2021 Trials Vision: Can USA Put Together Squad Capable of Gold in 4×200 Free Relay?

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Zach Apple & Townley Haas. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 U.S. 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 men’s 200 free final on day three will serve as the first event of the Olympic Trials that will be an official relay qualification event. With six spots on the line, the odds of making the team in this event are greater than in other events so it is often a chaotic scene in the heats and semifinals to get through to the eight man final. Once you are in the final on day three, you have a 75% chance of making the team. Getting out of semifinals is a huge task – and those that make it out alive will carry the flag for the United States in the 4×200 free relay, which the Americans have won at four straight Olympics.

The Favorite

Townley Haas has been the number one 200 freestyler in the United States since he won the 2016 Trials after his freshman season at the University of Texas. Since then, he added two NCAA titles in the event, in addition to winning his freshman season before the Trials. He won silver at the 2017 Worlds and has had some of the fastest relay splits in history to boot. Haas is perfectly fit for the 200 freestyle, and he has the target on his back ahead of the Olympic Trials as he shoots for his second Olympic team at the age of 24 next year.

Although the United States has won the last four Olympic golds in the 4×200 freestyle relay, the Americans have not won at the international level since 2016 with Great Britain and Australia taking the last two World titles while the U.S. settled for bronze both times. Haas has been a key relay contributor the last few years, and a finals relay at the Olympics without him on it would just not feel right, so he definitely gets the nod as the favorite ahead of next year’s Trials in this event.

2021 Trials Vision: The Contenders

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Andrew Seliskar. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming in Haas’ shadow, Andrew Seliskar emerged as the 2018 national champion in this event and has been a solid #2 guy behind Haas the last two years. Seliskar, one of the most versatile swimmers in the country, made his World Championships debut last summer, but missed the final individually. Together he, Haas, Zach Apple Blake Pieroni teamed up to win the bronze in the 4×200 freestyle relay, but the Americans will want to keep the gold medal streak going in Tokyo.

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Dean Farris. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Haas had the fastest time this season with a 1:45 in December followed by Apple (1:46.76), who stepped up big on all the relays last summer at the World Championships. If Apple does make the team in either the 200 or 100 free, he will be a valuable relay asset in Tokyo and the Americans will definitely need someone like him if they are to sweep the men’s relays.

The fourth fastest swimmer this season was Florida’s Kieran Smith, who had a breakout sophomore year for the Gators despite not swimming at NCAAs. He was the top seed in the 200 freestyle with a 1:30.11 yards time, which was a huge swim for him. Smith used to be known as an IM’er when he was in high school but has emerged as a 200 / 400 free threat. In December he was a 1:47.2 in the 200 free and by the way he looked in the college season, he had a lot of momentum building ahead of Trials.

Two of the quickest yards swimmers ever – Pieroni and Dean Farris – should also factor into this relay team in an event that is one of the trickiest to pace correctly. Pieroni and Farris have both been mind-boggling 1:29’s in the short pool and both have been able to swim 1:46’s or faster in the big pool. Farris, the current American record holder in yards, took an Olympic redshirt to swim with Eddie Reese and Haas at the University of Texas and was reportedly “on a mission this year” to qualify for the Olympics. It is hard to see his focus diminishing with an extra year to prepare as the Ivy League champ will head back to Harvard this fall for his senior year. Farris was a 1:47.3 in December and has been known to be a monster taper swimmer – so if given a lane in the final, he definitely has a chance.

Pieroni is another known good taper swimmer as he was a 1:48 in March this year.

Longshots

It is hard to really call anyone a true “longshot” in the 200 freestyle since there are so many spots up for grabs. Like mentioned earlier, the Olympic spots are won and lost in the semifinals in this event, and those that get out of those two heats will have a great chance of making the team.

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Carson Foster. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Incoming Texas freshman Carson Foster, who holds the national high school record, was a 1:47.7 and ranked sixth in the nation this year. He has had a lot of hype around him the last few years as a promising youngster – serving as an underdog to make the team in this event and both IM’s.

Fellow high school senior Luca Urlando, the reigning 200 butterfly national champion, could also factor into this relay as he was the World Junior champ last summer and was a 1:48 in November.

Then there is Caeleb Dressel, who is more than capable of a strong 200 freestyle, but is a big question mark since he has a busy schedule already. The 200 free doesn’t conflict with any of his best events and it might be good for him to get a warmup swim before the 100 free, which is looking like the hardest event to make.

Distance swimmer Zane Grothe, who will have a legit shot in the 400, 800 and 1500, may have a similar decision to Dressel – shoot for a relay spot or go all in on the three distance events?

Although the U.S. has won the last four golds in the 4×200 free relay, the U.S. has only had three gold medals in this event at the Games – Mark Spitz (1972), Bruce Furniss (1976) and Michael Phelps (2008).

2021 Trials Vision:

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