2021 Trials Vision: Lilly King & Annie Lazor Leading 200 Breast Redemption Tour

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Annie Lazor; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2021 Trials Vision: Lilly King & Annie Lazor Leading 200 Breast Redemption Tour

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.

Much like the women’s 200 IM field, the women’s 200 breast is one of the most stacked races ahead of the Olympic Trials. But unlike the women’s 200 IM, this race features two huge favorites and it will take a lot to take them down in 2021.

The Favorite(s)

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Lilly King. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Let’s start with Lilly King. She won the 2016 Trials but didn’t make it out of the semifinals in Rio, placing 12th. A year later, she was fourth at the World Championships and just missed a medal – showing that she has a 200 that can back up her strong 100. In 2019, she was the gold medal favorite at Worlds after beating her Russian rival Yulia Efimova on home soil seven weeks before the championships. But she was disqualified in the heats and missed her chance to take on Efimova, who won the gold in her absence. Since then, she’s been a 2:22.63 and is ranked third in the U.S. and fourth in the world.

King has the title of favorite simply because she always seems to show up in the big moment and perform on the highest stage. It is hard to see any scenario playing out where she doesn’t finish first or second.

King’s teammate Annie Lazor is the other big favorite in this event. She has the fastest time in the world this year (2:21.67) and also had the fastest time in 2019. Lazor swept both the 100 and 200 breaststroke at the Pan American Games last summer to cap off the best year of her career to date. Lazor has done the work in the pool – she just needs to do it on the day. Her lack of experience may hinder her but her redemption story is something worth mentioning since she had walked away from the sport after finishing seventh at the 2016 Trials in this event. She revived her career at Indiana University where she has become one of the top breaststrokers in the world.

Both King and Lazor have their own motivations for redemption ahead of next year’s Trials and that fire in them will make them tough to beat.

The Contenders

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Emily Escobedo; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The biggest threat to the Indiana duo is perhaps Emily Escobedo, a graduate of UMBC. Escobedo was a 2:22.00 in December and has the second fastest time this season. She has steadily improved to be among the world’s best as she had finished third at NCAAs as a senior in 2017. Last summer she won the silver medal in this event at the World University Games with a 2:23. With an extra year to prepare for Trials, Escobedo could see herself in the top two if she flies under the radar again.

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Bethany Galat. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bethany Galat just missed the team in 2016 when she placed third in this event and the 400 IM. A year later, she won the silver medal at the 2017 World Championships. Galat has managed to swim clutch the last few years, being able to step up in the big moment when it matters the most. Last summer at the Pan American Games, she finished second behind Lazor with a 2:21.8, which was quicker than the silver medal winning time at the World Championships.

Galat’s best this year was a 2:25 in January, but she hasn’t been known to be a strong in-season swimmer, which may make it seem like she always flies under the radar ahead of the championship meet each year.

The 2018 national champ in this was Micah Sumrall, who was the big favorite ahead of the 2016 Trials. Sumrall reached the final at the 2012 Olympics and also won a silver at the 2015 Worlds. But when she didn’t make the team for Rio, she walked away from the sport. Sumrall started serious training again in late 2017, and followed it up with an unexpected national title to put her on the 2019 Worlds team. In Gwangju however, she finished 11th and out of the final. Sumrall was a 2:27 in December, which was not up to speed with her peers. But Sumrall has a history of swimming at the Olympics and stepping up when everyone is counting her out. She has to still be considered a favorite based on how she swims when at her best.

The Longshots

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Ella Nelson. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Melanie Margalis & Madisyn Cox fall under the “longshot” category simply because their best shots will come in the 200 IM, and they have frequently used this event as a warmup. With the 200 breast coming after, it is likely neither of them will swim it. But if they do, they will definitely be mentioned among the contenders. There is just the unknown of where the focus will be.

Virginia’s Ella Nelson & Kate Douglass may also factor into the top two after their impressive freshmen seasons at the University of Virginia. They were seeded second and third on the NCAA psych sheet before the meet was cancelled. They don’t have the long course background (yet) in this event, but who knows what they would have been capable of had the summer gone on as usual.

Looking to Tokyo

The Americans have won three of the last four gold medals in this event, with the last coming from Rebecca Soni in 2012. Soni also won in 2008, four years after Amanda Beard won gold in 2004. The Americans have had tremendous success in this event, and that could continue into next year. If Russia’s Yulia Efimova is not permitted to swim based on the Russian doping scandal, then the Americans have a serious shot at a 1-2 podium finish.

2021 Trials Vision:

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