By David Rieder
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, July 26. THE meet that began today in Dubai has the title “World Junior Championships,” but some of the performances have put the world’s top swimmers on alert. Mack Horton, Ella Eastin, and Caeleb Dressel stood out today with times that give them a real chance to, within a few years or even just one year, make an impact at meets with much more on the line than World Junior gold medals.
Mack Horton Makes the Jump to Distance Contender
On Friday’s Morning Swim Show, Jeff Commings named Mack Horton as a key swimmer to watch at the Junior World Championships. He made a good pick. Horton blasted a 3:47.12 in the men’s 400 free on Monday to take the gold medal in a field that featured four swimmers under the 3:50 barrier, including World Championships’ finalist James Guy. The swim would have placed the young Aussie fifth at this summer’s World Championships. Horton’s time blasted his personal best, which stood at 3:52.26 headed into Australia’s National Championships earlier in April. However, that meet could be his biggest obstacle to contention; he finished sixth this year, and his time from Dubai would have only moved him up to fourth.
David McKeon (3:43.71) and Jordan Harrison (3:45.85) both shined at that meet, but neither came close to matching those efforts on the world stage, as McKeon didn’t even make the final at the World Championships. Let’s see if Horton has the edge over his countrymen next time around after already coming through in one of the biggest races of his career. In the meantime, watch for Horton in the men’s 1500 later this week. He already has a sub-15:00 performance to his credit, with a 14:59.66 earlier this year. Australia controversially left him off the World Championships team despite that swim. He could make them pay this week.
Ella Eastin Backs Up Stunning Performance at Junior Nationals
Earlier this month, Eastin stunned the swimming community when she dropped 10 seconds from her lifetime best in the women’s 400 IM in just one day. She clocked 4:38.97 in Irvine, the third-best time among Americans this year. With just two weeks of training to prepare for Dubai, she finished just a second slower with a 4:40.02. While she couldn’t continue her massive time drops, Eastin has now shown that she wasn’t a one-hit wonder at Juniors. Elizabeth Beisel, Maya Dirado, and Caitlin Leverenz all have strong credentials in the 400 IM, but watch out for Eastin to continue her upwards track. Meanwhile, the versatile Becca Mann clocked a 4:40.26 for second place, and the U.S. has a strong stock of 400 IMers for years to come.
Caeleb Dressel’s Anchor Leg Sends Shockwaves
Just two months ago, Dressel seemed a boy among men in the final of the men’s 100 free at the U.S. National Championships. He swam in lane eight in a field with seven Olympians and him, a rising Junior at the Bolles School in Florida. After swimming a 49.63 in prelims, his first ever time under 50 seconds, he came in eighth in the final in 49.50, and he clocked a 49.28 in the event at Junior Nationals. That all paled in comparison to his blistering anchor leg on the men’s 400 free relay. Dressel split 48.29 to anchor the U.S. team; to put that into perspective, Jimmy Feigen anchored the relay in 48.23 at the World Championships in Barcelona.
No one expected Dressel to contend for a spot on the World Championship team this year, but he will be a big name to watch headed into next year’s Nationals with a definite shot at qualifying for a spot on the 400 free relay. For years, there has been a long list of contenders with a chance to finish in the top-six to earn a spot for relay duty. Dresell, however, is 17 years old; Michael Phelps was the last teen to compete on the 400 free relay, when, at age 19, he swam on the team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Dressel has some versatility, after setting a meet record in the 200 free at Junior Nationals and finishing second in the 50, but the 100 will be the event that elevates him to international contention, likely sooner rather than later.