite rejoining the competitive swimming world, Phelps says that he’s done with the 200 fly, and we have to believe him at least for this season, which leaves a battle the same group of young stars who have been trying to fill his flippers since 2012.
The most successful American in this event since Phelps’ retirement has been former UNC Tar Heels standout Tom Luchsinger, who is now training alongside Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Luchsinger is the defending national champion in the event, and also put up the highest American finish at last summer’s World Championships, just missing a silver or bronze medal by a little more than a half second.
Luchsinger still appears to be in great shape this season, holding the second-fastest time of any American in 2014, so consider him a clear-cut frontrunner.
The only American ahead of Luchsinger, though, is one of the more intriguing young swimmers of the summer. Defending Junior World Champ Andrew Seliskar is a rising high school senior, recently ranked as the top high school prospect in the nation. For many of the young talents we note in these previews, the big jump to the international level is still a few years away, but at 17, Seliskar seems in perfect timing to rise to national (and perhaps even international) standards. With the 200 fly coming on day 1 of nationals, this event will be Seliskar’s first chance to make his big statement.
Though he’s had more success in other races, Tyler Clary is still a bona fide threat here. He was the second Olympian behind Phelps in 2012 and the second World Champs entry behind Luchsinger last summer. For a guy who’s continually in the shadow of the iconic Phelps and Ryan Lochte duo, the 200 fly could be a perfect opportunity for Clary to rise to the top of the field.
California star Tom Shields is an interesting case. Known more as a sprinter, he’s improved dramatically in the longest butterfly event over the last several seasons. He was 2:00.5 back in 2011, 1:58.7 at the 2012 Olympic Trials and 1:57.3 last summer, missing a World Champs berth in the event by one spot. Shields has perhaps the most dangerous underwaters of anyone in the world, and continues to add more patience and consistency to his over-the-water swimming as he becomes more and more of a factor in the Olympic-size pool.
From across the bay from Shields comes Bobby Bollier, the former Stanford Cardinal who’s always in the hunt in this event. Bollier was the highest American finisher at U.S. Open last season. The downside with Bollier is consistency – he’s had great seasons often followed by seasons where he’s gained time. Bollier posted his lifetime-best all the way back in 2008. He nearly cracked that mark after several slower seasons at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but then regressed time-wise last summer. Still, if Bollier is on, keep an eye out for him this August. He races at the LA Invite this weekend, which will be a good benchmark for where he’s at.
IM sensation Chase Kalisz deserves a mention here. The rising king of the American IM scene, Kalisz is a threat to one day break the 400 IM record held by his longtime NBAC teammate Phelps. Kalisz has improved remarkably in the 200 fly since joining the Georgia Bulldogs, to the point that he could wind up on a national team in the event. He’s got choices to make though, because he could be on the National Team in at least 5 different events, and over a 5 day meet that will be a tough schedule.
Besides Seliskar, there’s a host of other youngsters making waves on the national 200 fly scene. Aquazot’s Corey Okubo is a Princeton signee who holds the 4th-fastest time for an American this season in the 200 fly. Fellow Californian Justin Lynch is a Cal Bears signee who’s been red-hot – he broke two minutes for the first time last summer and is already down to 1:57.80 for his lifetime-best. Sam McHugh of the Baylor School also broke two minutes for the first time last summer, and has plenty of room for improvement as he transfers his outstanding short course speed to the long pool.
Some college athletes to keep an eye on: Michigan Wolverine grad Kyle Whitaker was a finalist last summer, and is coming off a great NCAA season. There’s Cal’s Adam Hinshaw. Indiana’s Steve Schmuhl. Bollier’s Stanford teammate Tom Kremer. Texas’s John Martens and Clark Smith are each ranked within the top 10 Americans this year, as is UNC’s Ben Colley.
Whoever makes the U.S. National Team, they’ll need to take a major step forward, especially to earn full funding from USA Swimming, as there currently aren’t any Americans ranked within the top 20 in the world in this race. Bringing home medals in international competition – once all but a certainly thanks to Phelps – is now a tooth-and-nail struggle for a new-look U.S. contingent.
My picks (with lifetime-best included):
1. Tom Luchsinger, NBAC (1:55.57, 2013 U.S. Nationals)
2. Andrew Seliskar, NCAP (1:56.42, 2013 Junior World Championships)
3. Tom Shields, Cal Aquatics (1:57.39, 2013 U.S. Nationals)
4. Tyler Clary, SwimMAC (1:53.64, 2009 U.S. Nationals)
5. Bobby Bollier, Stanford (1:55.67, 2008 U.S. Open)
6. Chase Kalisz, NBAC/Georgia (1:58.09, 2013 U.S. Nationals)
7. Justin Lynch, Terrapins (1:57.80, 2013 Junior Nationals)
8. Corey Okubo, Aquazot (1:58.28, 2013 Junior Nationals)
Note: Athletes are listed under the college/club that, to the best of our knowledge, they’re currently training with.