Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars: Men’s 400 IM

In our new series, Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars, we will explore how modern-day Olympians climbed their way to the top, starting from as early as 8 years old all the way to their elite level today.

The men’s 400 IM final at the 2016 Olympics was the first event final since 2004 that did not feature American IM greats Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. Instead, it was headlined by two new American names, Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland. During the final, Kalisz valiantly finished with a silver medal while Litherland finished in a tight 5th place. After that, Kalisz became the world event champion in 2017 while Litherland rose to a World silver medal in 2019.

Fast forward to 2020, Kalisz and Litherland are the only two American men who have swum under 4:10 in this Olympic cycle. Despite this, versatile 2016 Olympian Gunnar Bentz, college stars Charlie Swanson, Sean Grieshop, Bobby Finke, Sam Stewart, and age group phenom Carson Foster are all under 4:14, which would have easily rattled the 2019 World final. Who are these 8 American IMers and how do their unique specialities propel their 400 IM success? Find out in this installment of U.S. Roadmaps.

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Men’s 400 IM LCM

Rank Swimmer World Rank Time Meet
1 Chase Kalisz 1 4:05.90 2017 World Championships
2 Jay Litherland 4 4:09.22 2019 World Championships
3 Charlie Swanson 10 4:11.46 2019 Pan American Games
4 Gunnar Bentz 11 4:11.66 2017 Summer U.S. Nationals
5 Sean Grieshop 17 4:12.72 2018 Summer U.S. Nationals
6 Bobby Finke 24 4:13.15 2019 Summer U.S. Nationals
7 Carson Foster 26 4:13.39 2019 Summer U.S. Nationals
8 Sam Stewart 30 4:13.65 2018 Summer U.S. Nationals

How Long Have They Been Good At the 400 IM?

Middle School Days

The 400 IM could arguably be each of these swimmers’ best event based off current Olympic cycle rankings. However, USA Swimming’s Power Point system can also argue that the 400 IM has not always been their best event, unless you’re Gunnar Bentz. His best event was the 400 IM when he was just 12 years old before earning more power points in the 200 IM once in the 13-14 age group. Chase Kalisz‘s best event when he was 14 was also the 400 IM, but his best power point event when he was 12 was in fact the 200 back.

Carson Foster dominated sprint fly during his 12&U career, but shifted towards the 200 IM and the 400 IM after nailing the 2016 Olympic Trials cut when he was 14. Similarly, Sam Stewart‘s sprint back talent in his 11-12 age group days contributed to his 400 IM capabilities once in the 13-14 age group. Charlie Swanson didn’t have the IM events on his radar during his middle school days and focused on breaststroke and sprint free instead.

Stroke versatility is a key component towards a good IM race, however, so does endurance when it comes to the 400 IM. During his middle school career, Bobby Finke had the most power points in the 800/1500 free events, but the 400 IM was a close 3rd-/4th-best event. Before Sean Grieshop saw collegiate successes in distance free, he had the most power points in the 200 back when he was 12 before switching to the 400 IM. As an age grouper, Jay Litherland (and his triplet brothers) had both stroke versatility and endurance, who racked up power points in the 400 free and 200 back before his international IM success.

Best LCM Event (By Age Group/Power Points)

Name 11-12 13-14
Chase Kalisz 200 BK 400 IM
Jay Litherland 400 FR 200 BK
Charlie Swanson 50 FR 200 BR
Gunnar Bentz 400 IM 200 IM
Sean Grieshop 200 BK 400 IM
Bobby Finke 800 FR 800 FR
Carson Foster 50 FL 400 IM
Sam Stewart 100 BK 400 IM

Entering Senior Competition

Once a swimmer enters late high school/college, their stroke specialty becomes more solidified. Since he was 14, Gunnar Bentz‘s best event based on USA Swimming Power Points has been the 200 IM. Nevertheless, Bentz’s stellar fly/free talents has lead him to success in both IM events. Meanwhile, both Chase Kalisz and Charlie Swanson‘s best event at 16 was the 200 breast before the 400 IM was solidified into their repertoire. Jay Litherland‘s 15-16 backstroke talent also carried over into his senior 400 IM career.

Of all members in this 400 IM group, Sean Grieshop is the only swimmer to have the most points in the 400 IM in every age group since he was 13. After Carson Foster and Sam Stewart‘s early success in the 400 IM, they began to explore their own event versatility, which arguably made the 200 IM their best events throughout high school (and college). Bobby Finke is the only swimmer of this group that never had the 400 IM as their “best event”, finding more success from his distance freestyle events.

