2021 Trials Vision: Without Michael Phelps, Is Luca Urlando Ready to Carry 200 Fly Banner?

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Luca Urlando; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

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.

Michael Phelps isn’t coming back. We’re sure this time. Pretty sure.

At long last, what will be 21 years after a lanky 15-year-old first stepped onto the deck in Sydney, American swimming will get a glimpse at a post-Phelps 200 fly. And it will look like … well, a year out, it looks like an open door for someone to assert themselves.

The Favorite

This is tough. A quick look at the post-Phelps performances at major events in this race:

  • 2017 Worlds: Jack Conger fifth, Pace Clark ninth
  • 2019 Worlds: Zach Harting sixth, Justin Wright 18th
  • 2019 World University Games: Jack Saunderson ninth, Trenton Julian 13th

So then the favorite is … Luca Urlando? An 18-year-old who has never represented the United States at a senior international meet and is coming off a dislocated shoulder? Sure.

He won a senior national title last year, and he’s the only American to be sub 1:55 in the last 18 months, per USA Swimming’s database. He’s done it four times, the fastest a 1:53.84. Being the favorite is a lot to foist on Urlando, but he’s certainly got the most upside.

The Contenders

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Jack Conger. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Part of the equation is, how many swimmers have avoided the 200 fly the last decade because of the immovable object that is Phelps? And will some of those talented generalists look to fill that void at the 2021 Trials?

Jack Conger is a prime example. He won silver at Pan Pacs in the 100 fly and is a 200 free contender. Chase Kalisz, Gunnar Bentz and Andrew Seliskar fall into this category, too.

Zach Harting is in the picture. Nick Albiero and Sam Pomajevich are rising college stars.

The Longshots

It’s less a longshot than an unknown commodity: Tom Shields qualified for the 2016 Olympics in both butterfly events. He did that despite profound inner turmoil that led to personal struggles two years later.

Now, Shields has sought counseling. And in 2020, he got back to setting best times. If Shields could accomplish what he did carrying the emotional burden that he did in 2016, what can he do at the 2021 Trials while finding peace and happiness in the pool? It’s a lovely thing to contemplate.

Looking ahead to 2021

Shields will be 29 at the 2021 Trials, but most of the other contenders will be squarely in their mid-20s (Conger 26, Kalisz 27, Bentz 25). The postponement most benefits Urlando with the added time to recover.

Globally, it also means an extra year for new world-record holder Kristof Milak to grow. The Hungarian will be 21 next summer. Chad le Clos will be 29 and still a contender, looking to reclaim the Olympic crown he secured in 2012.

2021 Trials Vision

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

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