Ranking the Most Highly Anticipated 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Races: #28-21

While we work our way through another week of the pandemic, the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials are (hopefully) just a year away. What better way to pass the time than by culling a list of the most highly anticipated Trials races, ranked based on excitement value?

The data is backlogged since we haven’t seen anyone race in months, and we have yet to find out how negatively swimmers have been affected, training-wise, due to COVID-19. But if there’s one thing I can still do, it is make grand speculations on a meet 12 months away.

Author’s Note: This list is based on a solid understanding of the players poised to make the U.S. Olympic team in each pool event. Top times and performances throughout this Olympic cycle have been taken into consideration. Past that, it is purely this writer’s opinion and speculation around which events have built up the most excitement. If you find yourself typing a comment angrily, I would highly advise you to take a look at the world around you and get a little perspective on why you’re getting so heated about a LIST about a SPORT (for FUN). But I do expect plenty of understandable disagreement; some events are going to be more exciting than others based on your own opinion! 

So, without further ado, here is every 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials event, ranked from least to most highly anticipated. We’ll start with #28 through #21 today, then get to #20 to #11 on Wednesday and finish with #10 to #1 on Friday.

#28 – MEN’S 200 BREAST

Will Licon and Andrew Wilson dropped 2:07-mids in this event in 2019, and while Kevin Cordes and American record-holder Josh Prenot have been a bit quicker than that in their careers, the latter two have not been able to match their prime these last couple of seasons. An Andrew Wilson Olympic berth would be the first NCAA Division III-grown Olympic berth, and young names like Joshua MathenyDaniel Roy and Reece Whitley are lurking, but I’m not chomping at the bit for this race. There has to be a #28 on this list, and this is it.

#27 – MEN’S 50 FREE

Before you all come for my throat, let me state that I am wholeheartedly excited for each and every race at the 2021 Trials! Now, having said that, Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew are the only Americans to have broken 21.80 since the last Olympics. This is by no means a shoo-in; I am well aware of the U.S. sprint machine. And Dressel is never boring to watch. But this race really does not have the heart-pounding implications that the 100 and 200 free have on the men’s side.

#26 – WOMEN’S 100 BREAST

This is one of the races where we don’t have to think too hard about one of the Olympic team slots, as all signs point to another dominating year of Lilly King in this event. While King hasn’t gone a best since 2017, she still popped a 1:04.9 in 2019, and no other Americans broke 1:06 last year. While better in the 200, Annie Lazor‘s 1:06.0 last year put her at the #2 slot ahead of Molly Hannis (1:06.4) and Breeja Larson (1:06.7), while incoming USC freshman Kaitlyn Dobler put herself on the map with a 1:06.9 at World Jr Champs. It’ll be fun to see who can push through for the second spot, but Lazor has a lot of momentum here.

#25 – WOMEN’S 400 FREE

We know! We know, we know, we know. Obviously, Katie Ledecky could get sick (she did last year at Worlds!). We cannot discount what fate has in store. But we know with almost complete certainty what will happen here, and we can be pretty darn sure about who will get second (Leah Smith). What could be fun is seeing Smith challenge the four-minute barrier, and with Ledecky and Smith as good as they are, we could see several other women go under 4:05 and still miss the team.

#24 – MEN’S 800 FREE

Caught between the long sprint of the 400 free and the trek that is the 1500, we have the 800 free. Indeed, this is the first time the men will compete in this race after this and the women’s 1500 (finally) were added to the Olympic program. I’m really interested in seeing Robert Finke in this race after he wiped out the 1650 free American, NCAA and U.S. Open record at the 2020 SEC Championships. Can the old-ish guard of Jordan Wilimovsky and Zane Grothe keep up? I don’t know if I care as much as I do about the men’s 1500.

#23 – WOMEN’S 800 FREE

The push for the 800 over the 400, for me, comes down to where the #3 is at. One of the most exciting young swimmers in America right now is Erica Sullivan, and she is better the longer the race. It would be very cool to see three U.S. women under 8:20 in one race, and Sullivan was 8:26.1 in the fall (ranked third among American women since summer 2018). Keep in mind her insane improvement curve — don’t forget she erupted for a 15:23.81 in December in the 1650 yard free, making her the #2 yards miler in history. Sullivan is a fearless racer who poses a much more legitimate threat in this race than in the 400.

#22 – MEN’S 100 BREAST

Michael Andrew being in the mix puts this event higher than the longer breaststroke race. A 59.14 at the Des Moines PSS in March was a quick swim for MA and his lifetime best. Fast mid-season swims are not surprising for him, but he was #2 for the 2019-20 season behind top American Andrew Wilson (58.93). If they are the top seeds in the final in Omaha, their last names next to each other will read ‘Andrew Wilson.’ It won’t be that easy for them to hit #1 and #2 next summer, though; five other American men went 59-plus in 2019, and that list doesn’t even include American record-holder Kevin Cordes (1:00.04 in late 2018, but lifetime best is the AR: 58.64).

A crowded field with the intrigue of Wilson repping DIII, and Andrew seeking his first Olympic team spot, is big.

#21 – MEN’S 200 BACK

The Cal legacy in this event is at stake, with Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley back after going 1-2 in Omaha in 2016.  They’ve repped Team USA at ever major LC champs since then, though Pebley was edged out by Austin Katz for the Pan Pacs A-final spot behind Murphy, and Pebley was just sixth in the 2019 Worlds final. The fourth major player here is Shaine Casas. Longhorn Katz has steadily risen since his age-group days, while Casas has erupted through 1.9 seasons with Texas A&M. With Pebley fading last year and Murphy being better in the 100, I wouldn’t write off the possibility of Katz and Casas both usurping the Cal boys.

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Mark Schubert
2 years ago

Wow no Michael Brinegar in the 800 & 1590! You lost your credibility….

2 years ago

You forgot my man Cody on the 100 breast, he went a 59.2 at a Pro Series meet and 59.5 at pan ams

2 years ago

As for the top female performers in the women’s 100m breastroke in calendar year 2019:

King – 1:04.93
Lazor – 1:06.03
Larson – 1:06.78
Dobler – 1:06.97
Hannis – 1:06.98

The Data Hub & General Information
U.S. and World Lists
2019 Top Performers
Gender: Women
Course: LCM
Event: 100 BR
Show Details

2 years ago

“Momentum” is the key word for this season IMO. Any talk of times from 2018 or 2019 May be moot. Athletes from programs that use a quad plan may end up flailing. I suspect there may be more unknown youngsters who just happen to be at the right age\maturity to make the team at the Trials, which will make them more exciting but also very sad because so many stalwart athletes will get bumped from the team. I also suspect we’ll see slower times than we’ve come to expect. We’ll see…

Reply to  Danjohnrob
2 years ago

Just gotta focus on what you can do right now and stay out of your head.

Reply to  Danjohnrob
2 years ago

I disagree from the women’s standpoint since I certainly expect faster times than the 2016 Olympic Team Trials.


2 years ago

Weird to see miller not in either breasts

Jabroni Pepperoni
2 years ago

Didn’t Nic Fink get under 59? If so he should be a contender

Kevin lee
Reply to  Jabroni Pepperoni
2 years ago

He split a 58 mid in a relay at pan ams, but not individually

Los Angeles
2 years ago

Aprreciate this article, but it should really have been titled “The Least Predictable 2021 US Olympic Trial Races”. There are a lot of fans who are anxiously “anticipating” watching races involving national teamers, Olympic greats, and World Champions–just because the outcomes of some of those events may be predictable does not mean they will not be exciting races or highly “anticipated” by swim fans–indeed they may be some of the most anticipated.

Reply to  Karl Ortegon
2 years ago

@luca urlando

Reply to  Karl Ortegon
2 years ago

I disagree to the extent that the unpredictability of the outcome generates the most excitement. I look forward most to the women’s 100m butterfly with the emergence of Huske, Curzan, Hook while Dahlia has definitely slipped from calendar year 2017 to 2019.

2 years ago

When you realize OT’s would’ve been in a week if the Olympics were not postponed #timeflies
And I honestly think the women’s 400 should be #28 because it feels very cut out. Ledecky and Smith feel like the clear favorites in it. I’d definitely take the men’s 200 breast over the women’s 400 for a more exciting race.

Reply to  swimfan210_
2 years ago

The women’s 400m freestyle and women’s 800m freestyle seem pretty clear cut.

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.

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