3 Bold Predictions for U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Eight

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By David Rieder

All good things must come to an end, right? Today’s will be the last of our bold predictions for Olympic Trials, and below you will find the choices to make the team in the final two events of the meet, the women’s 50 free and men’s 1500 free.

But you shouldn’t get too upset about the end of this series—the meet itself gets started in less than 48 hours. If these predictions come true, a lot of people will swim pretty fast.

By this point in the meet, after eight days spent in a massive arena watching swimming, many of you might be ready for the meet to end so you can resume your normal lives. I’m not expecting to be among that group.

In the meantime: predictions, anybody?

1. The top three in women’s 50 free will all finish within a tenth of a second.

The nature of the splash-and-dash makes it a good bet for a tight finish, but there really is hardly any separation in this field. Madison Kennedy has to be the favorite as she holds the top seed with a 24.45—swum just a few months ago at the Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., but right behind her is World Championship finalist Simone Manuel.

Three-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin plans on giving the 50 a real run at Olympic Trials, and there’s a real chance she will be in desperation mode at this point if she does not finish top-two in the 100 back or top-six in the 100 free. Then there’s Ivy Martin, Dana Vollmer and new 50-yard free American record-holder Abbey Weitzeil.

In short: a lot of contenders and no reason to believe that there’s a lot of separation between them. None have done all that much internationally in the 50—in fact, the United States has not won an international medal in the 50 free since Dara Torres’ silver medal eight years ago in Beijing. And unless someone has a breakout meet in Omaha, there’s little reason to believe that medal drought is going to end in Rio.

2. Connor Jaeger becomes the first American to break 14:40 in the 1500 free.

Jaeger had his big breakout moment at the World Championships last summer when he was the best swimmer in the 1500 final over the second half of the race. Jaeger passed Olympic silver medalist Ryan Cochrane with about 500 meters to go and pushed eventual World Champion Gregorio Paltrinieri all the way to the wall before finishing second in 14:41.20, beating Larsen Jensen’s 11-year-old American record by more than four seconds.

Jaeger has a 12-second margin over the rest of the field entering the Olympic Trials, so it would be a major surprise if he does not clinch a spot on the team. By the last day of the meet, he may have already qualified in the 400 free, but the mile remains his focus event and best chance at an Olympic medal.

But Jaeger is unlikely to be content with just making the team—he will want to challenge some of the top marks already posted this year. Paltrinieri clocked the second-fastest time in history (14:34.04) in winning the European title last month, and Australia’s Mack Horton swam under 14:40 at his Olympic Trials in April (14:39.54).

Jaeger’s confidence should not be a problem going into Trials after his huge drop last summer in Kazan, and he has already been under 15:00 this season, swimming a 14:59.13 last month in Charlotte in the middle of heavy training. His improvement curve suggests another time drop is imminent, and I think it comes in Omaha.

3. Clark Smith gets the second spot on the Olympic team in the mile.

Nothing about my first two predictions today seems all that crazy. But you’ll have to hear me out on this one. It’s a gut feeling—note that my gut feelings have this tendency of being wrong—and one that logically makes no sense. But since I convinced myself of it, maybe I can convince you, too.

You see, I saw Clark Smith swim one time in-person this year—the 1650-yard free at NCAAs, where Smith entered as the top seed, added 19 seconds and got 12th. He had also come into that meet as the top seed in the 500, having swum a sizzling 4:08.84 in December, and he failed to score in that event.

I realize that Michael McBroom—Smith’s training partner at Texas and a finalist in three event at the World Championships—or Jordan Wilimovsky—last year’s World Champion in the 10k open water and already an Olympian in that event—would be a safer bet here.

Smith did not swim up to expectations at NCAAs, but he was everyone’s darling in December after the Texas Invite where, in addition to his performance in the 500, he broke the American record in the 1000-yard free. His Trials entry time of 15:05.97 was recorded just last month. I think shows up in Omaha ready to swim fast and does so.

Race Picks:

Women’s 50 Free
1. Simone Manuel
2. Madison Kennedy

Men’s 1500 Free
1. Connor Jaeger
2. Clark Smith

Check out our 3 Bold Predictions for each day of U.S. Olympic Trials:
Day One
Day Two

Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven

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7 years ago

I worry about Smith. I’ve never seen any concrete explanation of his performances at NCAA (sickness, injury) and without any such evidence it’s hard not to worry about consistency & reliability. That said, if he finishes top 2, he’s going, so we’ll see.

7 years ago

Pretty much as I’d see those events. David. I’d probably go with Kennedy in W50free but I’d frankly be surprised to see anything inside 24.35. Concur fully with your assessment of their Rio prospects.

Jaeger breaking 14.40 seems very plausible given he has major meet form very much in that ballpark. In fact, I rate him an extraordinarily strong medal contender maybe 2nd money behind Paltrineiri given Horton has major question marks hanging over his capacity to deliver in major competition after Kazan. 2nd US qualifier .. not going to go there, it looks a bit of a lottery.

7 years ago

Yeah well, Jordan W. pulled it off….

Don’t underestimate him next time 🙂