10 Olympic Hopefuls Face Summer of Truth

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

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By Diana Pimer, Swimming World Intern

Elite women’s swimming in the USA is usually filled with a couple young rookies, a great deal of veterans, and a handful of swimmers somewhere in between. Next summer should be no different.

While male swimmers typically (not always) mature around the same age, females seem to be different. Some peak at age 15, while others don’t until age 25. Most of us, again, are somewhere in between.

With the Olympic Trials quickly approaching, it is crunch time for everyone. While the team will probably be led by Ledecky and her company of veterans, there is great opportunity available next summer for a lot of athletes to become first-time Olympians.

There are thousands of swimmers out there who dream of becoming first-time Olympians in 2016, but here are 10 Olympic hopefuls to keep your eye on this summer:

1. Becca Mann

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

This may truly be the summer of truth for this up-and-coming open water superstar. Mann may be the first swimmer to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team (unless she is touched out by teammate Haley Anderson). As long as she finishes in the Top 10 at the World Championships in Kazan, she will book her ticket a year early.

However, the interesting story line to watch with Mann will be if she chooses to attempt to qualify in the pool as well. She is currently ranked third in the world for the 1,500 m. freestyle, behind only Lotte Friis and Katie Ledecky. While long course season is still in full bloom for the U.S., no other American is currently in the top 20. Even though this is not an Olympic event, it will give her confidence going into the 800 freestyle, where she is also the second American, but with a much smaller margin. It is not impossible for Mann to pull off a Chloe Sutton-like Olympic debut. This is definitely one story to keep your eye on.

2. Kelsi Worrell


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

The 100 butterfly has been at interesting event on the women’s side at the last few Olympic Trials. Unlike the men, you don’t typically see a definite like Michael Phelps. The top heat is usually filled with 8 women who stand a chance at making the team. Next year, Worrell definitely has a chance of qualifying for the team if she continues to ride the high she has been on ever since her historic NCAA performance. Unlike some other college athletes, as of now Worrell will continue to swim for her college next season. But if history repeats herself, she has nothing to worry about.

3. Kendyl Stewart

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

While the 200 butterfly is a different story, the 100 butterfly spots could go to two first-time Olympians next summer. After posting the only sub-58 time last year, Stewart has traveled a different road than Worrell. While we haven’t heard as much “Stewart” as we have “Worrell” this year, Stewart has the international and national experience. She has been a part of national team relays before, and knows what it is like to compete at this level. That being said, there is still a crew of veterans in this event who want to reclaim their territory. This will be one of the most exciting 100 butterfly races the U.S. Olympic Trials has seen in a while.

4. Simone Manuel

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

It may be hard to believe, but this sprinter has not yet been able to call herself an Olympian. Over the last three years, Manuel has dominated the sprint events in the U.S., both short course and long course. She has also proven herself as key team player in college and national team relays. It will be a tight race if she wants to qualify individually, but there is no doubt that she will at least qualify for the 400 freestyle relay. With six spots available, Manuel just has to keep doing what she is doing if she wants one of them.

5. Abbey Weitzeil


Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

By deciding to defer her first year as a Golden Bear, Weitzeil will continue to train with her club team this summer through next. This may be her best bet at qualifying since this training has earned her a spot on the current U.S. National Team. Her best shot will hands down be making the top 6 in the 100 freestyle to be a member of the 400 freestyle relay. And this is not an impossible feat. Weitzeil continues to improve every time she hits the water. With another full year of training, the possibilities are endless for this still very young swimmer.

6. Leah Smith

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Becca Mann’s performances and decisions may greatly affect the future of Leah Smith. Then again, Leah Smith’s performances and decisions can do the same. If Mann qualifies in the 10K, then chooses not to swim the 800, Smith’s chances of making the team become significantly greater. But she is currently sitting only 5 seconds behind Mann in the world rankings. With Ledecky, all 3 of these ladies are in the top 20 world rankings. Five seconds is a realistic time drop for Smith after her stellar performance at the NCAA Championship. This could be a breakout summer for Smith if she works on that 800 speed.

7. Kathleen Baker

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

In this day and age, it’s hard being a female backstroker in the U.S. The list of top-notch backstrokers goes on, and on, and on…and on (sort of like a long course 200 backstroke). But in the midst of all the big names, don’t count out Kathleen Baker. She is the only American under 1:00 so far this year, and is currently seventh in the world rankings. Everyone knows those NCAA backstrokers will be coming after her this summer. How long can Baker hold on?

8. Maya Dirado

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

The world is wide open with possibilities when it comes to Maya Dirado. With three possible races to qualify in, she is bound to make it in at least one of them. Her best chance is the 400 IM, where she is currently sitting eleventh in the world rankings. The 200 IM is also a possibility for her, but that will be no easy feat. After placing fourth last year, she will be looking to swim past some dominant swimmers in this event. But she is another swimmer who keeps progressing. You may have heard the name “Maya Dirado” numerous times over the last four or five years, but will next year be the summer you hear “Maya Dirado, Olympian”? Only time will tell.

9. Melanie Margalis

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

One of Dirado’s biggest competitiors in the IMs will be Margalis. She has a similar story to Dirado. The females that make the team in the 200 IM will be true representations of grit, grace, pride, and all-around versatility. Dirado and Margalis will be fighting through names like Leverenz, Beisel, Pelton, and maybe even Franklin? It will be no easy task for Margalis, but she is currently sitting fourth in the world in the 200, almost a full second ahead of the other American competitors. This has got to be a confidence-booster for her.

10. Katie Meili


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Predominantly a short course swimmer, Meili has spent some valuable time with SwimMAC Carolina over last few years. She is successfully developing into a long course swimmer as the meets pass. Her best chance will be in the 100 breaststroke, but that will require her to get through names like Hardy, Lawrence and Larson. The breaststroke races, both men and women, have been full of surprises at the last few Olympic Trials, so you never know who will rise to the occasion. Also, be on the lookout for Meili in the 100 freestyle. She too, has an outside shot of making the 400 freestyle relay.

Some of this list may make the team, some may not. These are certainly not the only 10 swimmers who have a great chance. Only time will tell who gets the coveted opportunity to represent their country on the largest stage in swimming.

It may be those same veteran names you’ve been hearing for four years, or it might be a list of people you’ve never heard of. If I had to make a predication, I’d say it’ll be somewhere in between.

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. avatar

    A good analysis of “women on the bubble”, although some like Manuel and Mann seem to be a little ahead of the curve. I would also include Pelton, she hasn’t made the Olympics, and while great in so many events, is no shoo-in for any of them given how strong the backs/IMs are now. I’m guessing you didn’t include her as she hasn’t had a good year since last summer. She did make the ’13 Worlds relay spot in the 4x100FR and I could see her doing that again and/or the 4×200, both hotly contested of course. But individually, she’s only got the 100 back at WUGS this summer and will be battling her pal Bootsy for the relay slot there. I think her best shot may end up being to get her 2Back back up to speed fight with Beisel for the 2nd slot behind Franklin. It would be unimaginable for her not to make the Olympics again with all that talent. I’m rooting for her!!

Author: Diana Pimer

Diana Pimer was a breaststroke/IMer at Keene State College and is the NEISDA Conference record holder in the 200 IM. She is currently an Age Group Coach at AGUA in New York City and has covered major competitions for Swimming World including the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, 2015 and 2017 FINA World Championships, USA Swimming Nationals and more.

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