Abbey Weitzeil Leading Wave Of Pioneering Barrier-Breakers in Women’s Swimming

Abbey Weitzeil is the first woman under 21 seconds in the 50 free. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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When Abbey Weitzeil exited the pool last season for the final time, she had to be pulled out of the water by her teammates.

It was a Superwoman kind of performance.

The Cal sprinter had injured her arm in the finish of the 200 medley relay, and still had a day of the meet to go. She had to anchor the 400 free relay because she couldn’t get out fast enough for another swimmer if she wasn’t last.

With her arm heavily wrapped, Weitzeil anchored the NCAA-record 400 free relay that finished in 3:06.96 to close the meet. It couldn’t count as the American record because of her arm wrap.

Weitzeil anchored in 46.07. Earlier in the meet, she won the 50 free in an American record 21.02. But even with an American record in the 50 and anchoring three NCAA title relays, it still left Weitzeil wondering: What if?

What if she was healthy? Would she have still finished fourth in the 100 free? How fast could she really have gone?

Weitzeil is already showing she had more and can be a pioneering force in the sport, breaking barriers no woman has been able to in history.

At the midseason Minnesota Invitational, Abbey Weitzeil shattered her own NCAA and American record in the 50 free by going 20.90, the first woman in history to break 21 seconds.

“I wasn’t really expecting to do that at this meet. I was more focused on trying to go as close as I could to my best times. After prelims, I was shocked with a 21.1, so I thought I might be able to go for it,” Abbey Weitzeil told Swimming World. “It was cool to take that step for women in sports and break that huge barrier. To be the first woman to do that is pretty amazing.”

Weitzeil had been knocking at the door of breaking 21 seconds for three years before everything finally came together in that race.

“To finally be able to break that barrier was awesome,” she said. “I have been around 21.1 for a while. When I did that three years ago, my goal was the American record. Once I got to college, I had a rough ride the first couple years. It was a big dream for the past year.”

A big dream, especially after her injury at NCAAs, knowing what she might have been capable of reaching had she not hyper-extended her elbow on the finish of the 200 medley relay.

“It was definitely a downer when I hurt my arm the second day. I definitely believe I could have gone a 45 if I hadn’t hurt my arm. That is definitely my goal for this season. Looking back, I was able to mentally be there for my team,” she said. “We were ahead in points after the second day. I was so devastated that I couldn’t score as many points for my team. We wanted to stay ahead. I did it for them. I knew I wouldn’t go a time I wanted to but I just wanted to score as high as I could.

“(Despite the disappointment) I do know that I had an incredible NCAAs.”


Abbey Weitzeil dives off the pool with her arm wrapped for the 100 free heats at NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It is already a roll of the dice for Weitzeil every race anyway since there is so little margin for error in the sprints.

“I think the crazy thing is so much is at stake every time you swim it. If you don’t hit your start or your turn, you are screwed. I was finally able to put both together and move well through the water,” she said.

Her swim in Minnesota was a turning point for Weitzeil, and a source of inspiration for her team, which won the meet, and put them number one in the CSCAA polls.

“That was definitely the highlight of the Minnesota meet. We knew she could do it after her prelims, which was her fastest in-season,” teammate Izzy Ivey said. “We watched her flip in 10.0 and we were so excited to see her do that. I bet she will go even faster at NCAAs. It was cool watching history being made.”

Weitzeil, who has earned NCAA titles, American records and and Olympic gold, is still looking to make some more history in 2020. She knows she won’t be the only woman breaking barriers.

“It is pretty amazing. Women in sport is on the up-rise,” Abbey Weitzeil said.

“I feel like we aren’t paid attention to as much in sports so being a part of the history of females coming forward and showing we can do amazing things in sports is really cool. There are so many people a part of that. It is every female that is working their butt off every day and pushing barriers. That is something that Cal women’s swimming is really passionate about.”

Before Weitzeil turns her focus to long course and the Olympic trials, she is hoping to cap her collegiate career with her best short-course performance.

“My goal for NCAAs, my last time swimming it short course, is to be as fast as I can and set the bar as high as I can,” she said. “Women are going to start going 20. I want to see how long I can keep the American record.”


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Tom Turner
Tom Turner
3 years ago

Congratulations Abbey in Minnesota
Keep it going and good luck at the NCAA’S!!!????