Men’s 400 Meter Freestyle – US Nationals Preview
- Day 4, Saturday, August 9th
- Defending national champ: Connor Jaeger, 3:45.89
- Defending U.S. Open champ: Jeremy Bagshaw – top American: Nick Caldwell, 3:51.14
- Time to make the 2013 US National Team (#6 Nationally at selection meets): 3:51.14 – Nick Caldwell
The 400 free is always a unique event, with a mix of distance swimmers coming down to the 400 distance and 200 specialists swimming up. That creates a unique collision of speed and stamina that makes for an entertaining race, with each athlete trying to emphasize his or her strong suit while covering over the weak one.
The best of the best, though, can do both, and it’s in that intersection that Connor Jaeger lives. Though the Michigan Wolverine grad was a 2012 Olympian in the mile, he’s one of those rare distance men with an abundance of speed all the way down to the 200. And after picking up the bronze medal in the 400 at last summer’s World Championships, it’s quite possible this, not the mile, is Jaeger’s most natural event. He already holds the top American time of the year with an outstanding 3:45.34 from just a few weeks ago – that time is just a half-second off of Jaeger’s lifetime-best.
Jaeger’s partner on that World Champs team was Matt McLean, who comes more from the 200-and-up mold. The former Virginia Cavalier is now training with the loaded North Baltimore group under coach Bob Bowman, who’s had great success with mid-distance types over his career. McLean holds the 5th-fastest American time this year, but his taper prospects are a bit hard to judge. Last summer, McLean had a monster taper, going from 3:51 (about where he is now) to 3:46 to make the U.S. World Championship team. But back in 2012, McLean went 3:49 midseason, then slightly slower at Olympic Trials. Smart money says his taper this year falls somewhere between those two extremes.
One of the big shocks of last summer’s nationals came in the 400, where London Olympian Conor Dwyer twitched on the blocks and was disqualified, even though he went on to finish 2nd overall. Missing that qualification for Worlds has to be a big motivator for Dwyer, who was just two tenths from cracking 3:50 earlier this season. Only two Americans have gotten under that barrier thus far in 2014. He comes from the same NBAC group as McLean, and the only big question with Dwyer is if his outstanding versatility will draw his focus to other events or cause a loaded lineup to tire him out by Saturday’s 400 free final. Still, Dwyer is a tough enough swimmer that those concerns are probably overblown.
Another of the milers swimming down is former Texas Longhorn Michael McBroom. McBroom doesn’t quite have the straight-line speed of Jaeger, but couples outstanding endurance with a penchant for breakout swims. Look no further than last summer’s Worlds for evidence of this: McBroom blasted his way to the silver medal in the final, smashing 7 full seconds off his prelims swim and taking over the American record in the process. He holds the U.S.’s second-fastest time of 2014 at 3:48.95, a lifetime-best swim he put up earlier this month.
Michael Klueh was a Longhorn just like McBroom, but now trains at Club Wolverine with Jaeger. He’s a current national teamer in the event and missed a 2012 Olympic bid by just three-tenths. Another returning A-finalist is Charlie Houchin, now competing for Seal Innovation Team. Houchin was an Olympian in the 200 free and brings more of the speed element to the 400. In all, the Seal Innovation team training group has had trouble in-season, but being a new group we still don’t have much history upon which to expect a big taper, a small taper, or somewhere in between.
Some more distance-based names to keep an eye on: Badger Swim Club and former Wolverine swimmer Ryan Feeley, Georgia Bulldog Andrew Gemmell and Auburn’s top distance-man Zane Grothe. On the more mid-sprint-based side of things are Wisconsin Badger breakout star Michael Weiss, Texas’s Sam Lewis,plus Notre Dame’s Frank Dyer, swimming with NBAC after rewriting most of the Irish record book the past few seasons.
This is one race where some very dark horses show enough intriguing talent to merit mention. Jack Conger is a stud in the short-course 500, but has yet to transfer that talent over to the long course 400. In fact, his lifetime-best is just 4:02.60 from this past weekend – but note that prior to that swim, his PR was all the way back at 4:07.06. Conger clearly has some time to drop in this event, especially when you consider that he’s 4:13 in the short-course 500. Can he cut enough to jump into the final here? That would require a humongous time drop, but consider Conger a very deep sleeper pick in addition to a name to watch in future years.
Reed Malone is coming off of a banner freshman season with USC in which he cut 5 seconds off his best in the 500 and wound up being named a team captain as a sophomore for the upcoming season. If he can roll that momentum over into this event (where he’s already been 3:52.38 in his career), then watch out for the Trojan.
One of the better high school swimmers in the nation right now, Townley Haas is typically a major taper swimmer. He’s only been 3:57 so far this year, but went 3:51.99 in winning the Junior National title last summer. He also won Winter Juniors in short course last December. Meanwhile Nick Caldwell, himself a highly-touted high school prospect back in 2010-2011, is finding a career resurgence with Wisconsin after sitting out a season in Florida. Caldwell competed at Junior Pan Pacs back in 2010, and appears to be getting back to the outstanding level he was at in those days.
1. Connor Jaeger, Club Wolverine (3:44.85 – 2013 World Champs)
2. Conor Dwyer, NBAC (3:46.24 – 2012 London Olympics)
3. Michael McBroom, Texas/The Woodlands (3:48.93 – 2014 Texas Senior Circuit)
4. Matt McLean, NBAC (3:46.14 – 2013 Nationals)
5. Charlie Houchin, SEAL Innovation (3:47.16 – 2013 Nationals)
6. Reed Malone, USC/Unattached (3:52.38 – 2012 NCSA Juniors)
7. Michael Klueh, Club Wolverine (3:47.62 – 2008 U.S. Open)
8. Townley Haas, NOVA of Virginia (3:51.99 – 2013 Junior Nationals)
Note: Athletes are listed under the college/club that, to the best of our knowledge, they’re currently training with.