The Non-Swimmer’s Guide to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials (Part 1)

Did you peak after learning to doggy paddle? Did you attend a college or university that doesn’t have a graduation swim test requirement? (If so, you’re in the majority.) Or, are you wondering exactly what your swimmer friend/family member/colleague/associate has been yapping about for the past three days?

Read on as we break down the need-to-know storylines so far at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials, translated for the non-swimmer’s consumption. If your friends won’t stop asking you about swimming, post this link on your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to get them caught up!


Night one got off to a rip-roaring start, with a crowd of 20,689 spectators bearing witness to distance G.O.A.T. Katie Ledecky punching her ticket to her fourth Olympic Games. She won the 400-meter freestyle in a time of 3 minutes and 58 seconds and 55 hundredths, over three seconds ahead of Paige Madden, who also swam this event at the last Olympics in Tokyo.

That was Ledecky’s 30th time swimming faster than four minutes in her career. For context, before Ledecky came onto the scene, only one other woman in history had swum faster than four minutes.

  • In swimming, symbolic barriers are a big deal. 3:59.99 sounds far more impressive than 4:00.00, despite being only one-hundredth of a second apart.

Ledecky became only the eighth U.S. swimmer to qualify for four Olympic Games. Only two U.S. swimmers in history have made five Olympic teams; one of them is Michael Phelps.

There was another Olympian named on night one: Aaron Shackell secured a ticket to Paris with his finish in the men’s 400-meter freestyle. Shackell is a local Indiana kid and a first-time Olympian. He trains just a 30 minute drive outside of Indianapolis, in his hometown of Carmel, Indiana. He finished ahead of Kieran Smith, who earned the bronze metal in Tokyo three years ago.

  • Paige Madden and Kieran Smith will most likely be named to the Olympic Team, but due to the U.S.’s roster selection procedure it won’t officially be announced until later on in the meet. Don’t worry about it — swim fans will be doing enough of that.

Still, the story of the night was probably Gretchen Walsh‘s world record in the 100-meter butterfly. She swam a time of 55.18 seconds, lowering the record by exactly three-tenths of a second and giving the American women ownership of the record for the first time since 2015.

If you don’t follow NCAA swimming, you may not recognize the name Gretchen Walsh, but trust us, she will be one of the U.S.’s biggest stars in Paris.


On day two, Gretchen Walsh won the 100 butterfly final and was officially named to the Olympic Team. She will be joined by Tokyo Olympian Torri Huske in Paris.

  • The U.S. Olympic Trials mimics the Olympic format, with preliminary heats, semi-finals, and finals. The top 16 times from prelims advance to semis, and the top eight advance to finals. Walsh set the world record in semis, but she hadn’t officially qualified until she won finals.

Walsh’s win was vindication for diehard fans of NCAA swimming, as this will be her first Olympic berth since bursting onto the scene as a teenager.

  • Collegiate swimming is contested in a 25-yard pool while Olympic pools are 50-meter. That’s over double the length. If you’ve ever had the feeling your local pool seemed longer than usual during rec swim hours, that’s likely why.

Day two fell on Father’s Day, and it was a big night for father-to-be Nic Fink. Fink, who works a 9-5 job as an electrical engineer, made his second Olympic team the men’s 100-meter breaststroke. His celebration after his win referenced the new title he will add to his already impressive resume.

Finally, Carson Foster finally made his first Olympic team. In 2021, he was passed on the last four laps of the 400-meter individual medley relay despite coming in as the favorite to win the event. This year, he beat defending champion Chase Kalisz, who knows Michael Phelps.


We’re almost caught up with the present. Hang in there!

The most recent day is a big one. Eleven athletes were added to the Olympic team.

Katie Ledecky did it again in the 200-meter freestyle. She was joined by Claire Weinstein, Paige Madden, and Erin Gemmell. Gemmell and Ledecky have history, as the distance queen was coached by Gemmell’s daddy.

Four men made the team in the men’s 200-meter freestyle event: Luke Hobson, Chris Guiliano, Drew Kibler, and Kieran Smith. All four will swim the event in Paris.

  • Up to four swimmers can swim on a relay, which is why there are four swimmers named to the team.

Katie Grimes made history in another way. She swam the 400-meter medley, 16 laps of the most grueling event in swimming. In the medley, swimmers compete in all four strokes back-to-back. Grimes is already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10-mile open water swim. Grimes is not going to college.

  • The four strokes are backstroke, breaststroke, butterstroke, and freestyle.

Finally, two veterans made their third Olympic teams. Lilly King, fierce anti-doping advocate, won the 100 breaststroke. Ryan Murphy, glorious biceps, won the 100 backstroke. Both athletes won those events in Rio, but failed to defend their titles in Tokyo. They are now the medal favorites for Paris.


And that’s all for now! Hopefully we managed to answer some of your questions. There are still six more days of competition to come and we’ll be writing two more of these guides as the week wears on.

Disclaimer: I swam competitively for 13 years and I graduated from MIT.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 month ago

Isn’t it a minimum of four swimmers can swim on the relay? Why up to four? That terminology doesn’t make sense.

  • Up to four swimmers can swim on a relay, which is why there are four swimmers named to the team.

Also when was it confirmed that Grimes isn’t going to college?

Reply to  swimfan
1 month ago

Braden mentioned she was announcing where she is going after trials. Made it seem like she is def going to college….

Swim Fan
1 month ago

Competitive swimmers often use the term “non-swimmer” to refer to anyone not involved in competitive swimming. However, many of us have no interest in participating in competitive swimming, yet we still enjoy swimming in the lap lanes using not much more than a doggy paddle. Some have learned to do a 200IM at the YMCA but ultimately decided that competitive swimming was not their passion. Others have picked up swimming skills from a class and use them during vacations. We consider ourselves swimmers, and being labeled as “non-swimmers” can discourage us from following the sport.

Not Andrew
Reply to  Swim Fan
1 month ago

Nah clearly you need to compete at olympic trials to classify yourself as a swimmer

IU Swammer
1 month ago

This is great, but “butterstroke” made me laugh.

A few corrections
Reply to  IU Swammer
1 month ago

10-mile butterstroke relay

A few corrections
1 month ago

“he was passed on the last four laps of the 400-meter individual medley relay

“the 10-mile open water swim”