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

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By David Rieder

Admit it, you’ve felt the Olympic buzz. Maybe you’ve seen the Olympic rings and the countdown to the Games on your local NBC station. Maybe you’ve seen an article in your local newspaper about some teenage superstar making their first Olympic Trials cut. Or perhaps it’s been noticing names like Phelps, Lochte, Franklin and Ledecky a little more often on your favorite sports website.

The Olympics are closer, and that means the biggest swim meet on U.S. soil is even closer—12 days away, as a matter of fact. For most of the 1800-plus competitors, the meet is about the experience. Getting their cuts was the big victory, and now, while a best time would be nice, they have no legitimate hopes of making the team.

For the rest, the ones whose every race we here at Swimming World follow, this meet is all that matters. Those excellent times—or lousy times—from that random meet last month? Forget it. Their World Championship medals? Meaningless. Just get top two—top six in the 100 or 200 free.

Personally, I’ve been looking forward to these Olympic Trials since I left Omaha four years ago. That was just a four year cameo where I sat in the stands and wrote a few blogs. But this time, I’ll be all over the action.

But before we get to Omaha, I’ll provide this series of reads over the next 11 days spelling out in detail what I think will happen. For any of you reading who I predict to not make the team, it’s nothing personal. You guys are still awesome. Better than me, anyway—my best time in my best event is six seconds off Trials!

Good luck to all, and right now, let’s get to my bold predictions for day one.

1. An American will post the world’s fastest time at Olympic Trials in the men’s 400 IM.

The U.S. has a rather solid history of doing well in this event. Don’t believe me? Let’s look back at the past few Olympic Trials in the 400 IM. In 2012, Ryan Lochte swam a 4:07.06 to win the 400 IM at Trials, which was—you guessed it, the world’s fastest time.

In 2008, Michael Phelps won the event at Trials in 4:05.25, and Lochte was second in 4:06.08. Not only did the duo record the two fastest times in the world at the time, but they also both went under Phelps’ previous world record of 4:06.22.

In 2004, Phelps posted a 4:08.41 at Trials—also a world record. Before that, Tom Dolan won gold in the 400 IM in both 1996 and 2000. Over the past five Olympics, the American men have won nine medals in the 400 IM: five gold, three silver and one bronze—and one fourth-place finish.

They’ve got some work to do this time.

Japan’s Kosuke Hagino has the top time in the world this year at 4:08.85, and his countryman Daiya Seto won last year’s World title in 4:08.50. Chase Kalisz, perhaps the most promising American IMer over the last four years, won bronze at the World Championships last year in 4:10.05, and his best time is a 4:09.22. For my first bold prediction of the week, I’ll say Kalisz gets into the 4:08-low range to set himself up for a run at a medal in Rio.

2. It’s good to be named “Con(n)or” in the 400 free.

The men’s 400 free always turns out to be really tight at Trials. In 2008, the top three finishers were separated by just 0.39, when after eight laps of the pool, a chopped finish cost Erik Vendt a spot on the Olympic Team. Four years later, a mere 0.65 split the top four.

This one could be just as tight and just as tough to crack the top two. Connor Jaeger has been the best American in the event each of the past three years, winning bronze at the 2013 World Championships and placing fourth at Worlds last year. Michael McBroom made the final at Worlds, Zane Grothe won the event at Nationals and Clark Smith and Townley Haas have won the past two NCAA titles in the 500.

Conor Dwyer? He’s more typically thought of as a 200 free guy. That is, after all, the event in which he won silver at the 2013 Worlds, and Dwyer has been a staple on the American 800 free relay the past four years. But the 400 was the event in which Dwyer first made the Olympic team in 2012, and he finished sixth in the final in London.

Dwyer has re-emerged as a serious contender to make the team in the 400 over the past several months. His 3:46.09 at the recent Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara was a lifetime best—improving on the 3:46.24 he swam in 2012 to qualify for the Olympic final. And a big swim in Omaha would go a long way to ensure that the two American Olympians in the 400 free have almost the same first name.

3. Elizabeth Beisel breaks the American record in the 400 IM.

During the first night of the 2008 Trials, Katie Hoff broke the world record in the 400 IM, clocking 4:31.12 to steal back the record from Australia’s Stephanie Rice. Second that evening was 15-year-old Elizabeth Beisel, who touched in 4:32.87—under Hoff’s previous American record— to make her first Olympic team.

Since then, Beisel has had a reasonably successful run in the 400 IM. She won the World title in the event in 2011 and an Olympic silver medal in 2012. She was the top American performer in the event every year from 2009 to 2014, swimming in the 4:31-range the last four of those seasons. Her best time of 4:31.27 ranks her ninth all-time in the event.

Yep, that means Beisel has been within 0.15 of Hoff’s still-standing American record, but no closer. Could this be the meet she gets under it? Beisel has been swimming lights-out so far this season—her 4:33.55 from last month ranks fourth in the world and is just three one-hundredths off her career-best in-season mark. World Champs silver medalist Maya DiRado will surely be up there as well, but it would be most fitting for Beisel to be the one to bring down Hoff’s eight-year-old mark.

Race Picks:

Men’s 400 IM
1. Chase Kalisz
2. Ryan Lochte

Men’s 400 Free
1. Connor Jaeger
2. Conor Dwyer

Women’s 400 IM
1. Elizabeth Beisel
2. Maya DiRado

4 comments

  1. avatar
    superfan

    You are assuming Ryan swims the 4im?

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      Interesting catch, superfan. Might not have been one of my three bold predictions, but it’s one that I have reasons to feel very good about.

  2. avatar
    Mihai Rotaru

    i think if Ryan will compete 400 IM will definetely win ; the other predictions are correct;
    let’s wait for the big show!

  3. avatar
    Ande

    You can’t Con us in the Men’s 400 FR at trials, look for at least one non Con in the top 2.