2016 Trials Throwback: Michael Phelps Marks Return with 200 Fly Win

Michael Phelps at 2016 Trials Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 US Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in 2021.

The world was first introduced to a fresh-faced 15-year-old named Michael Phelps via the 200 butterfly in 2000, the gangly kid from Baltimore making an unprecedentedly young appearance at the Sydney Games and finishing in fifth place. Few then might have guessed how that kid would redefine Olympic swimming.

Fast forward 16 dominant years, and perhaps the final verdict of the Phelps comeback tour would rest with the 200 fly. It was his signature event, one in which he’d held the world record for 15 years (it would survive until 2019) and won two gold and one silver medal. Yet for all the dominance, the narrative changed to redemption: Chad le Clos had done what no one does to Phelps, finishing stronger in the London Olympic final and beating him to the wall for gold by .05 seconds.

This would be Phelps’ first swim in Omaha at the 2016 Trials, after he scratched out of the 200 free on Monday. All eyes would be on Tuesday’s swim.

The Race


Tom Shields at 2016 Trials Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Prelims at the 2016 Trials marked a last hurrah for three swimmers born in the 1980s – Bobby Bollier, Tyler Clary and Michael Klueh – all of whom qualified for semis but were eliminated there. Phelps, another baby of the 80s, lasted longer. He was tops in prelims in 1:56.98, with Pace Clark, who entered as the eighth seed, second in 1:56.90.

Phelps asserted himself in the semifinals at 1:55.17, separating from a crowd of 1:56s led by Clark, Tom Shields and Chase Kalisz.

Shields provided the excitement in the final. Phelps led from the start. But Shields, who specializes more in the 100 fly and short-course races, was within a second of Phelps and delivered the fastest third 50 of the final. Both faded late – Shields’ 32.08 split was the second-slowest of the eight swimmers, Phelps third-slowest at 31.90. But they got to the wall in first and second, 1:54.85 and 1:55.81.

The result sent Phelps to his record fifth Olympics. For Shields, at age 24, it was his first Olympics trip. Jack Conger, who had earned a relay spot the night before in the 200 free and paid the price with an outside lane, was third among five 1:56s.


  1. Michael Phelps 1:54.84
  2. Tom Shields 1:55.81
  3. Jack Conger 1:56.45
  4. Gunnar Bentz 1:56.46
  5. Chase Kalisz 1:56.64
  6. Pace Clark 1:56.66
  7. Zach Harting 1:56.92
  8. Andrew Seliskar 1:58.34

On to Rio

Rio didn’t go to plan for Shields, who finished 20th and didn’t advance from prelims. He fared better in the 100 fly, finishing seventh, and earning gold for prelims of the medley relay.

Phelps, meanwhile, showed why he’s the greatest the sport has ever known. He was second in his semifinals heat in 1:54.12, a second quicker than le Clos, to easily book his finals place. He trailed top seed Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary by .16 seconds.

The final was a complex affair. The first 50 belonged to longtime Phelps foil Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, though he’d fade to seventh. Phelps went to the front, trying to start fast and hold off the field. At the 150-meter wall, it looked like a four-man race between Phelps and swimmers on either side of him, le Clos and Kenderesi, plus Japan’s Daiya Seto in lane 2. Le Clos, swimming to Phelps’ right and turning his head to track him on breaths, appeared to be closing.

As the field came together under the flags, just seven tenths separated the top four. Kendersei had slid to third. Le Clos dropped to fourth. Seto ended up fifth. And at the end, hoisting one finger, was Phelps in 1:53.36, barely holding off the other Japanese swimmer, Masato Sakai, who charged hard in lane seven and nearly got the better of Phelps, .04 behind.

2016 Trials Throwbacks:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4: