US Worlds Trials Previews: Three Potential Medalists, Only Two Spots in Women’s 400 Free

Previous World Championship Trials previews:

It wasn’t long ago that the 400 free was a bit of an abyss for the Americans. At the 2011 World Championships, the U.S. A. only had one finalist in the event, Katie Hoff, and she was 7th. There were some other good times that year by Americans, but they were all at the wrong meets (the Indy Grand Prix was popular.)

But no more.

As the class in the women’s 400 free has elevated worldwide, the Americans have gone with it. Allison Schmitt was 2nd at the Olympics in an American Record of 4:01.77. Chloe Sutton wasn’t great at the Olympics (she missed out on the top 8) but was a 4:04 at Trials – a time worthy of a top-5 finish in the world.

Then there’s the really terrifying swimmer. Katie Ledecky swam a 4:04.34 at the Olympics, which made her the third-fastest American in 2012. How did the Americans have three swimmers in the 400? Well, Ledecky’s swim, a 15-16 National Age Group Record, was actually a split en route to an 800 free Olympic gold in London. That’s probably more like a 4:03 if she swam to a hand-touch, rather than a flipturn.

Ledecky’s speed is much improved this year and she has already gone 4:05 in 2013 at the Mesa Grand Prix, plus gone toe-to-toe with Missy Franklin in the 200.

Here’s the twist: Sutton, who trains at Mission Viejo, is doing some work on her 200 this year, which likely means improved speed, which we saw a lot of at the SMOC last weekend. As mentioned she was a 4:04.1 last year at Trials, which is a great time, and that’s after really going after the longer events, and still sort of feeling her way through pool swimming (as compared to her history in open water.)

Out of those three, in some combination, there are two World Championship medals waiting to be had (especially with the retirement of Britain’s Rebecca Adlington and the change-in-focus of Italy’s Federica Pellegrini.)

Kate Ziegler has been racing so-so this year, though we haven’t seen her since the Orlando Grand Prix in February. She’s been focusing on a shorter schedule than we’ve seen from her in the past, going nothing over a 400 (best of 4:14 in January) so far, but she told Bob Schaller of 20 Questions Tuesday that she’s taking a break this year, so count her out for Trials.

 Then there’s a whole lot of really young, very intriguing swimmers, and it’s anybody’s guess which one will pop. Becca Mann, who is both a great race and a great trainer, is already on her way to Barcelona in the 5km and 10km open water races at just 15 years old. She’s a fierce competitor, so it would be wise not to let her hang around with the lead pack for too long. There’s also Gillian Ryan from NBAC, who’s had a good two weeks of swimming in California. Ryan has said that she’s been working on her speed, and that has shown up in a big way in this 400 – having already been 4:08-low this year.

Of the 13 swimmers in the world in 2013 who were 4:07 or better in the 400 free, five were teenagers: Ledecky, Smith, Ryan, Elizabeth Beisel (don’t forget that she was 5th at Trials), and Chinese 17-year old Yiwen Shao.

Ashley Steenvoorden had a great season in 2011, winning the National Title in this race, but since then has been unable to get under 4:10 since. Her 2013, though, has been more stable and seen a whole lot more racing. Headed into last year’s World Championship trials, she had just three 400 freestyles on her docket. Going into this year’s World Championship Trials, she’ll be riding at least 10 races of the event so far this season.

There’s also Chelsea Chenault from the Terrapins out in Cali. She peaked a bit short of Trials last year (not a great swim there – 4:12), but recovered to do very well at the end of the summer at Jr. Pan Pacs. She’s surely capable of 4:07’s as well.

Chenault is part of a big group in this 400 free that weren’t on perfect swims at Trials last year , including Georgia’s Amber McDermott, Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry North Carolina’s Stephanie Peacock, and Cal’s Catherine Breed. All four have had health problems of varying degrees in the last year, with Henry perhaps making the best recovery (she was the fastest collegiate swimmer in the equivalent 500 yard free in the country this winter.)

Haley Anderson is another contender in this race who like Mann has also already qualified in open water. She’s the two-time NCAA defending champion in the 500 yard free, but didn’t put this middle-distance freestyle race together as well in long course last year as she did in the 800 or the 400 IM, going only 4:11.00.

Ultimately, this would seem to be a battle between Schmitt, Ledecky, and Sutton. Though all three have the potential for a bad meet (Ledecky is young, Schmitt and Sutton have each done so in the last year), on paper it’s hard to bet against the defending Olympic silver medalist Schmitt to at least qualify.

Among the other two, Ledecky looks like a freight-train that won’t slow down, and I think she actually gets the upset at Trials, though right now I’d peg Schmitt to finish ahead of her at Worlds. Ledecky will be able to go out with Schmitt, who likes to put away the competition early in this race.

I’d predict that Sutton will be faster than she was at Trials last year, and still perhaps miss the team in this event.

Those we have left out of our picks, either because of uncertainty of presence, or certainty of lack of presence: Kate Ziegler, Alyssa Anderson, Katie Hoff, Dagny Knutson.

Below are three sets of top 8 picks, including best times from January 1st, 2010 onward.

