Sullivan, 18, graduated high school in the spring of 2018 and was previously planning to defer her start at USC just one semester before joining the team for championship season in spring 2019. However, following a breakout summer that saw her finish 5th in the 800 and 3rd in the 1500 at the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships, she will instead push back school and set her sites on making the 2020 Olympic team (as Olympians Katie Ledecky and Abbey Weitzeil did prior to Rio 2016).
“I decided to defer for a total of two years because I’ve recently been given an opportunity to follow my dreams,” Sullivan told Swimming World. “When I committed to USC there was no way to predict how far I would come. Dave [Salo] and Catherine [Kase] have gone above and beyond to show their support for me in a situation where a lot of coaches wouldn’t. I wish the Trojans the best for the upcoming season and I still plan to join them after the Olympic cycle.”
USC’s women finished 12th at the 2018 NCAA Championships, with then-sophomore Becca Mann leading the way in distance events with an 18th-place finish in the 1650. However, Mann opted to turn professional prior to the 2018-2019 season, and USC currently ranks zero women in the top-30 of the 500 and 1650.
Sullivan, who swims for the Sandpipers of Nevada under Ron Aitken, dropped a series of best times at the 2018 KMSC Pro-Am Classic in early December. At the time of her initial commitment in June 2017, Sullivan’s best 1650 time was 15:47.39, which she lowered to 15:36.52 this month – that time would currently rank her first in the NCAA by five seconds. At the same meet, she shaved 10 seconds off her 1000 (9:17.32), and two seconds off both her 500 and 200 freestyles (4:37.95 and 1:45.72).
She also dropped significant time in her long course events this year: her 1500 lowered from 16:25.92 to 16:02.88, her 400 from 4:10.87 to 4:09.43, and her 200 from 2:03.33 to 2:00.73. She was the fifth-fastest woman in the nation in the 1500 in 2018.
In addition to her rising pool swimming stock, Sullivan is an accomplished open water swimmer. She is the reigning open water 5K national champion and finished 3rd in the 10K this year. At the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, Sullivan finished 7th in the 10K. Open water may be her best shot at the 2020 Olympics: to qualify for Toyko, swimmers must finish in the top-10 at the 2019 FINA World Championships, or top nine at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier.