Katie Ledecky ready to make 4th Olympic team (day 1 final preview)

USA OLYMPIC TRIALS 2024

The first (maximum) four names will be called tonight for the U.S. Olympic team after the men’s and 400 freestyle finals. There will also be some competition for a spot in the 100-stroke events. The sequence of events is as follows:

  • Women’s 100 butterfly – semi-finals
  • Men’s 400 Freestyle – Final
  • Women’s 400 Freestyle – Final
  • Men’s 100 breaststroke – semi-finals

Ledecky ready to make fourth Olympic team

To no one’s surprise, Katie Ledecky claimed the top seed in the women’s 400 free. Although she is no longer as dominant as she once was in this event on the international stage, her reign domestically is still unchallenged. No other American woman has been under the 4:00 barrier before, and in the prelims, Ledecky made it a 29th career outing with a 3:59.99. As we’ve come to expect throughout her career, she’s as close to a lock as we’ll see to making her fourth Olympic team.

Behind Ledecky, Paige Madden is able to qualify for her second Olympic Games. This morning she was 1.81 seconds behind her best time (4:04.83), recently set during the NOVA Speedo Grand Challenge. Her time of 4:03.02 from May crushed her best from Tokyo, where she swam 4:03.98 in the heats. If Madden can carry that momentum into the finals tonight, she could challenge the 4:00 barrier.

There was a flurry of scratches in the top eight, with Erin Gemmel And Katie Grimes both bow out. That adds a veteran Leah Smith in the last heat, which seems to have announced his retirement, is eminent. Smith is also battling back from a torn labrum last January, but she is the second-fastest American woman in history.

The 16-year-old also gave those scratches Kayla Han a final place. This is Han’s second Olympic Trials, although her first experience was a scaled-back affair when USA Swimming split the meet into two waves to accommodate Covid-19 prevention measures. There she finished 9th in the 400 IM. She cut some time off her entry time, which was also her personal best, and came under 4:10 (4:09.96) for the first time. Whether she makes the Olympic team or not, Han appears to be on the cusp of a great meet.

Jillian Cox had a strong swim in the final heat, finishing second behind Ledecky (4:06.35). She shaved 25 hundredths of a second off her best time from last summer, a good sign for tonight.

Aurora Roghair (4:09.67) and Anna Peplowski (4:09.87) were also in that last heat. Both have been a bit faster in their careers.

The field for tonight is being finalized Madi Mintenko, who shaved just over half a second off her entry time and qualified fourth. Mintenko is the defending World Junior silver medalist, so she has some experience performing under pressure.

How high can Walsh fly?

After a record-breaking NCAA season, the question is on everyone’s mind Gretchen Walsh was: but can she do it in the long run?

That question was answered in the second circle heat with a resounding 55.94. Despite having the slowest reaction time of her heat (0.75), Walsh shot to 26.22 in the 50 and didn’t look back, further extending her lead to become the #6 performer of all time.

The next question we need to ask: how much faster can she go? At NCAAs, Walsh got faster overnight in each of her individual events, and even though it’s only semifinals tonight, the pressure is on to secure a place in the top eight and get the chance to compete for an Olympic place.

American record holder Torri Huske also shot this morning, albeit at slightly lower altitudes. She clocked 56.26 to win the final heat and even outpaced Walsh to 50 (26.17). She is exactly three tenths faster than Walsh and has already shown 55 form this season, but we will have to wait until the final to see them play against each other.

Regan Smith had the fastest back half of the field to get past her new Longhorn teammates Kelly Pash (57.66) and Emma Sticklen (58.22). She is in third place after the preliminaries (56.68). She has shown rapid improvements in this event over the past year and will be one to watch during the rounds as she seems the most likely swimmer to disrupt the Walsh-Huske party.

There will be a strong Longhorn presence in the semifinals tonight, such as Smith, Pash (5th), Sticklen (9th), Olivia Bray (58.67, 14th), and Dakota Luther (58.73, 16th) will all be discussed tonight.

