Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars: Women’s 200 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.

It has been 36 years since an American woman won Olympic gold in the 200 IM, when Tracy Caulkins won the title at the 1984 LA Olympics. In spite of having a number of talented IMers in the interim, including the former World Record holder Ariana Kukors, none have come out on top of the Olympic podium at the event.

Featured at the lead of the group trying to break that trend, holding the fastest women’s 200 IM time by an American woman in this Olympic quad, is former World/American 100 back record-holder Kathleen Baker. Baker’s best time came in the form of a 2:08.32 win at the 2018 U.S. Nationals meet. While her biggest career swim is the 100 back, Baker came out of high school as a sub-minute 100 yard breaststroker already, so her versatility has been clear from a young age.

Right behind her are more recognizable faces in IM events: Melanie Margalis, Madisyn Cox, Ella Eastin, Meghan Small, and Evie Pfeifer. The top 8 in this event also feature teen sensations Alex Walsh and Justina Kozan. Read on for more about each swimmer’s best strokes in age group, their past international successes, and who is most likely to appear in the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials final in Omaha.

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Women’s 200 IM LCM

Rank Swimmer World Rank Time Meet
1 Kathleen Baker 3 2:08.32 2018 U.S. Nationals
2 Melanie Margalis 8 2:08.70 2017 World Championships
3 Alex Walsh 9 2:09.01 2019 U.S. Open
4 Madisyn Cox 10 2:09.03 2020 Pro Swim Series – Des Moines
5 Ella Eastin 13 2:09.90 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
6 Meghan Small 27 2:11.36 2019 Pan American Games
7 Evie Pfeifer 30 2:11.53 2018 U.S. Nationals
8 Justina Kozan 32 2:11.55 2019 World Junior Championships

What Were Their Strengths In Age Group?

Not many age groupers would consider themselves an IMer, yet it is a common trend to see a stand-out swimmer excel in more than one stroke. At 12 years old, Kathleen Baker‘s best events included the fly, back, and free while Evie Pfeifer had a raw talent in distance free and breast events. At the same age, Ella Eastin was breaking national age group records in the butterfly events while Meghan Small and Justina Kozan could be seen swimming either fly or free events. Both Alex Walsh and Madisyn Cox have excellent breaststroke skills, yet once in early high school their backstroke events scored high Power Points according to the SWIMS database. Likewise, Melanie Margalis could be seen in both breast and middle-distance free events during her high school career.

The only swimmers of this group to swim the 200 IM LCM at 8 years old were Evie Pfeifer, Ella Eastin, and Madisyn Cox, all within the blistering 3:15-3:25 range. Eastin does not have a 200 IM time at age 9, however, at age 10 she shaved down to a 2:36.61, the 3rd-fastest 10&U time of the 2000s. By 9 years old, Alex Walsh and Justina Kozan reached sub-3:00 in the 200 IM, eventually hitting the 2:30-barrier by age 11 alongside Eastin. Kozan hit 2:12.99 in the 200 IM at the youngest age of the group at 15 years old. Walsh and Meghan Small both reached sub-2:13 by age 16 while Kathleen Baker and Eastin were 18 when reaching the competitive barrier.

Women’s 200 IM LCM: Milestone Ages

Name 2:19.99 2:12.99
Justina Kozan 14 15
Alex Walsh 14 16
Meghan Small 14 16
Kathleen Baker 14 18
Ella Eastin 13 18
Evie Pfeifer 15 19
Madisyn Cox 16 20
Melanie Margalis 16 21

Is The 200 IM “Their Event”?

The USA Swimming Power Points system can help a swimmer determine which stroke/event is their best. Of course, the majority of these Roadmaps swimmers’ best event is the 200 IM, with the 400 IM also in their top 3 events. The only exception is Kathleen Baker, whose top 2 events are the 50 and 100 backstrokes with the 200 IM being her next best event. With this in mind, do the rest of the group’s #2 and #3 events reflect their current stroke strengths? Melanie Margalis, Alex Walsh, and Madisyn Cox have either the 100 or 200 breast included in their top 3 events while Ella Eastin, Meghan Small, and Justina Kozan scored high in the 200 fly. Evie Pfeifer‘s third-best event is the 400 free, attributing to her early talent in middle distance freestyle.

Madisyn Cox is the only swimmer of this group to earn a medal in the 200 IM at the long course World championships with her bronze medal from 2017. On the other hand, Kathleen Baker, Melanie Margalis, and Ella Eastin have all earned medals at the short course World championships. Margalis first earned a bronze medal in 2014. Then, Eastin became the World runner-up in 2016. At the 2018 meet, Margalis upgraded to a silver medal while Baker picked up a bronze for a US 2-3 finish. At the same time, Meghan Small became a two-time event runner-up at the 2015 and 2019 Pan American Games while Alex Walsh won the 200 IM at the 2019 meet. Evie Pfeifer swam the 200 IM at the 2019 World University Games, yet just missed out on a medal in the event. She did earn a silver medal in the 400 IM at the same meet. Justina Kozan also became the World junior champion in the 200 IM in 2019.