Best LCM Event (By Age Group/Power Points)

Name 15-16 17-18 19-23
Chase Kalisz 200 BR 400 IM 200 IM
Jay Litherland 200 BK 400 IM 400 IM
Charlie Swanson 200 BR 400 IM 400 IM
Gunnar Bentz 200 IM 200 IM 200 IM
Sean Grieshop 400 IM 400 IM 400 IM
Bobby Finke 1500 FR 1500 FR 800 FR
Carson Foster 200 IM 200 IM N/A
Sam Stewart 200 IM 200 IM 200 IM

Simulating a U.S. Roadmaps Men’s 400 IM Final

If these eight Americans swam their current lifetime bests in the same final, Chase Kalisz would have led the entirety of the race while Jay Litherland and would have also sealed a medal from start to finish. However, what would the rest of the group’s races look like? Fly/back specialists Carson Foster and Sam Stewart would have kept up with the lead pack during the first 200, yet would likely get caught by Kalisz and Charlie Swanson during the breast leg. Once into the free leg, Gunnar Bentz, Sean Grieshop, and Bobby Finke would utilize their versatility/endurance to take down Foster and Stewart for 4th-6th place.

Fly Back Breast Free Final Time
Swimmer 1st 50 2nd 50 1st 50 2nd 50 1st 50 2nd 50 1st 50 2nd 50
Chase Kalisz 26.22 29.71 32.25 31.40 33.58 34.09 29.61 29.04 4:05.90
Jay Litherland 26.18 30.26 32.05 31.53 35.96 36.25 29.10 27.89 4:09.22
Charlie Swanson 26.09 30.29 33.49 32.56 33.83 35.11 30.76 29.33 4:11.46
Gunnar Bentz 26.82 30.30 34.00 32.93 35.71 34.58 29.39 27.93 4:11.66
Sean Grieshop 27.11 31.03 32.60 31.88 36.29 36.58 29.25 27.98 4:12.72
Bobby Finke 27.28 30.56 32.16 31.74 36.60 37.42 29.20 28.19 4:13.15
Carson Foster 26.40 30.20 32.83 31.60 36.29 36.65 30.18 29.24 4:13.39
Sam Stewart 26.98 30.68 32.29 33.06 35.21 36.19 30.19 29.05 4:13.65

Single Age Progression: US Men’s 400 IM LCM (Ages 11-25)

Name 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Chase Kalisz 5:34.83 5:02.54 4:56.55 4:46.52 4:26.97 4:18.43 4:12.59 4:09.22 4:09.62 4:10.05 4:06.75 4:05.90 4:07.95 4:13.07
Jay Litherland 4:58.78 4:51.31 4:30.83 4:27.71 4:17.58 4:14.93 4:12.43 4:11.02 4:09.31 4:10.21 4:09.22 4:15.81
Charlie Swanson 5:58.01 5:08.40 4:29.09 4:20.37 4:17.37 4:15.99 4:14.01 4:11.46
Gunnar Bentz 5:13.32 4:47.29 4:31.33 4:23.64 4:17.43 4:14.51 4:15.24 4:14.16 4:13.67 4:11.66 4:15.33 4:20.37 4:19.98
Sean Grieshop 5:44.07 5:12.74 4:44.53 4:26.62 4:20.25 4:15.67 4:14.00 4:17.49 4:12.72 4:13.90 4:19.82
Bobby Finke 5:35.78 4:54.58 4:41.06 4:29.44 4:21.04 4:27.00 4:15.79 4:13.15 4:20.84
Carson Foster 5:14.97 4:40.01 4:27.03 4:21.10 4:14.73 4:13.39 4:14.76
Sam Stewart 5:29.46 5:08.37 4:51.07 4:41.95 4:34.53 4:24.80 4:21.64 4:27.02 4:19.69 4:13.65 4:18.81 4:16.74

Single Age Progression: US Men’s 400 IM SCY (Ages 11-23)

Name 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
Chase Kalisz 4:43.35 4:39.61 4:25.36 4:09.46 3:56.34 3:53.10 3:45.78 3:39.82 3:36.89 3:34.50 3:38.99 3:36.21 3:33.42
Jay Litherland 4:40.83 4:34.24 4:18.87 4:02.79 3:57.26 3:49.44 3:45.20 3:41.52 3:38.47 3:38.19 3:38.92
Charlie Swanson 4:45.33 4:18.11 3:53.59 3:47.65 3:46.06 3:41.13 3:39.16 3:39.87 3:40.26
Gunnar Bentz 4:26.90 4:18.20 3:59.75 3:48.87 3:45.80 3:52.75 3:40.57 3:39.61 3:38.59 3:36.60 3:38.90
Sean Grieshop 5:13.44 4:29.63 4:06.28 3:57.60 3:51.19 3:44.45 3:44.30 3:44.69 3:42.02 3:37.03 3:42.18
Bobby Finke 4:51.85 4:42.97 4:18.48 4:13.39 4:01.18 3:53.84 3:47.65 3:44.04 3:40.94 3:41.56
Carson Foster 4:46.23 4:26.27 4:07.88 3:52.25 3:46.62 3:44.16 3:40.86 3:38.65
Sam Stewart 5:02.40 4:36.55 4:24.64 4:13.95 4:04.84 3:59.11 3:55.85 3:45.33 3:44.42 3:42.92 3:41.98 3:40.85