The second qualifier from Tokyo, Claire Curzan, got a bit lost in the wash of 58 points swimming (58.17, 7th). While she has turned her attention to the backstroke, her butterfly has lagged behind, but she does have a season best of 56.64 to her name after her silver medal performance in Doha. If she’s in 56 form here, she should be a lock for the finals.

There are a trio of junior swimmers who will swim their first semi-final of the Olympic Trials tonight. Of the three, Alex Schakel is placed highest after achieving a PB in the heats (57.07, 4th). Shackell got her first senior team experience last summer in Fukuoka, where she anchored the U.S. 800 freestyle relay’s silver medal. She climbed from 9th to 8th all-time and is knocking on the door of a swim time of 56 seconds, a time that only seven other American women have ever achieved.

Leah Shackley (58.47, 11th) and Charlotte Crush (58.68, 15th) are the other two junior swimmers for tonight. Crush set a career-best time while Shackley was a career-high 57.98.

Beata Nelson is 6th in the prelims with a best time (57.68), after dipping below 58 for the first time earlier this year. If she can find another drop, she will be in a strong position to reach the second Olympic Trials final of her career.

Luke Whitlock breaks out; 3rd American man under OQT in 400 free (this season)

There are now three (3) (that’s three) men under the Olympic qualifying standard in the men’s 400 freestyle, something we worried about in our event previews and has been on everyone’s mind since watching Jake Mitchell punching his ticket for Tokyo in a time trial.

To the surprise of some fans, that wasn’t the case Kieran Smith or David Johnston who swam under the stiff 3:46.78 standard this morning, but a new addition: Lucas Whitlock.

Whitlock, an 18-year-old from Florida, shot himself to #2 17-18 all-time with a huge personal best in the heats. Last May he clocked 3:49.10 for a new personal best, and in the final heat he lowered that time to 3:46.42. He beat Johnston with the touch (3:47.17) and will have the middle lane tonight.

His swim should light a fire under the rest of the field, especially Smith in sixth place (3:48.25). Smith won a bronze medal at this event in Tokyo, but has not won an individual international medal since, at least not in the long run.

Jake Mitchell, Aaron SwitchlAnd Jake Magahey finished only four tenths apart and took 3rd, 4th and 5th place from the preliminary rounds. All three men have been faster in their careers, and if they’re all on form it could be a dogfight to the finish.

Bobby Finke came 8th in the preliminary rounds. While he’s better known for his longer-distance prowess, we’ve seen him play spoiler before. He was just above his best time (3:48.63), and that was without his signature 50 finish. He was “only” 29.14 against the wall, but perhaps he lacked the raw speed to really climb the rankings.

We almost picked the exact pitch in our preview, but Drew Kibler’s scratch last night played spoiler. Instead, the eighth man is in the final Daniel Matheson, another distance specialist like Finke who swims to this distance. He shaved a few tenths off his entry time and qualified seventh (3:48.57).

The search for 58 seconds

The state of the men’s sprint breaststroke will be important not only for the U.S.’s individual medal chances, but also for the 400 medley relay, where they are the defending Olympic champions and world record holders.

Niek Fink led a quintet of 59 points swimming in the men’s 100 breaststroke (59.24) this morning. He’s right about where he was in 2021 (59.21), before posting a PB of 58.50 in the semi-finals. He settled for third place in the final, but has since taken bronze, silver and finally gold in Doha.

The American record holder Michael Andreas reached the semi-finals in 59.72, the last of the 59 points. There have been some questions about Andrew’s form lately, but after news broke that he has dropped the 200 IM from his schedule, we can be a little more confident that he is all in on the shorter events. Three years ago he was much faster in the preliminaries, but he added time in the final.

The rest of the 59’s come from Jos Matheny (59.34), Charlie Swanson (59.44), and Jake Foster (59.59).

Liam Bell And Brian Benzing had big prelims swims to break 1:01 for the first time in their careers. If they can capitalize on that momentum tonight, they could be in groundbreaking territory as well.

Keep an eye on things Danny Kovac, who won a swim-off this morning for 16th place. After clocking a time of 1:00.80 in the heats, already a big PR, he still fell to 1:00.47.

The field of participants is close together, but there is the talent to become a lot faster.