Aside from 200 IM and relay medals, Kathleen Baker was the Olympic runner-up in 2016, along with picking up a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships. Likewise, Alex Walsh picked up another gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in the 200 back.

Who Could Qualify for the 200 IM Final in Omaha?

At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, Maya DiRado easily sealed her spot on her first and only Olympic team in the 200 IM. Yet it was Melanie Margalis who took out veteran Caitlin Leverenz to seal her spot on the 200 IM. After DiRado’s retirement, Margalis became the top American in the 200 IM. At the 2017 U.S. Nationals/World Championship Trials, Margalis and Madisyn Cox were the top 2 swimmers in the 200 IM. One year later, Kathleen Baker topped the 200 IM over the favorite Margalis. Ella Eastin finished in third place at both meets, swimming a pair of 2:10.8’s. In 2017, a young Alex Walsh finished in a valiant fourth place, yet faded to sixth in 2018 behind Evie Pfeifer and Meghan Small, replicating 2:12.36 both times. At the 2019 National meet, Madisyn Cox topped the 200 IM with an absent Baker/Margalis, who had already swum at the 2019 Worlds meet.

At the most recent major national meet, the 2019 U.S. Open, Melanie Margalis once again topped the event. Yet Margalis faced a surprise challenger after her built lead into the breaststroke leg, 18-year-old Alex Walsh. At the wall, Margalis touched in a new meet record of 2:08.84, followed by Walsh’s massive personal best/17-18 national age group record of 2:09.01. Finishing in third was another teenager, sprint flyer Torri Huske, touching in a 2:11.70. That time puts Huske in 9th for the 2016-2021 Olympic quad, heightening her chances of finaling at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials. But is 2:11.70 good enough to place top 8 in the 200 IM at Trials?

At the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, it took 2:14.02/2:13.36 to qualify into the 200 IM final. The top 5 finishers in the 2012 final were under 2:12.37 while the top 5 in 2016 swam under 2:11.49. At the next two U.S. Nationals meets, the top 5 in the event final replicated sub-2:12 swims. At the 2019 U.S. Open, it took 2:14.16 to qualify into the A-final, yet only the top 4 were able to swim under 2:12. From the looks of it, Huske could easily sneak into the top 8 final in Omaha, but so can the entire sub-2:12 Roadmaps group.

2012 2016 2017 2018 2019 U.S. Open
Semis 2:14.02 2:13.36 2:14.07 2:13.35 2:14.16
Top 5 2:12.37 2:11.49 2:12.66 2:11.65 2:11.97 (Top 4)

Melanie Margalis looks to be the best candidate to top the women’s 200 IM in Omaha with her Olympic experience in the event and national winning history. Kathleen Baker, despite her primary backstroke specialty, could easily sneak into the top 2 when considering her upset win at the 2018 U.S. Nationals. After her surprise sub-2:10 runner-up finish at the 2019 U.S. Open, Alex Walsh put herself into heavy contention for a top-5 finish in Omaha alongside 2019 U.S. National champion Madisyn Cox and muti-time NCAA IM champion Ella Eastin. Meghan Small, Evie Pfeifer, and Justina Kozan all have equal chances of making the Omaha final, however, so do multiple American women who have swum under 2:12.50 this Olympic quad. A few swimmers who could also appear in the Omaha final include Torri Huske (2:11.70), Emma Barksdale (2:11.97), Kate Douglass (2:12.11), Asia Seidt (2:12.30), and Vanessa Pearl (2:12.49).

Single Age Progression: US Women’s 200 IM LCM (Ages 8-25)

Name 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Kathleen Baker 3:20.56 2:59.88 2:38.29 2:25.81 2:22.10 2:18.21 2:16.90 2:13.35 2:13.17 2:12.09 2:14.32 2:08.32 2:08.75
Melanie Margalis 2:44.19 2:35.64 2:28.35 2:22.35 2:21.29 2:18.55 2:16.10 2:18.51 2:13.95 2:13.26 2:12.34 2:10.20 2:10.26 2:09.21 2:08.70
Alex Walsh 2:54.42 2:46.75 2:31.91 2:24.72 2:21.53 2:15.84 2:21.36 2:11.83 2:11.86 2:09.01
Madisyn Cox 3:26.54 3:05.67 3:00.83 2:52.79 2:39.73 2:30.83 2:25.48 2:21.49 2:18.89 2:19.85 2:16.93 2:14.23 2:10.75 2:11.14 2:09.69 2:10.27 2:09.03
Ella Eastin 3:22.52 2:36.61 2:30.84 2:24.87 2:18.98 2:16.99 2:17.15 2:13.66 2:13.12 2:12.32 2:10.54 2:10.89 2:09.90 2:10.72
Meghan Small 2:38.91 2:24.06 2:16.47 2:14.15 2:11.83 2:11.26 2:13.00 2:11.65 2:11.36
Evie Pfeifer 3:15.59 3:09.32 2:55.88 2:39.40 2:31.77 2:26.89 2:22.22 2:17.57 2:16.84 2:15.88 2:14.47 2:11.53 2:12.70
Justina Kozan 2:59.21 2:53.36 2:30.37 2:21.56 2:22.14 2:17.34 2:11.55 2:14.53

