2021 Trials Vision: Women’s 200 Free Still Loaded With Ledecky, Schmitt, Manuel, Comerford

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Allison Schmitt smiles after winning the 200 free at 2019 nationals. 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 at the 2021 Trials.

Four years ago, the women’s 200 free was one of the most packed finals at the Olympic Trials, with a mix of talent, from sprinters to middle-distance specialists, to distance swimmers, to versatile threats.

Most of those stars are back and appear headed for another class at next year’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Favorite

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Katie Ledecky – Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Katie Ledecky won at Trials four years ago, then went on to win the gold medal in Rio in the 200 free, so there can be no favorite on paper except her.

Since the start of 2019, she has the top four swims in the U.S., as well as seven of the top 10, going as fast as 1:54.59.

Ledecky had a dominating performance in several events at the Trials and in Rio becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport’s history.

Since then, she has dominated the distance events, becoming the most decorated female swimmer in World Championships history. In the 200 free, she has been defeated internationally head-to-head by Canada’s Taylor Ruck at the Pan Pacific Championships.

It is the race she has the best chance of being beaten in, but so far, those defeats have not come at the hands of other U.S. swimmers.

But several are capable of pulling off an upset.

The Contenders

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Simone Manuel – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

While Ledecky will clearly be the favorite, there are plenty of the world’s elite ready to perform in this event with everything on the line, including relay spots.

Olympic veterans Allison Schmitt and Simone Manuel have been extremely fast in this event and stand among the leading challengers.

Schmitt, the 2012 Olympic champion, made the team in the event four years ago, while Manuel finished seventh. She made the team in the sprint events, but just missed in the 200 free.

Meanwhile, the other finalist to miss in 2016 was Katie McLaughlin. She has been the fourth-fastest in the U.S., going a 1:56.48 at the 2019 Santa Clara meet. After barely missing the team, she has been focused on not letting that happen again at the 2021 Trials.

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Katie McLaughlin; Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Leah Smith is always a factor when there is more on the line. The same can be said for Melanie Margalis, who can swim a lot of events at an elite level.

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Mallory Comerford; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Meanwhile, Mallory Comerford is a three-time NCAA champion in the short-course yards version of this race and has been on the World Championships team. She will be in contention for an Olympic spot as well.

Regan Smith hasn’t been a 200 free specialist, but if she goes for it in the event, she cannot be counted out.

The other swimmer who has become a contender in this event is Gabby DeLoof. The Team Elite swimmer has been as fast as 1:57.62 and has a shot at making the final and even a relay spot at the 2021 Trials.

The Longshots

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Erika Brown; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Cierra Runge hasn’t been at the same level in the 200 since making the team four years ago, though she could definitely be in play for a relay spot.

There are plenty of other swimmers who could become contenders as well. Tennessee star Erika Brown has put together some solid 200 freestyle events, as has Virginia’s Paige Madden, as well as Claire Tuggle and Emma Weyant.

Stanford’s Brooke Forde also can be a factor, though her best races will be longer than 200. The same can be said for Kaersten Meitz, while Abbey Weitzeil could be a factor if she swims the 200, but her best shot is in the sprints. Hali Flickinger can’t be counted out either if she swims it, though her best shot is in the 200 butterfly, same as Katie Drabot.

Looking Ahead to 2021

With another year, the younger swimmers like Regan Smith, Emma Weyant and Claire Tuggle will benefit. It gives them another year to get stronger. Don’t be surprised to see one of them, or even another young gun, contend at the 2021 Trials.

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Emma Weyant; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

But after another year, Ledecky will still be the favorite, while Schmitt, Manuel, McLaughlin, Margalis and Smith will be improving as well. Plus a surge by Runge or Gabby DeLoof could make a difference as well.

No matter who is in the final, there will be eight elite swimmers competing for six spots. The event has become so deep that a couple of elite swimmers will not have a chance at making it to Tokyo.

All eyes could be on a Ledecky-Manuel-Schmitt-Smith-led final, which will bring the sport’s past, present and future together in one race at the 2021 Trials.

2021 Trials Vision

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