The Trials That Would Have Been: Dressel & The 100 Free Thriller On Day 5

It’s a bittersweet week. While the world, and by extension the sport of swimming, is starting to emerge from weeks of pandemic-related shutdown, we also face the absence of the season that would-have-been. With U.S. Olympic Trials originally scheduled for this week, we’re taking a day-by-day trip into the hypothetical, analyzing the events that would have happened each day, along with our predictions of how the Olympic roster would have formed, had the season not been halted in the pandemic.

These won’t be full-length previews, and won’t be exhaustive in naming every top contender for the U.S. Olympic team. Our picks will be what we expected to happen in June of 2020, had the season not been shut down at all amid the pandemic. Our 2021 predictions will almost certainly be different when we get closer to the Trials themselves. Feel free to add your own predictions – for both the 2020 Trials and the rescheduled Trials in 2021 – in the comments.

Men’s 800 free final

The growing storyline on the men’s side is a distinct lack of double-event qualifiers, which could potentially prevent the U.S. from taking every qualifying athlete. (The 5th- and 6th-place qualifiers in the 100/200 frees would be the first left out, followed by second-placers in individual events).

Zane Grothe does his part, becoming the first dual-event winner on the men’s side with a 7:44 in the 800 free. That’s not a career-best time for Grothe, but it’s right in the ballpark with what he went in 2018 to qualify for Pan Pacs before going 7:43 at the Pan Pac meet itself.

Florida’s Bobby Finke had a disappointing 400 free on day 1, but he more than makes up for it with a career-best 7:45 for second place and a spot on the Olympic team.

Men’s 200 breast final

It’s a loaded field of guys who have been 2:07 at least a few times in their careers – but it all comes down to who does it in the final. 100 breast winner Andrew Wilson hit the 2:07s twice in late 2019, and he does it again to join Grothe as a double-event winner so far this week. Second goes to Will Licon (2:07 at Pan Ams in 2019), who surges home past charging youngster Josh Matheny.

Women’s 200 fly final

A switch in training bases pays off for Hali Flickingeras the Georgia alum/ASU pro group flyer goes 2:05-low. That marks a third-straight season under 2:06 for Flickinger, who returns for her second Olympics after finishing 7th in Rio.

What was once considered a weaker event for the American women has become a strength. Defending world champs bronze medalist Katie Drabot battles with superstar backstroker Regan Smith for the second spot, and it’s Smith who adds another event to her lineup in 2:06-low.

Men’s 100 free final

It’s been weird seeing Caeleb Dressel‘s name at the bottom of the qualifying priority list so far this week. His primary events are mostly backloaded in the Olympic event order, but he finally gets to claim a big win on day 5. Dressel exactly matches his semifinals time (47-low) down to the hundredth, tying the U.S. Open record, though he doesn’t appear to be fully rested.

Last summer’s breakout swimmer Ryan Held joins Dressel as an individual entrant, hitting the 47-mids like he did twice last year.

As much as we all want to see an entire field go sub-48, it’s just too difficult for the outside lanes fighting off the waves from Dressel’s unmatched speed. Zach Apple and Blake Pieroni grab the other two primary relay bids in 3rd and 4th. Veteran Nathan Adrian extends what has been one of the steadiest careers in recent memory, making his fourth-straight Olympic team as a 5th-place relay qualifier. And the SwimSwam comment section is thrilled when Harvard’s Dean Farris fights his way onto the team in 6th.


Other events today:

  • Women’s 100 free semifinals – most of the top contenders make it through semis, but competition for the relay spots remains fierce behind heavy favorite Simone Manuel, who cruises to the top seed. Two really notable swims from deeper in the field:
    • 17-year-old Gretchen Walsh breaks Manuel’s NAG record with a 53-low to win one semifinal.
    • Katie Ledecky has mostly an off-day from her primary events, a chance to rest after a 200/1500 free double yesterday and 800 free heats tomorrow. She rips off a 53-low in heats of the 100 free before scratching out, giving herself a shot at a relay spot in Tokyo. (This relay will come right away on day 1, a day before her individual 400 free).
  • Men’s 200 back semifinals – defending Olympic champ Ryan Murphy is able to roll through heats and semis with little trouble taking the top spot. His Cal program puts three men into the final: Murphy, 2016 Olympian Jacob Pebley and current collegiate swimmer Bryce Mefford. But the big swim comes from rival Texas, which sees Austin Katz become just the 8th American man ever under 1:55.
  • Women’s 200 breast semifinals – Bethany Galat leads semifinal qualifiers, but no one has showed their hand yet with no swims under 2:24. Virginia freshman Kate Douglass has a breakout swim in heats: after dropping from 2:10.5 to 2:05.8 in short course yards this year, she pops a 2:26 to move into the top 10 all-time for the 17-18 age group.
  • Men’s 200 IM semifinals – non-swimming media mostly focus their headlines on Ryan Lochte, who has had a pretty quiet Trials so far, but goes 1:56-high in semis for his best swim since the Rio Olympics. Maybe more notable to SwimSwam readers are two other swims: Michael Andrew bounces back from a narrow Olympic miss in the 100 breast to blast a 1:56-low, and 19-year-old Carson Foster hits the 1:56s as well, becoming just the 7th American ever under 1:57.

Olympic Team As Of Tonight:


  1. Melanie Margalis (400 IM, 200 IM)
  2. Kelsi Dahlia (100 FL)
  3. Katie Ledecky (400 FR, 200 FR, 1500 FR 4×200 FRR)
  4. Regan Smith (100 BK, 200 FL)
  5. Lilly King (100 BR)
  6. Simone Manuel (200 FR, 4×200 FRR)
  7. Katie McLaughlin (4×200 FRR)
  8. Paige Madden (4×200 FRR)
  9. Hali Flickinger (200 FL)
  10. Brooke Forde (400 IM)
  11. Torri Huske (100 FL)
  12. Leah Smith (400 FR, 4×200 FRR)
  13. Kathleen Baker (100 BK)
  14. Annie Lazor (100 BR)
  15. Alex Walsh (200 IM)
  16. Erica Sullivan (1500 FR)
  17. Gabby DeLoof (4×200 FRR)


  1. Chase Kalisz (400 IM)
  2. Zane Grothe (400 FR, 800 FR)
  3. Andrew Wilson (100 BR, 200 BR)
  4. Blake Pieroni (200 FR, 4×200 FRR, 4×100 FRR)
  5. Andrew Seliskar (200 FR, 4×200 FRR)
  6. Zach Apple (4×200 FRR, 4×100 FRR)
  7. Townley Haas (4×200 FRR)
  8. Ryan Murphy (100 BK)
  9. Luca Urlando (200 FL)
  10. Caeleb Dressel (100 FR, 4×100 FRR, 4×200 FRR)
  11. Ryan Held (100 FR, 4×100 FRR)
  12. Jay Litherland (400 IM)
  13. Kieran Smith (400 FR, 4×200 FRR)
  14. Cody Miller (100 BR)
  15. Matt Grevers (100 BK)
  16. Nicolas Albiero (200 FL)
  17. Bobby Finke (800 FR)
  18. Will Licon (200 BR)
  19. Nathan Adrian (4×100 FRR)
  20. Dean Farris (4×100 FRR)

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2 years ago

This is so sad and so fun.

2 years ago

I can’t wait for the mens 4×200. Three names for me; Kieran Smith, Elijah Winnington, Matthew Richards. Three huge talents; I say whichever steps it up to the big time next summer wins their country gold.

2 years ago

This is the oddest series of articles I’ve ever seen on SwimSwam. Isn’t there an unwritten rule not to focus on what could have been or should have been? It’s more surreal than anything else that Olympic trials has been reduced to speculation about a trials that never occurred, like waking up in a bad dream. I guess this is the best we can do with no real swimming events to cover. Not blaming anyone, just saying it’s weird. Can only imagine what it feels feels like to be one of the athletes who just misses the team, or worse who makes the team in this virtual competition but misses it when the real trials eventually occurs.

Reply to  Hank
2 years ago

One needs a distraction to pass the COVID-19 time away.

Small bird
2 years ago

I could see Dressel getting 2nd, only cause he tries to save some taper for the Games.

tea rex
2 years ago

The pool salinity spikes after each heat of the men’s 100 free, as incredibly fast swimmers cry realizing they will not be going to Tokyo.

2 years ago

YESSSS FARRIS!! LONG LIVE THE KING! In all seriousness, I think your predictions are spot on, especially the 100 free. I like the 200 breast predictions, also. Wilson is looking dangerous, and Licon’s ISL season (the 200 breast especially) was very good.

Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
2 years ago

Dressel looks unfairly jacked in that photo

2 years ago

(continued) After that, an insane person in the stands starts screaming, “The coach is insanely fly! Where are the doping kicks? USRPT is a slow commentator! The relay has ruined USA men’s free! USA women’s back will be breaststroke! They need to not use FINA on the 1500 violin!” The person reveals their identity as Bobo Gigi.
Dressel suffers from shallow water blackout in the warm-up pool, but he receives proper medical attention and survives.
The Mona Lisa is extracted from a lane line.
The touchpads suddenly turn into sweet potatoes.
Jack Spitser gets a rare photo of Zach Apple eating an apple.

Konner Scott
Reply to  swimfan210_
2 years ago

I feel like I’m having a fever dream.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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