___________________________________________________________________

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Men’s 400 IM LCM

Rank Swimmer Country Time Meet
1 Chase Kalisz USA 4:05.90 2017 World Championships
2 Daiya Seto JPN 4:06.09 2020 Kitajima Cup
3 David Verraszto HUN 4:07.47 2019 54th Sette Colli Trophy
4 Jay Litherland USA 4:09.22 2019 World Championships
5 Max Litchfield GBR 4:09.62 2017 World Championships
6 Wang Shun CHN 4:10.13 2019 7th CISM Military World Games
7 Kosuke Hagino JPN 4:10.30 2018 Asian Games
8 Qin Haiyang CHN 4:10.41 2019 7th CISM Military World Games

 

Single Age Progression: International Men’s 400 IM LCM (Ages 13-28)

Name Country 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Chase Kalisz USA 5:02.54 4:56.55 4:46.52 4:26.97 4:18.43 4:12.59 4:09.22 4:09.62 4:10.05 4:06.75 4:05.90 4:07.95 4:13.07
Daiya Seto JPN 4:13.09 4:10.10 4:08.69 4:10.21 4:08.50 4:08.47 4:07.99 4:08.79 4:07.95
David Verraszto HUN 4:48.45 4:23.78 4:28.06 4:17.72 4:19.30 4:14.46 4:16.30 4:14.16 4:12.96 4:11.71 4:14.23 4:12.32 4:14.35 4:09.90 4:12.21 4:07.47
Jay Litherland USA 4:58.78 4:51.31 4:30.83 4:27.71 4:17.58 4:14.93 4:12.43 4:11.02 4:09.31 4:10.21 4:09.22 4:15.81
Max Litchfield GBR 4:39.60 4:34.14 4:29.65 4:24.09 4:21.01 4:14.97 4:15.63 4:11.62 4:09.62 4:11.00 4:10.94
Wang Shun CHN 4:11.61 4:16.59 4:09.10 4:16.07 4:13.62 4:12.59 4:12.31 4:10.13
Kosuke Hagino JPN 4:17.23 4:08.94 4:10.77 4:07.75 4:08.50 4:06.05 4:12.65 4:11.13 4:10.30
Qin Haiyang CHN 4:10.41

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Colt Simonelli
1 year ago

I think that the 400 I.M. will be a really tight race at trials

JCO
1 year ago

While Gunnar is an incredible fly/free swimmer now along with his IMs, I believe the strongest part of his 400 IM from his club days at Dynamo was the breaststroke. It’s also pretty crazy that Gunnar and Jay both swam for the same club team, graduated HS the same year, and then went on to swim at UGA together where they both made the 2016 Olympic team together

Ghost
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

Different Dynamo sites and coaches

clown alert
Reply to  Ghost
1 year ago

Still trained together more than you would think. Dynamo has a good history of combining locations for practices (especially Saturdays for hard LCM practices) to build team chemistry and have larger and stronger training groups

Coach
Reply to  clown alert
1 year ago

Jason and Rich worked together so well, and they both played a large part in developing Gunnar and Jay.

Charge
1 year ago

With the extra year, Carson foster goes from finishing 6th at trials to making the team in both IMs

MTK
Reply to  Charge
1 year ago

I actually do think that this extra year is perfect timing for him. I’m not sure if he makes it in one or both IMs, or if he just gets a top 6 spot in 200free, but I do think he’ll make the team now.

Icanfreezetime
1 year ago

These Roadmap article series are AWESOME! During the shelter-in-place, I have time to photoshop my kid’s stats on these tables for giggles (with the family).

FlyNDie
1 year ago

Chase’s breast splits are just head and shoulders above the other. It blows my mind every time I see them.

Khachaturian
1 year ago

I wonder how Phelps stacks up against these guys

nuotofan
Reply to  Khachaturian
1 year ago

Yes. About that 4.11.40 at 20, we have to remind that in 2005, a post-Olympic year, Phelps didn’t swim the 400 IM (and the 200 fly) at Worlds.

Khachaturian
Reply to  Khachaturian
1 year ago

Wow that is crazy, he was so young when he went a 4:03!

Tea rex
1 year ago

I wonder if Grieshop/Finke will do IM or free (I believe for some stupid reason both 400s are on the same day of the schedule). Kieran Smith would be in the same boat, but seems like he’s locked into the free by now.

Kiwi Swim Chick
1 year ago

Be interested to see if NZ’s Lewis Clareburt continues to drop his PB. Think he’s gone from 4.18 in 2017 to 4.12 in Gwanju at age 20.

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro started swimming at age 11, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing. After joining SwimSwam, the site has become an outlet for him to research and learn about competitive swimming and experience the sport through a new lenses. He graduated in …

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