5 Most Heartbreaking Performances of US Nationals

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Bryan Gu, Swimming World Intern.

Nationals has come and gone, and with it the community has seen the formation of an international roster sporting plenty of rookies ready to represent the United States at the World Championships this summer in Budapest. As with all selection meets, some experienced the joy of making the big team of the summer and gaining the opportunity to represent our country on an international stage, while others felt the disappointment and regret of not being just a few tenths faster.

As swimmers, we all know that this sport presents us with highs and lows. Although there may have been many who felt disappointment throughout the meet, those on the list are swimmers who appeared to be strong performers and likely fillers for those coveted national team spots, yet didn’t quite perform to their own standards.

1. Josh Prenot


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Josh Prenot came into this meet with high expectations placed upon his shoulders. As the Olympic silver medalist and American record holder, Prenot was a heavy favorite in his signature event– the 200 breast. Known for his incredible back half, spectators were unworried as Prenot turned in third place at the 150. But Prenot was unable to run down the charging Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink. With a strong last 50 from lane 5, Fink was able to secure his own World Championship berth with a second place finish, touching out Prenot by .09.

Prenot looked to be close to securing his place in the 200 IM on the final day of World Trials, but was run down in the final 50 by Stanford’s Abrahm Devine. Although undoubtably a surprising turn of events, Prenot highlights the high level of competition that exists in US men’s breaststroke and IM and will undoubtedly return hungrier than ever. 

2. Tom Shields


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

A 2016 Olympian in both the 100 fly and the 200 fly, as well as a 2015 World Championship finalist in these events, Tom Shields is one of the biggest names currently representing United States butterfly. Shields had been a considerable contender in each of the butterfly disciplines, with the 100 fly arguably being his best event. Trailing in the first 50 meters, Shields displayed some of his back-half speed and showed a brief resurgence before ultimately falling to Caeleb Dressel and Tim Phillips in the final 25 meters. His fourth-place finish ultimately proved to be the most heartbreaking for Shields, as it was his final chance to make the World Championship roster. Shields had previously scratched the A final of the 50 fly to focus on the 100.

In the 200 fly, Shields swam a disappointing 1:57.75 in prelims and was edged out of the A final of the 200 by Michigan’s Miles Smachlo. Although Shields was surely rattled by the experience, he has shown that he won’t let this experience shake him. Recent social media posts show nothing but class and support for his American competitors:


3. Jack Conger


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into Nationals, many fans had Jack Conger as a strong favorite in the 200 free following his impressive performance at last year’s Olympic Trials. He had placed third behind veteran Olympian Conor Dwyer (with only a 0.1 second margin in an impressive 1:45.77) to earn himself a spot on the 4×200 freestyle relay (which took gold in Rio).

But in 2017, despite having a strong swim and first place finish in the 200 fly, Conger appeared to be flat as he failed to qualify for the A final in his Olympic event in 1:47 to conclude his second day of races. Conger will still look to prove himself this summer as a member of the Worlds team. He should be a major player in his signature 200 fly, and there remains a chance that Conger may still find himself on the relay given the his history of success as both a relay swimmer and an individual performer in the event.

4. Michael Andrew


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Michael Andrew rose to fame as the youngest athlete to ever turn pro and one of the most accomplished age group swimmers in history. Despite the numerous age group records Andrew holds, he has not yet made his way onto a summer World, Pan-Pac or Olympic team (though he did compete in 2016 Short Course World Championships). Looking for the opportunity to prove himself on the largest international stage, Andrew created an abundance of opportunities for himself, making the A final in each of the 50 meter events and in the 100 breast.

Andrew didn’t make the 2017 Worlds roster, yet considering his age, Andrew’s performances bode well for this upcoming quad. Andrew will be heading back to Indiana this summer to represent the United States as a member of the our Junior National team at Junior World Championships. As one of the more experienced swimmers on the Junior National Team, Andrew will likely still impress this summer, both as a leader and as an athlete.

5. Ella Eastin


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Unlike the other swimmers on this list, Ella Eastin’s disappointment did not come from a lack of performance. Despite finishing second in the 400 IM with an incredible 4:36.96, Eastin was disqualified due to a technicality, as she streamlined on her back off her freestyle flip turn. According to FINA each stroke must make up exactly 1/4 of an IM race, and FINA claims that such a streamline during the freestyle leg of the race is a violation of that requirement as any sort of swimming done on one’s back counts as backstroke.

Many swimmers appeared to have developed this same tendency to streamline on their back as Eastin was ultimately the last in a long line of DQs that night. Despite the unfortunate technicality, the swim was an undeniable accomplishment for Eastin who dropped more than four seconds from her entry time of 4:41.19. Her unofficial time would have placed her 11th in the world and bodes well for Eastin’s future in international competition. Eastin will be given a chance at redemption as she represents the United States as a member of the World University Games team this summer in Taipei.

These swims remind us that our sport is ever-changing and results are never predictable. Despite our best preparations, the results may not be what we expected. These experiences teach us to always be aware of and prepared for failure, even when it appears as though we are invincible. And despite the fact that none of these were shining moments for any of these swimmers – far from the joy of making a championship team – they mark high hopes for or next generation of national team swimmers. These swims show that the competition is already fierce on US soil, and cements the United States’ place as one of the premier swim nations in the world.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. avatar

    Not sure this article should have been posted. Seems in poor taste considering a lot of these swimmers follow and read these swim websites.

    • avatar

      WHY…the stunk up the pool ..there in SPORTS…..most get a 3600 a month stipend to train to WIN……or at least qualify…….the only HEARTBREAK was Eastin…..the others..oh well…PUT in the WORK and dont take things for granted….just like when David asked KL if she was going to attack in the 200m at olympic trials….her answer….you cant not ATTACK at this meet……nuff said

  2. avatar

    I think you could have had six Most Heartbreaking Performances. Cullen Jones just missed making the team by one spot in both the 50 Free and 50 Fly.

  3. avatar

    I suppose one could say all stroke violations are a “technicality “…..