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.
At the 1981 U.S. Nationals, Mary T. Meagher broke her World/American Records in the 200 fly for the last time at the age of 16, clocking in an impressive 2:05.96. Roughly 19 years later, Misty Hyman finally took down Meagher’s 200 fly American record with a 2:05.88 at the 2000 Olympics. It was another 9 years later when Mary Descenza demolished Hyman’s American record with a 2:04.14 at the 2009 World Championships during the polyurethane super suit era.
In 2020, Meagher’s national age group records (NAGs) in the 200 fly and Descenza’s super-suit American record have since remain unbroken. Could we ever see a U.S. teen swimmer faster than Meagher in the women’s 200 fly again? Could the super-suit women’s 200 fly American record ever go down? Read on to answer these questions and more.
Has Anyone Tussled Meagher’s NAGs 40 Years Later?
After swimming 2:09.77 at the 1979 Pan American Games, 14-year-old Mary T. Meagher broke her world record again at the 1979 U.S. Nationals, swimming 2:08.41 to 2:07.01 on the same day. Yet it wasn’t until 33 years later when 12-year-old Cassidy Bayer began to show potential towards tackling Meagher’s marks. Bayer first demolished the 200 fly 11-12 NAG of 2:19.32 with a 2:18.61 in summer 2012. She then lowered that mark twice more that year, shaving it down to a 2:15.02. By age 14, Bayer dropped down to a 2:09.08, two seconds off Meagher’s 13-14 NAG. The next year, Bayer did not progress as fast as Meagher at age 15, managing a 2:08.03 at that age. Bayer then hit 2:07.97 at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials at age 16, but has not dropped time in the event since. Similarly, after Meagher’s 2:05.96 world record in 1981, she was not able to better her own mark.
Roughly three years after Bayer’s 15-16 campaign, 15-year-old Charlotte Hook put up an impressive 2:07.87 out of the B-final at the 2019 U.S. Nationals. Hook’s mark is just 1.5 seconds off Meagher’s age 15 best, which made her the fastest 15-year-old to swim the women’s 200 fly in the 21st century. However, Hook is still 1.91 seconds away from her mark. In 2020, there are a handful of swimmers ages 12-15 who have put up impressive times in the 200 fly, however, none to the caliber of Meagher’s sub-2:07 capabilities at that age.
Who’s Been Close to the American Record?
All three of Mary Descenza‘s 2:04 swims in the 200 fly, including her 2:04.14 American record, came from the 2009 World Championships where she wore a full-body polyurethane suit. After that Worlds meet, Descenza did not swim another sub-2:07 performance in the 200 fly. Since then, no American woman has broken 2:05 in the 200 fly. But who has been close?
At the 2012 Olympics, Kathleen Hersey swam a 2:05.78 in the 200 fly final, which only managed a 4th-place finish. However, that performance was the 2nd-fastest 200 fly in American history, becoming only the 3rd American woman to beat Meagher’s 2:05.96 mark. Four years later, Cammile Adams swam a 2:05.90 during the 2016 Olympic final, which was another sub-2:06 swim yet not 2:04-fast. The third American to break 2:06 in the 200 fly is Hali Flickinger, who is still competing while Hersey/Adams have retired. At the 2018 U.S. Nationals, Flickinger put up a 2:05.87, the 3rd-fastest swim in U.S. history.
How Do 2020s Teens Stack Up?
In 2012, Cassidy Bayer had already swum 2:15 in the 200-meter fly at 12 years old. Once in the 13-14 age group, Bayer progressed from 2:15 to 2:11 to 2:09 in three years. However, no 12-year-old has neared 2:18 and no 14-year-old has broken 2:10 since Bayer. Venturing into the 15-16 age group, no swimmer has neared Meagher’s 2:06 swims since 1981. Yet in 2020, more swimmers are reaching the 2:10-barrier around 14-15 years old in contrast to 2000s swimmers, who did not reach the 2:10-barrier until reaching the 17-18 age group. Therefore, we do know that age groupers today are swimming faster than 10 years ago. Yet while their times are faster, they may not be progressing as fast as we think.
Taking a look at how a few past swimmers have progressed from ages 16-18, we can roughly predict if top 16&U swimmers can near the sub-2:07 barrier by age 18. Using Mary Descenza, Kathleen Hersey, Cammile Adams, and Regan Smith‘s age group times as consistent time-drop examples, their (estimated) average by year from ages 16-18 is -2.80s, -1.90s, and -0.60s. However, the COVID-19 outbreak could hinder any summer 2020 tapers. Therefore, we will skip a year and predict their times afterwards. Applying those yearly time-drop averages to the top five 16&U swimmers since July 2019, Charlotte Hook‘s 2:07.87 from 2019 U.S. Nationals could be on track to breaking 2:06 if she were to drop -1.90 seconds heading into 2021 as a 17-year-old. Since Tess Howley is 15, her predicted time at age 16 would be 2:08.62, foreshadowing a 2:06.12 by 18.
In the last decade, the American women’s 200 fly experienced a lull in this event, with Cammile Adams being the only consistent finalist at the international level in the event. Now, there’s a plethora of young talent rising to the occasion, and that youth will probably generally benefit from the extra year before the Tokyo Olympics.
With the Olympics pushed an extra year, that leaves an extra year of training for this group. Who’s to say that the American record couldn’t go down at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials? However, with the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the wide margin that separates current swimmers from the mark, will the women’s 200 fly American record ever go down?
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Women’s 200 FL LCM
|1||Hali Flickinger||2:05.87||2018 U.S. Nationals|
|2||Regan Smith||2:06.39||2020 Pro Swim Series – Des Moines|
|3||Katie Drabot||2:06.59||2019 World Championships|
|4||Lillie Nordmann||2:07.43||2019 U.S. Nationals|
|5||Dakota Luther||2:07.76||2019 U.S. Nationals|
|6||Charlotte Hook||2:07.87||2019 U.S. Nationals|
|7||Ella Eastin||2:08.21||2017 World University Games|
|8||Olivia Carter||2:08.22||2019 U.S. Nationals|
Single Age Progression: US Women’s 200 FL LCM (Ages 12-25)
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Women’s 200 FL LCM
|1||Mireia Belmonte||ESP||2:05.26||2017 World Championships|
|2||Franziska Hentke||GER||2:05.39||2017 World Championships|
|3||Alys Thomas||GBR||2:05.45||2018 Commonwealth Games|
|4||Hali Flickinger||USA||2:05.87||2018 U.S. Nationals|
|5||Katinka Hosszu||HUN||2:06.02||2017 World Championships|
|6||Yufei Zhang||CHN||2:06.17||2017 Chinese Nationals|
|7||Suzuka Hasegawa||JPN||2:06.29||2017 Japan Swim|
|8||Yilin Zhou||CHN||2:06.29||2017 Chinese Nationals|
Single Age Progression: International Women’s 200 FL LCM (Ages 12-27)
More from U.S. Roadmaps:
- Men’s 100 Free
- Women’s 100 Free
- Men’s 100 Back
- Women’s 100 Back
- Men’s 100 Breast
- Women’s 100 Breast
- Men’s 100 Fly
- Women’s 100 Fly
- Men’s 400 IM
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