  Braden’s Picks Morgan’s Picks Matt & Reed’s Picks
1. Katie Ledeck, NCAP, 4:04.30 Katie Ledeck, NCAP, 4:04.30 Katie Ledeck, NCAP, 4:04.30
2. Allison Schmitt, NBAC/Georgia, 4:01.77 Allison Schmitt, NBAC/Georgia, 4:01.77 Allison Schmitt, NBAC/Georgia, 4:01.77
3. Chloe Sutton, Mission Viejo, 4:04.18 Chloe Sutton, Mission Viejo, 4:04.18 Chloe Sutton, Mission Viejo, 4:04.18
4. Gilian Ryan, NBAC, 4:07.26 Gilian Ryan, NBAC, 4:07.26 Becca Mann, Clearwater, 4:08.65
5. Becca Mann, Clearwater, 4:08.65 Leah Smith, JCC Sailfish, 4:07.10 Elizabeth Beisel, Florida, 4:07.29
6. Elizabeth Beisel, Florida, 4:07.29 Elizabeth Beisel, Florida, 4:07.29 Haley Anderson, USC, 4:10.29
7. Leah Smith, JCC Sailfish, 4:07.10 Becca Mann, Clearwater, 4:08.65 Amber Mcdermott, Georgia, 4:08.93
8. Ashley Steenvoorden, Minnesota, 4:07.63 Chelsea Chenault, Terrapins Swim Team, 4:08.38 Gilian Ryan, NBAC, 4:07.26
  Darkhorse: Darkhorse: Darkhorse:
  Maya DiRado, Stanford, 4:11.43 Rachel Zilinskas, Germantown, 4:11.08 Stephanie Peacock, UNC, 4:09.34

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bobo gigi
8 years ago

Hard to pick Miss Schmitt after all her bad races above the 200 since London. Ok, perhaps she will wake up in Indianapolis, but based on what I have seen this year, it’s Miss Ledecky well ahead of the others. And among the others who will play the second place, I go with Miss Sutton who is a safe bet around 4.05. But just behind, Gillian Ryan will not be very far. If the girls look at each other behind Katie, she could surprise with her huge finish.

8 years ago

Ledecky under 4:01 this summer?

Under… 4:00?

8 years ago

Ledecky followed by Sutton at World Trials. Bank on it.

Jean Michel
8 years ago

This race will be terrific . Ledecky in first followed by Sutton for me too .

8 years ago

Watch out for Leah smith, junior PAN PAC champ last year.

8 years ago

How fast Ledecky goes in the 400 will depend on the US trials schedule.
Will she not swim also 200, 800 and 1,500?

But if she’s fresh for 400 she will be very scary fast.
My wish for ledecky in Barcelona is only one: break the 800 WR, because the older she gets, the more difficult it will be to break 800. The history of 800 WR holders are filled with 15-17 yo girls.

Reply to  aswimfan
8 years ago

What’s the outlook on Ledecky and college swimming? Her London success and the calendar would seem to favor going pro after high school. She’d be able to make some money doing endorsements before the 2015 worlds, train for the Olympics, and go on a media blitz after the Olympics. Her brother’s at Harvard, so her family values education, but I’d guess she either goes pro directly after high school or swims in college for a year and turns pro after the 2016 Olympics.

Reply to  duckduckgoose
8 years ago

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to go pro after the Olympics…mid bet she’ll either go to year before to maximize endorsements or extend college eligibility for another year or so after… Also, if she is not able to get her 200 down to a competitive level (all signs suggest that she will be able to and is already on her way) then that only leaves 500 and mile at ncaa’s, not so much incentive there… Similar to Kate Ziegler foregoing college

Reply to  Eagleswim
8 years ago

Um…Ledecky goes a 1:42 in the 200.

Reply to  Eagleswim
8 years ago

Based on the results and outcomes of Hoff/Ziegler/Knutson/etc. careers, I hope Ledecky will realize it is best to do NCAA. That being said, Ledecky already has times faster than NCAA records and most college team/pool records. Definitely going to be interesting to see what she decides. She has a bright future and I’m sure colleges will be fighting for her.

Reply to  Oldcoach
8 years ago

in saying that realize that I know at least Hoff still has crazy fast record compared to NCAA 4:30 5 free, 9:10 1000, although its not in the NCAA a very strong distance record that ledecky is not even that close too and, 15:24 in mile those would all be NCAA records…

Naya Missy
Reply to  Oldcoach
8 years ago

I think it is the best for Katie Ledecky to go to Georgia. They have a great distance freestyle program there.

Reply to  Eagleswim
8 years ago

I made a mistake above-meant 2016 NCAAs rather than Olympics. You’re correct, it doesn’t make sense to go pro after the Olympics. If Ledecky wants to maximize endorsements, she probably goes pro in 2015 after finishing high school, especially if she sets a WR this Summer. Another option would be to train for a year after high school and enter college in 2016. She’d really have to want to swim in college to do that, but she could swim for 3 or 4 full seasons before going pro after the 2019/2020 NCAAs at the ripe old age of 22 or 23.

Missy’s pro window was at 17 before the Olympics or at 20 after two years of NCAAs. Katie’s got… Read more »

8 years ago

I bet Ledecky breaks that 800 WR in Indy. The 800 is the first night of the meet. I think she will win 400, 800, and 1500 in Indy. She will have greater challenge with 200, but she is probably only looking for a relay spot there ? Sutton is going to have a hard time making team with Schmitt and Ledecky, but Sutton could probably make team in 800 and 1500. I think it will take 4:03 to make team in 400 and I only see Ledecky and Schmitt getting there. Schmitt will make 200 and 400 free and 400 and 800 free relays.

Reply to  Swammer
8 years ago

800 is on the first night?

In that case, I think (and hope) she breaks the WR there.

8 years ago

although schmitt hasnt really excelled at 400 since london she her times have dropped over the few meets she has swam it. I understand the reluctance to pick her,since she was alot faster in season last year, but I think even if she goes a 4:04 maybe 4:03 she will be in and with her best being a 4:01 I would pick her for the two spot.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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