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Women’s 200 IM LCM

Rank Swimmer Country Time Meet
1 Katinka Hosszu HUN 2:07.00 2017 World Championships
2 Yui Ohashi JPN 2:07.91 2017 World Championships
3 Kathleen Baker USA 2:08.32 2018 U.S. Nationals
4 Kim Seoyeong KOR 2:08.34 2018 Asian Games
5 Ye Shiwen CHN 2:08.60 2019 World Championships
6 Sydney Pickrem CAN 2:08.61 2019 FINA Champions Series – Indy
7 Rika Omoto JPN 2:08.64 2019 Sydney Open
8 Melanie Margalis USA 2:08.70 2017 World Championships

Single Age Progression: International Women’s 200 IM LCM (Ages 12-26)

Swimmer Country 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Katinka Hosszu HUN 2:25.06 2:18.95 2:15.95 2:16.07 2:15.04 2:13.05 2:07.46 2:10.09 2:11.24 2:10.68 2:07.92 2:08.11 2:06.12
Yui Ohashi JPN 2:16.32 2:14.77 2:13.65 2:12.72 2:15.25 2:11.46 2:07.91 2:08.80
Kathleen Baker USA 2:25.81 2:22.10 2:18.21 2:16.90 2:13.35 2:13.17 2:12.09 2:14.32 2:08.32 2:08.75
Kim Seoyeong KOR 2:13.65 2:17.03 2:15.63 2:15.22 2:17.95 2:11.75 2:13.81 2:11.75 2:09.86 2:08.34 2:09.97
Ye Shiwen CHN 2:09.37 2:08.90 2:07.57 2:09.08 2:08.94 2:11.23 2:09.33 2:10.91 2:08.60
Sydney Pickrem CAN 2:25.30 2:19.91 2:15.75 2:13.78 2:11.90 2:10.08 2:10.57 2:09.17 2:09.07 2:08.61
Rika Omoto JPN 2:15.38 2:14.35 2:14.27 2:12.39 2:12.05 2:11.36 2:10.98 2:09.91 2:08.64
Melanie Margalis USA 2:35.64 2:28.35 2:22.35 2:21.29 2:18.55 2:16.10 2:18.51 2:13.95 2:13.26 2:12.34 2:10.20 2:10.26 2:09.21 2:08.70 2:09.43

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1 year ago

Asia Seidt has retired so won’t be in Omaha!

Also, Swimswam is still underestimating Baker in this event..she is the favorite in my opinion

1 year ago

For sure Baker is favourite, hasn’t she already been 2:08 this season?

I forget whether relay-only spots are also a potential problem on the women’s side as they are on the men’s (don’t think they are), but if it is, then Baker nailing spots in the 200 IM, 100 and 200 back should help somewhat.

Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Yes, she did right before quarantine started.

1 year ago

If all these women are healthy and swimming at their peak, it’s going to be one of the top races of the meet.

My prediction is that it’s going to take a 2:08 flat to make the top 2.

1 year ago

Another great race to come next year in Omaha! I predict Alex Walsh wins and is followed by either Baker, Margalis, or Cox. Should be able to tell based off the 400 IM for Cox / Margalis. So exciting!

1 year ago

I really want to see an Eastin upset either IM event considering how close she’s come

1 year ago

Looking towards Tokyo, all I will say is I hope Baker is working on sprint free endurance. The last 25m of that 200IM will be a dogfight!

1 year ago

“Sprint free endurance” love it! Lol

Reply to  Hswimmer
1 year ago

LOL you know what I mean. At the end of that 200 IM when you have to use the legs and escape the dreaded piano.

1 year ago

I know I was just kidding haha! Someone who needs that is M.A.

1 year ago

Small edit: 1984 was LA not Seoul.

1 year ago

This year I think it would have been Baker and Mel but Walsh is going to be ready next year

1 year ago

My pick as favorite would be Regan Smith, not that know she plans to compete in this event.

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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