After Olympic Trials, A Breakdown of the U.S. Women’s Team Bound For Tokyo

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Lilly King and Annie Lazor will lead the Americans in the breaststroke events in Tokyo -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After Olympic Trials, A Breakdown of the U.S. Women’s Team Bound For Tokyo

Two days before the U.S. Olympic Trials began, breaststroker Lilly King declared in a press conference that the American women could win every single gold medal in swimming in Tokyo. Right away, that sounded like wishful, overly-optimistic thinking, but it already looked like that the American women could have medal contenders in each race for the Olympics.

Over the course of the eight days in Omaha, the meet ended up being extremely competitive as swimmers sought to earn spots in Tokyo, but plenty of the events were not as lightning-quick as expected, leaving some doubt as to the American potential for the Olympics. Some swims from the concurrent Australian Trials (including one world record and multiple other near-world records) exacerbated the thought that the Americans might be in trouble. However, now that the dust has settled and the pre-Tokyo world rankings are taking shape, it looks like the Americans do have medal favorites in most—although not all—events.


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Katie Ledecky with 15-year-old Katie Grimes after finishing 1-2 in the 1500 free at Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Katie Ledecky was by no means perfect this week in Omaha, and but it would be a stunner if she did not win medals in all four of her individual events in Tokyo. In the current world ranking list of Tokyo qualifiers, Ledecky is first in the 800 and 1500 free and second behind Australian rival Ariarne Titmus in the 200 and 400 free after Titmus swam the second-fastest time ever in both events. No one is beating Ledecky in the 800 or 1500 in Tokyo (and Erica Sullivan could be a medal threat in the 1500), and no one besides Titmus could beat her in the 400. The 200 is a little more tricky, with China’s Yang Junxuan, Australia’s Emma McKeon and Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey having all swum 1:54s this year and Italy’s Federica Pellegrini always lurking, but expect a podium finish for Ledecky here.

The sprint freestyles, however, could be trouble for the Americans. After defending gold medalist and world champion Simone Manuel did not make the team in the 100 free, the top American in the world rankings is Abbey Weitzeil at 53.52, good for 10th among Olympic qualifiers. She and fellow qualifier Erika Brown will need big improvements in order to make the final, let alone the podium. Same story in the 50 free, where reigning world champion Manuel did qualify alongside Weitzeil, but 24.2s won’t get the job done when three swimmers have already been sub-24 this year.


The Americans have medal contenders in backstroke, even with world record-holder Regan Smith missing the team in the 200 back. Smith has been as fast as 57.92 in the 100 back this year, so she is squarely in the medal mix, although challenging Australia’s Kaylee McKeown (the new world record-holder) for gold will be a challenge. Rhyan White is an outside medal chance in the 100 back but definitely in the mix in the 200 back, where her 2:05.73 winning time from Olympic Trials ranks her third in the world, and fellow qualifier Phoebe Bacon ranks fifth in the world at 2:06.46. At least two medals in women’s backstroke is a reasonable expectation


Lilly King will be the huge favorite to defend her Olympic gold medal in the 100 breast. She swam a 1:04.72 at Olympic Trials, the fastest time recorded by anyone since King set the world record of 1:04.13 in 2017. Russia’s Yulia Efimova is the only active swimmer who has ever been that fast (and again, that was four years ago). Meanwhile, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby ranks second in the world at 1:05.28 after her breakthrough meet at Trials, so Jacoby is also a medal threat here.

In the 200 breast, Annie Lazor’s Trials winning time of 2:21.07 ranks third in the world behind Tatjana Schoenmaker (2:20.17) and Molly Renshaw (2:20.89), and King ranks sixth in the world at 2:21.75. Both are medal contenders for Tokyo, and Lazor especially has a shot at gold. Not bad compared to 2016, when no American made the Rio final of the 200 breast.



Torri Huske after qualifying for the Olympic team in the 100 fly — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It has been a full week since it happened, but Torri Huske was the star of the first two days of Trials when she twice broke a nine-year-old American record in the women’s 100 fly. Huske got down to 55.66 in finals, and that’s the third-fastest time in history and first in the world this year. Huske leads the early world rankings ahead of an impressive group of China’s Zhang Yufei, Australia’s Emma McKeon and Canadian world champion Maggie MacNeil. In Tokyo, Huske could be in a tight battle for Olympic gold, and fellow teenager Claire Curzan cannot be counted out of the medal chase if she can improve upon her 56.20 from earlier this year.

The women’s 200 fly is likewise in really good shape with Hali Flickinger ranking second in the world at 2:05.85 and Regan Smith fourth at 2:06.99. Flickinger is one of the favorites for gold in Tokyo, and Smith is a definite medal contender. Just like backstroke and breaststroke, a thumbs-up for the U.S. women’s butterfliers.

Individual Medley

The IM events have been on the weaker side for the American women, and while the Trials results were very promising, there may be a lot still to unfold in Tokyo. In the 200 IM, Alex Walsh ranks second among Tokyo qualifiers behind Kaylee McKeown with her 2:08.87, and Kate Douglass is fifth at 2:09.32. But how fast will Olympic and world champion Katinka Hosszu be in Tokyo? How about Japan’s own Yui Ohashi? It took a 2:08.70 to make the podium at the 2019 World Championships, so you’d assume the times will pick up in Tokyo.

It’s a similar story in the 400 IM, where teenager Emma Weyant and veteran Hali Flickinger actually rank first and second in the world with their times from Olympic Trials, it took a 4:32.33 to make the podium in 2019 in Gwangju. We’ll see if the Americans can keep pace as this event progresses in Tokyo.


Weakness in the freestyle events could present challenges for the American women in the relays in Tokyo. Australia has emerged as the big favorites in both free relays, and while the Americans look like a No. 2 in both the 400 and 800-meter relays at the moment, it’s not implausible that enough teams emerge to knock the U.S. off the 400 free relay podium. However, anything lower than silver in the 800 free relay is unlikely. It’s worth noting that after Simone Manuel got onto the U.S. team with her Trials win in the 50 free, she could be used in relay duty for any event in Tokyo at the coaches’ discretion.

In the 400 medley relay, the Americans look like slight favorites right now on the strength of Regan Smith, Lilly King and Torri Huske, but freestyle remains an issue that countries like Australia could exploit in Tokyo.


This American women’s team heading to Tokyo has some holes, and lack of speed and depth in freestyle really shows up because of the relay impact, but this is a very well-balanced squad that should do very well in the medal count in Tokyo. The women alone could capture somewhere around 15 medals (including relays), but other countries, particularly Australia, match up so well at the top that only four events—the 800 and 1500 free, 100 breast and 400 medley relay—look like solid gold medal favorites right now. It’s highly likely that some of the other contenders for gold will emerge on top, but that’s how it looks right now, with a little more than a month to go before the Olympics get underway.

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