2016 U.S. Olympic Trials: Youth and Experience to Clash in W. 50 Free

There has been a recent string of successes for young female sprinters in America. Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil, age group juggernauts and soon-to-be Bay Area rivals, have traded 100 yard free American records. Weitzeil smashed Lara Jackson‘s 21.27 American record in the 50 this spring. Meanwhile, college junior Olivia Smoliga won the 2016 NCAA title in the 50 free in a time of 21.21 (also under Jackson’s old record) with Manuel and Weitzeil both red-shirting the season.

Abbey Weitzeil went 53.49 at the end of USA's mixed 4x100 free relay in prelims at 2015 FINA World Championships (courtesy of Tim Binning, theswimpictures.com)

Abbey Weitzeil is the fastest female 50 yard freestyler in history. (photo: Tim Binning)

Manuel has been the quickest 50 meter freestyler over the last few years at long course championships, hitting a 24.47 in the semifinals of the World Championships last summer. Meanwhile, Weitzeil has gone under 25 seconds seven times this calendar year, with her fastest being twin 24.72’s (a best time) from the American SC Champs (which had long course finals sessions) in March and the Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa in April. Manuel was a 24.78 in Mesa, but it’s intriguing that Weitzeil has hit best times in both the 50 and 100 free this spring presumably untapered.

Simone Manuel was a part of three American records in her debut season with Stanford.

Simone Manuel is a young front runner for a spot on the American Olympic team in the 50 free. (photo: Tim Binning)

Smoliga’s best is the 25.25 she went at the Atlanta Classic to finish 2nd behind Manuel, taking four hundredths off of her old lifetime best. Her resurgence at NCAAs this season after a rough sophomore year might indicate that she’ll throw down something bigger in LCM in Omaha. If it weren’t for Weitzeil’s surreal 21.11 before NCAAs, Smoliga would be the 50y free American record holder. The Georgia Bulldog has excelled more in backstroke in the big pool, nearly making the 2012 Olympic team after a fourth place finish in the 100 back, but this could be the year where her free prowess shines in LCM.

But don’t let these young sprinters convince you that the top 2 in Omaha will be under 22 years of age.

Natalie Coughlin has honed her sprint skills– the first woman under 1:00 in the 100m back is also a leading veteran in the 50 and 100m free. Madison Kennedy, meanwhile, has hit her stride recently. At the Arena Pro Swim Series stop in Mesa, albeit supported by a friendly tailwind, Kennedy blasted a new PR in 24.45 which currently ranks her 6th in the world this year. She followed that up with a reassuring and very much NOT wind-aided 24.53 in Charlotte. Amanda Weir, for her part, hit a 24.85 at U.S. Nationals last summer.

Not to be looked past is Dana Vollmer— the mom on a comeback made waves with a big-time sub-57 second 100 fly at Mesa, but her 50 free was also a huge achievement at that meet. Her time of 24.69 beat both Weitzeil and Manuel, but was also her first time under 25 seconds. Her prelims swim of 25.00 was also a personal best by nine hundredths.

Dana Vollmer (photo: Mike Lewis)

It’s not just butterfly for Dana Vollmer— she flew under 25 seconds for the first time in her career at age 28 (photo: Mike Lewis)

Back to youth– Amy Bilquist was a sprint stud for high school powerhouse Carmel, and has been as fast as 25.03 in her career. Much closer to the lead pack, though, is Kelsi Worrell. Seen as the next American butterfly star (especially in Vollmer’s absence from competition) after her incredible swims at NCAAs over the last two years, Worrell has quietly been making big strides in her sprint freestyle. She recently made her first venture under 25 seconds at the French Nationals this spring with a solid 24.98, notably just a couple weeks after competing at the NCAA Championships.

Sprint regulars Ivy MartinLia Neal and Margo Geer have solid shots at getting into the final in Omaha, too. They’ve all been in the range of 25-low, though Neal and Geer will be primarily focused on the 100 free, an event which they are better suited for. Youngsters Katrina Konopka and Marta Ciesla should be fighting for finals spots as well. They, too, have been 25-low in their careers, with Ciesla topping all five of these women with a 25.07 from last summer’s Junior Nationals.


Swimmer Best Time (since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Omaha
Abbey Weitzeil 24.72 24.27
Simone Manuel 24.47 24.31
Madison Kennedy 24.45 24.39
Dana Vollmer 24.69 24.52
Natalie Coughlin 24.66 24.59
Kelsi Worrell 24.98 24.78
Amy Bilquist 25.03 24.87
Olivia Smoliga 25.25 24.90

Dark Horse: Amanda Kendall has bounced around training locations over the last several years but has seen some improvement recently. Notably, she unleashed a lifetime best of 25.08 last June, but hasn’t been under 25.8 yet in 2016. It’s hard to say where she’s at this year, but it might not take a sub-25 performance to get into the top 8 in Omaha.


In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steve Nolan
4 years ago

I dunno if it’s different for those swimmers seeded near the top of the field, but it seems unlikely that everyone’s gonna PR given that people swim over their seed times on average.

Actually that’d be kinda interesting, comparing changes to seed time of the top 24 seeded swimmers vs those in the bottom 24. You’d assume the ones in the bottom of the pack would’ve already tapered to hit those times, so maybe they’re less likely to go faster.

This is definitely a race I’m excited for at Trials.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
4 years ago

In the same vein, I seem to remember Weitzeil doing her best times at random, smaller meets, rather than the large ones. But I am not looking this up, so I could be 100% wrong.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
4 years ago

Median time change from seed top 24 at 2012 trials(positive is slower, negative is faster):
Men: .38%
Women: .65%
Median time change from seed >100:
Men: .62%
Women: 1.35%

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Andrew Mering
4 years ago

Cool cool cool cool! Need to get me all that data into Minitab so I can start messing around, hahah.

4 years ago

all 8 swimmers do a best time at trials? That’s almost guaranteed not to happen. I’d go with Weitzel and Kennedy. Manuel just went a pb in her 200 and may indicate she is not targeting this event like she needs to. Coughlin and Vollmer I don’t think will go that fast and Bilquist not gonna final here. Smoliga is the darkhorse

4 years ago

Didn’t realize this race had gotten so competitive – a lot of swimmers are in the mix under 25

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

Read More »