2021 Trials Vision: Kelsi Dahlia Striving For Second Olympic Berth With Slew of Teens & Vets in Pursuit

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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.

With an extra year to prepare for the 2021 Olympic Trials, the women’s 100 butterfly final next year could look extremely different than originally predicted heading into this year. 25-year-old Kelsi Dahlia remains the number one 100 butterflyer in the United States, and has carried that mantle for the last three years. And with reigning Olympic bronze medalist Dana Vollmer officially retired, that second spot could go to any number of young, potential first time Olympians.

The Favorite

Dahlia had the top time in the nation this year by virtue of her 57.33 at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Des Moines a week before COVID-19 shut down all competitions across the nation. Just behind her at 57.34 was high school senior Regan Smith, who has been more known as a backstroker the last few years but has emerged as a top butterfly talent. Whether Smith decides to do the 100 fly at Trials remains to be seen, since it falls on the night of the 100 back semifinals, where she is a huge favorite to make the team.

Contenders

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Katie McLaughlin. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The second fastest 100 flyer in the U.S. last year was Katie McLaughlin, who just missed the final at the World Championships with a 57.23. McLaughlin graduated from Cal in 2019 and was seemingly in the perfect place in her career to make her first Olympic team in 2020 before COVID-19. She was a favorite leading into 2016, but sustained a neck injury months before, and was unable to replicate her promising form she showed in 2014 and 2015. It took McLaughlin until 2018 to get back on a national team, which earned her a spot on the 2019 Worlds team. McLaughlin is still a big favorite to make the Olympic team in any number of events, but the 100 butterfly might be her best shot.

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Torri Huske; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

There’s a fair amount of young talent in the 100 fly landscape, as high schoolers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan have emerged in short course yards as elite swimmers capable of making an impact in the long course venue. Huske and Curzan both got under Mary T. Meagher’s 15-16 NAG record last year, which had stood since 1981. The duo went on to represent the U.S. at the World Junior Championships with Huske winning the gold medal at 57.71 and Curzan winning the bronze at 58.37. Perhaps both swimmers are four years away from their big senior team breakthroughs, but Huske beat Dahlia at the U.S. Open last December, securing herself as a popular spoiler pick for Omaha. The fact there is an extra year until Trials theoretically gives Curzan and Huske, who will still be in high school with their club coaches, an advantage over some of the older contenders in this event.

Longshots

Even though there is a fair amount of teenage talent in the 100 butterfly, there is a good amount of late bloomers also capable of making their first team.

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Amanda Kendall. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

The first name that comes to mind is 29-year-old Amanda Kendall, who had the third fastest time this year among Americans at 57.65. Kendall has been around the scene a long time, earning All-American status at LSU nearly ten years ago, and winning a gold medal at the Pan American Games in the 100 freestyle in 2011. Kendall has been surging as of late, along with a number of postgrads at Indiana University that have re-awoken their careers under Ray Looze. Kendall will be 30 by the time the Olympic Trials roll around, but has clearly shown that she has gotten better with age, so what is one more year going to do to her other than help her?

25-year-old Kendyl Stewart is another name that comes to mind as a potential spoiler pick in the 100 butterfly. She represented the United States at the 2015 World Championships and the 2014 Pan Pacs, and was the 2014 national champion in this event. Stewart was fifth in the national rankings this year with a 57.98. At the 2016 Trials, she was third in this event, so she has performed on almost every big stage except the Olympics.

Then there is Tennessee’s Erika Brown, who has had a tremendous short course career. Although her best shots will come in the sprint free events, Brown has been a solid butterflyer in short course yards. She didn’t get to finish her college career in style this year, but Brown has finally started to show some long course prowess after becoming one of the top sprinters in yards.

Dana Vollmer – the last US gold medalist in the 100 butterfly. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The shoes left behind by the retirement of Dana Vollmer will be tremendous to fill. Although the Americans won the first three gold medals in this event at the Olympic Games starting in 1956, they have only won three gold medals since 1984, with the latest coming from Vollmer in 2012. The aforementioned Meagher won in 1984 while Amy Van Dyken won in 1996.

World record holder Sarah Sjostrom is still the favorite for Tokyo gold, despite being beat by Canada’s Maggie MacNeil at the 2019 Worlds.

2021 Trials Vision:

Day 1: