2021 Trials Vision: Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil in Line to Lead U.S. Again

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Simone Manuel. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

2021 Trials Vision: Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil in Line for Repeat

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.

Ordinarily, forecasting an event like the 50 freestyle would be a dangerous task. Luckily, Simone Manuel has taken some of the peril out of it.

Sprinting is a fickle beast. It defies the normal flows of swimmers’ careers. (See Dara Torres, or the elongated peak from Sarah Sjostrom that we’re being treated to, or Ranomi Kromowidjojo going from world-beater in 2012 to medal-less in 2016 to best times in 2017). It makes what Manuel has done over the last Olympic cycle all the more impressive:

  • 2016 Olympics: silver in the 50, gold in the 100 (in a tie with Penny Oleksiak), plus 400 free relay silver and medley relay gold
  • 2017 Worlds: bronze in the 50, gold in the 100, double relay gold
  • 2019 Worlds: gold in the 50, gold in the 100, two free relay silvers and medley relay gold

The only question about Manuel at the 2021 Trials is if she can join Katie Ledecky in the 200 free, uniting the sprint and distance superstars in the best swimming crossover event since the men’s 200 free at the 2004 Olympics.

The Favorite

Simone Manuel holds the American record in the 50 at 23.97, the only American woman ever under 24 seconds. It’s going to take sub-24 to beat Sjostrom, maybe to get on the podium around Cate Campbell, Liu Xiang and reigning Olympic champ Pernille Blume. Manuel appears to be the only one at 2021 Trials able to muster that speed.

The Contenders

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Erika Brown Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Abbey Weitzeil went to Rio four years ago, but she hasn’t been as fast as the 24.28 she uncorked at Trials since. She went 24.47 in finishing 10th at Worlds last year.

Beyond that? Erika Brown was 24.5 on a couple of occasions and has beaten Manuel head-to-head, but the University of Tennessee grad will have to bridge a post-grad year to the Games. Margo Geer is a veteran of the international scene, but her personal best is 24.72 from the summer of 2018. Katrina Konopka made the final at the 2016 Trials at age 17 but hasn’t been sub-25.25 since. Lia Neal has the championship mentality to rise to the occasion at Trials, but she’s only been sub-25 once (in 2018). Ky-Lee Perry won the World University Games but hasn’t cracked 25. Maxine Parker was 24.75 at World Juniors. That leaves …

The Longshots

Gretchen Walsh, who won World Juniors with a 24.71 last summer at age 16. Which sounds young, until you consider that Oleksiak was 16 when she won a share of the 100 free gold in Rio (and the often age-defying nature of sprinting). More than the times she’s put down so far, Walsh may be one of the few beyond Manuel and Weitzeil with the upside to force her way into the medals conversation.

Looking ahead to 2021

The sprint deck is stacked. Sjostrom, Blume, Campbell, Kromowidjojo. But as Blume showed in 2016, the credentials don’t mean that much over 24 speedy, chaotic seconds.

2021 Trials Vision:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

Day 6:

Day 7:

Day 8:

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