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.
Women’s 100 Fly Final
It’s a bounce-back swim for Kelsi Dahlia, who has gone backwards in this event the past two seasons (56.3 in 2017; 56.4 in 2018; 57.0 in 2019), but still remains the top American in the event this Olympic cycle, and has one big advantage over the rest of this field: Olympic experience and experience in all three rounds of the high-intensity Olympic Trials atmosphere.
Dahlia breaks back into the 56s, though she doesn’t quite crack her personal best. Joining her under 57 is 17-year-old Torri Huske, who takes over the 17-18 NAG record and becomes the first teenager on this year’s U.S. Olympic swimming roster. Huske’s rise has been meteoric: she went from 1:02.0 to 59.3 in 2018, then to 57.7 in 2019 and had already hit a 57.4 at U.S. Open in December.
Star backstroker Regan Smith is a contender here, but scratches out of the final to focus on the 100 back.
Men’s 100 Breast Final
It’s a brutal men’s 100 breast field with all 8 finalists realistic Olympic hopefuls. Andrew Wilson follows up Sunday’s American record with a slightly slower 58, but still wins and becomes the first Division III swimming alum on the U.S. Olympic team in recent memory.
Behind him, Rio bronze medalist Cody Miller times his finish right to touch out a crowd of contenders for the second spot.
Women’s 400 Free Final
It’s a statement swim for Katie Ledecky, coming off a disappointing summer, maybe her first truly disappointing summer since bursting onto the scene at this very meet eight years ago. She gets out front and clearly has the option to coast, but Ledecky mashes the accelerator, going a 3:57-high. That’s not quite a world record, but is Ledecky’s best swim since 2018 and the #2 performance of all-time.
Leah Smith is firmly second, but doesn’t quite join Ledecky under four minutes. She’s in the mid-4:00s, just where she was at 2016 Trials and better than she was at 2019 Worlds (4:01.2).
Other events today:
- Men’s 200 free semifinals – one of the most brutal semifinals of the entire meet. In a grueling event where everyone would love the luxury of cruising heats and/or semifinals, there are really no American men with that kind of security. Haas, Seliskar, Pieroni, K.Smith, Grothe, Levant, Farris, Urlando, Apple, Rooney, Conger, Dressel, House, C.Smith, Kibler, C.Foster, D’Arrigo, Julian – at least ten of these guys don’t make the final. At least two don’t even wind up in the semifinals.
- The upside for swimming fans is that the killer field forces a few hands, and already by semifinals we see the first 1:44 by an American man since Phelps & Lochte in 2011. It comes from Blake Pieroni, following a 1:44.9 relay split at Worlds last summer.
- Caeleb Dressel makes the 200 free his first event of 2020 Trials. He goes 1:45.9 in semifinals to toss his name in the relay pool. The event fits his Trials schedule just fine, but the 800 free relay would conflict with 100 free heats and semis in Tokyo.
- Women’s 100 breast semifinals – Lilly King torches semis and doesn’t even look like she’s trying. She gets out and says something unintentionally inflammatory to the media, which is maybe our least surprising prediction in this entire series.
- Men’s 100 back semifinals – there’s a big semis divide between the established Olympians who are saving energy and the up-and-comers who are making a statement. Shaine Casas and Justin Ress both hit the 52-mids. Ryan Murphy just touches them out, while a very controlled Matt Grevers sits just on the other side of 53.
- Women’s 100 back semifinals – Regan Smith, in contrast, doesn’t have a lower gear to switch to yet. She clips the U.S. Open record with a 57.7.
Olympic Team As Of Tonight:
- Melanie Margalis (400 IM)
- Kelsi Dahlia (100 FL)
- Katie Ledecky (400 FR)
- Brooke Forde (400 IM)
- Torri Huske (100 FL)
- Leah Smith(400 FR)