The Trials That Would Have Been: Who Would Have Made the Tokyo Olympics Today?

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.

Today would have been the start of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic obviously had different ideas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate – and speculate on – the swims that would have been.

Without further ado, our projections for what would have happened today in the COVID-free timeline:

Men’s 400 IM Final

It’s an exact re-run of 2016, with Georgia alums Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland claiming the first two preliminary spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Kalisz bounces back from a rotten 2019 (season-best: 4:13.07) with a return to the 4:07s, and we all immediately start wondering just how tapered he was or wasn’t.

Litherland hits a lifetime-best in the 4:08s, powering away from top challengers Charlie Swanson and Carson Foster with his notoriously bruising freestyle leg.

Men’s 400 free final

It’s a much less eventful men’s 400 free, with Zane Grothe patiently wearing down the field to earn his first Olympic berth. 4th in this event at the last Olympic Trials, Grothe presses into the 3:44s for just the second time in his career and wins by a landslide.

There’s a lot of jockeying back and forth in the rest of the field. 200 free standout Townley Haas and youngster Jake Mitchell push the pace early, but Florida Gator Kieran Smith charges like a freight train through the middle 200 and powers away with a huge drop to 3:45 and his first Olympic bid.

Women’s 400 IM final

Coming off a huge in-season lifetime-best from the Des Moines Pro Swim Series, Melanie Margalis continues what has been an Olympic sweep for SEC-affiliated swimmers on night 1. Margalis shaves a few tenths off her lifetime-best.

Experience and strategy clearly pays off in a tough and talented field. 18-year-old Emma Weyant has a great prelims swim and is the top seed into the final, but Stanford’s Brooke Forde beats her out in the final for the second Olympic spot. Coming off a breakout NCAA title in the yards version of this event, Forde pops a 4:35 for second place at Trials.


Other events today:

  • Women’s 100 fly semifinals – NAG records are dropping like flies. Regan Smith breaks her own 17-18 NAG (57.34 from March). Claire Curzan breaks the 15-16 NAG (57.48 from Torri Huske, who also goes under Smith’s old NAG in the 17-18 age group).
  • Men’s 100 breast semifinals – it’s breaststroke, so someone has to break the American record in semifinals, right? This time, it’s Andrew Wilson, who clips the American record 58.64 that has stood since 2017.

Olympic Team As Of Tonight:


  1. Melanie Margalis (400 IM)
  2. Brooke Forde (400 IM)


  1. Chase Kalisz (400 IM)
  2. Zane Grothe (400 FR)
  3. Jay Litherland (400 IM)
  4. Kieran Smith (400 FR)

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5 months ago

This article seems pretty insensitive

Reply to  Monteswim
5 months ago

I support the OT fanfiction 100%.
Any U.S. swimmer, young or old, at the elite of the elite level is used to seeing their name in print at this point, sometimes with flattering swimming commentary, and other times not so much. I don’t think most would sweat this one bit.

Reply to  200 SIDESTROKE B CUT
5 months ago

I couldn’t agree more, but I’m just viewing this from the perspective of some of these athletes who also happen to be SwimSwam readers

Reply to  Monteswim
5 months ago

Of all the “swimmers are mentally weak” complaints I’ve seen on here, this might be the absolute worst.

If you want to be a pro athlete, an Olympian and you are emotionally torn to pieces by the fact that people are predicting a hypothetical 2020 Olympic Trials on the internet, then you weren’t cut out for the pressure of being a pro athlete anyway.

Reply to  swimapologist
5 months ago

I don’t dispute that. I just think it’s difficult to mentally process the disappointment that comes with the cancellation of OTs and the induced anxiety of training an additional year in highly uncertain/inequitable circumstances (owing to disparate college re-openings, access to facilities, state restrictions, etc.)

Reply to  Monteswim
5 months ago

Ok. And what does any of that have to do with this?

Reply to  Monteswim
5 months ago

Worry much? Cmon!? A hypothetical article triggers a Karen response

Reply to  Doconc
5 months ago

… except for the Men’s 400 Free, which triggered a Kieran response.

Reply to  Monteswim
5 months ago


5 months ago

Don’t know about Grothe pulling away from Kieran

Reply to  JCO
5 months ago

Agreed, think it’s definitely more likely for grothe to pull a slight lead on the 2nd 100 or so, and hold off Kieran at the end. It’s too easy to forget about Grothe’s incredible closing 200 in his American record 500 free at winter nationals.

5 months ago

I don’t feel that confident about Kalisz. To me, he comes across as someone who thinks that only the olympics are important, Therefore, I would be tempted to say he isn’t in full form at trials and he ends up 3rd or 4th and is beaten by Litherland, Foster, Swanson.

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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