2021 Trials Vision: Will Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland Repeat in 400 IM?

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Chase Kalisz 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.

Four years on from the Rio Olympics, the reigning bronze medalist may be the one with the best chances in Tokyo.

Daiya Seto took bronze in Rio and is the reigning world champion. The 26-year-old Japanese swimmer will be competing on home turf in Tokyo. His results abroad have shown that he’s doing fine without the home-water edge. He’s posted eight times of 4:10.30 or under since September 2018, according to USA swimming’s database of global times. Only two others in the database have done the same.

Seto won the world championship in 2019 in 4:08.95. Neither reigning Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Hagino nor silver medalist Chase Kalisz were part of that final.

The Favorite

Chase Kalisz has earned the benefit of the doubt. He’s only 25, and while Jay Litherland got the better of him at last summer’s world championships, Kalisz has the international experience to ramp it up when he needs to for a race like Trials.

Kalisz won trials in 2016 and earned the silver medal in Rio while Litherland finished fifth. He won the 2017 World Championship in a competition record 4:05.90 (note how much faster that is than Seto’s winning time) with Litherland again fifth.

But Kalisz finished ninth at 2019 Worlds while Litherland went 4:09.22 for silver. The trend is difficult to discern, since Kalisz’s last sub-4:10 time was in the July 2018 (4:08.25). But that’s still almost a second better than Litherland’s lifetime best.

The Contenders

Second placed Jay Litherland of the United States of America (USA) (L) and winner Daiya Seto of Japan react after competing in the men's 400m Individual Medley (IM) Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.

Jay Litherland celebrates after finishing second to Daiya Sieto at the 2019 World Championships Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Jay Litherland is older and wiser from the competition between Olympics and won’t be pushed aside easily. Carson Foster, Bobby Finke and Charlie Swanson are on the young side of the talent pool, Foster having won the 200 IM at the World Junior Championships last year and finished sixth in the 400 IM. All have been 4:13 or faster (Swanson has been 4:11.46).

Jason Louser was fourth at World Juniors, but his quickest long-course time is a 4:16.66. There’s also Sean Grieshop, who like Swanson finaled at Trials in 2016, and won silver at the 2019 World University Games. Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas and Virginia’s Ted Schubert are rising contenders from the college ranks. Gunnar Bentz is also a possibility, though his personal-best 4:11.66 is from 2017. He hasn’t been sub-4:15 since.

The Longshots

Can we call Ryan Lochte a longshot? Maybe more of a wild card. It remains to be seen what he chooses for his program at 2020 Trials, and the 200 IM is probably a better fit at this point. Since returning in 2018, Lochte went 4:15.80 in the 400 IM and 4:18.95 as his best in an abbreviated season in March. It’s certainly going to take 4:12 to get to Tokyo, maybe 4:10. Does he still have that in him?

Looking ahead to 2021

Lochte will be 37 when the Trials roll around. For comparison, Michael Phelps in 2016 became the oldest Olympic swimming champion at 31, before Anthony Ervin moved the clock back to 35. Another year hurts him more than most. It might give Kalisz a longer runway to ramp up his training to the heights that he has reached before. With the cloud of contenders behind, Kalisz and Litherland might be the clear 1-2 now (in some order), but there are a lot of chasers.

2021 Trials Vision

Day 1:

Day 2:

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