2021 Trials Vision: Men’s 200 Breast Continues to be Unpredictable

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Will Licon. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2021 Trials: 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.

Since Josh Prenot broke the American record in the 200 breaststroke at the 2016 Trials, the United States has had a different person leading the national rankings each year in this event. In 2017, Kevin Cordes won the national title. In 2018, Prenot reclaimed his title. In 2019, Will Licon was the top ranked American. And in the early days of 2020, Nic Fink was the leading man for the stars and stripes.

With so much shuffling at the top, this race looks to be the most unpredictable ahead of the 2021 Trials.

The Favorite(s)

Is there a clear favorite in this event? Based on times alone, it should probably be Will Licon, who was the Pan American Games gold medalist last year with a 2:07.6. Since finishing a heartbreaking third at the 2016 Trials, Licon has been on the outside looking in each year at nationals, and as he prepares for the 2021 Trials, he will be a sentimental favorite to make the team based on his resilience. Licon won three NCAA titles in this event at Texas, so he has the ability to swim under pressure – it is just a matter of doing it in the moment. He was a 2:10.3 in January and has been known to be a strong taper swimmer.

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Andrew Wilson. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Just behind him in last year’s rankings was Andrew Wilson, who represented the U.S. at the World Championships in 2019. He was a 2:07.8 in the semifinals and a 2:08 in the final which put him sixth in the fastest field ever assembled. If Wilson is to make the team, he would be the first Division III alum to make a U.S. Olympic team, as he helped Emory win the national title his senior year. Wilson was a 2:10.1 in December as the third fastest American since September.

The Contenders

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Nic Fink. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Nic Fink had been swimming really well as of late, building on his silver medal at last summer’s Pan American Games where he was a 2:08.16. Fink had been known to be a strong in-season swimmer as he won the ISL Grand Final in this event in December, beating some of the world’s best swimmers in the process. He was a 2:09.8 in March and has seemingly gotten better with age. He made the final in this event at the 2017 World Championships and has continuously stepped up big when needed. Fink has a very good chance of making his first Olympic team next year.

Cody Miller actually had the fastest time in the U.S. since September with a 2:09.67 in winning the U.S. Open in December. Miller has been primarily known as a 100 breaststroker and he is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in that event. The 100 may be his best shot at a spot in Tokyo, but don’t count out Miller in the 200, as he has become one of the most popular swimmers in the nation.

One cannot count out reigning Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot. Even though he didn’t make the final at the World Championships, he is still the American record holder. He was a 2:12 in January, which is not up to par with his peers in the 2:09-2:10 range, but Prenot has stepped up in the big moment, winning the 2018 national title with the fastest swim by an American since Rio. So Prenot has the pedigree, he just needs to put the race together in the final. He has struggled with injuries, but has proved he is tough to beat when at his absolute best.

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Reece Whitley. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Prenot’s Cal teammate Reece Whitley has been on everyone’s radar since he broke the national age group record as a 14-year-old six years ago. The two-time high school swimmer of the year won his first national title last summer in breaking 2:10 for the first time. Whitley was poised for a big sophomore season as he was the big favorite to take both breaststroke titles at NCAAs before the meet was cancelled. We will never know what Whitley would have swam at those championships, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he breaks out in the next 12 months as a contender. Based on his age group career and how he was swimming as of late, Whitley might be in the perfect position to make his first national senior team.

The Longshots

Perhaps it is a little insulting to call Kevin Cordes a longshot in the 200 breaststroke, but he hasn’t been faster than 2:09 in three years. He swam in Rio and finished eighth and also was sixth at the 2017 Worlds. Cordes has been off a lot of people’s radar but still remains a threat to make the team based on his past accomplishments. He has recently moved training locations to the University of Georgia alongside Fink and Wilson, and with an extra year it could be beneficial for him to make his second team.

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Daniel Roy. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The last two World Junior champions in this event remain potential spoiler threats in this event as Daniel Roy, the 2017 winner, and Josh Matheny, the 2019 winner, have been swimming well the last few months. Roy was the runner-up behind Whitley at last year’s nationals and was a 2:10 at the US Open in December. The Stanford junior could slip in to the top two if he can race his way in there.

Matheny was a 2:09 last summer and has another year of high school before heading off to Indiana University after the Olympics. He may be a popular spoiler pick based on the fact he will have another year of development under his club coach and this extra year could be beneficial for him. The men’s 200 breast has been so unpredictable that any number of these guys could factor into the top two.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Even though there are a huge number of contenders, the Americans will have their hands full when they get to Tokyo. The United States has not won gold in this event since Mike Barrowman in 1992, and have only medaled twice since then with Brendan Hansen’s bronze in 2004 and Prenot’s silver in 2016.

2021 Trials Vision

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