American Women Need Elite 200 Freestyle Times to Contend For Relay Gold

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Could Paige Madden provide a boost for the U.S. women in the 800 free relay? -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

American Women Need Elite 200 Freestyle Times to Contend For Relay Gold

Over the weekend at the Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine, Calif., three women in Bob Bowman’s professional training group clocked times in the 1:57-low range in the 200 freestyle. Claire Weinstein, the teenager who upset Katie Ledecky for the national title in the event last year, was also in the mix, but down the stretch, the race was between Paige Madden, Simone Manuel and Regan Smith. In the end, Madden (1:57.00) and Manuel (1:57.03) each swam season-best times while Smith recorded a mark of 1:57.23 for her best time by nine tenths.

Clearly, there is no shortage of really solid 200 freestylers in the United States. Unfortunately from an American point-of-view, it will take a lot more than 1:57s to have any chance at beating Australia for Olympic gold in the 800 freestyle relay.

Last year, Ledecky combined with teenagers Bella Sims, Erin Gemmell and Alex Shackell to win silver in the relay, with Weinstein dropped from the squad because of slower-than-expected performances in Fukuoka. The team ended up finishing three seconds clear of any other country but still almost four seconds behind the gold-medal-winning, world-record-breaking Aussies, whose squad included 200 free world-record holder Mollie O’Callaghan and Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus.

The global rankings in the 200 free so far in 2024 indicate that this relay remains Australia’s to lose. O’Callaghan has been as fast as 1:53.57 already, with Titmus at 1:55.38 and distance specialist Lani Pallister also under 1:56. Brianna Throssell and the versatile Kaylee McKeown have both clocked times of 1:56-low while sprinter Shayna Jack went 1:56.80 at the February World Championships.

For the Americans, on the other hand, Ledecky has already recorded a mark of 1:54.97 in-season, and there is no doubt that Ledecky will produce when relay medals are on the line. She has brought elite form to this relay every year for a decade. Sims, fresh off making her first two individual World Championship finals in the 200 and 400 free last year, always brings her best on relays, and she had a strong freshman year at the University of Florida to set herself up for Trials.

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Anna Peplowski — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

But aside from Ledecky, the only American to go sub-1:57 this year is Anna Peplowski, who clocked 1:56.99 at the TYR Pro Swim Series in San Antonio in April. The aforementioned trio of times from Irvine rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the country. Gemmell has also been 1:57 on multiple occasions while swimmers like Weinstein, Sims, Aurora Roghair, Isabel Ivey and Addison Sauickie have all gone 1:58-low. Only one other country in the world can match that sort of depth.

But the gold-medal speed is lacking, at least right now. Perhaps that all changes within the next few weeks, with the U.S. Olympic Trials coming up in just over two weeks, but Australia also has an upcoming selection meet that will surely yield some incredible times from the country’s collection of depth. With O’Callaghan and Titmus considered the two best 200 freestylers in the world, Australia only needs to find two more capable swimmers, and that does not look like a tall task.

If the Americans want a chance at reclaiming gold in this relay in Paris, they will need to see multiple swimmers aside from Ledecky hitting 1:54s at Trials. The swimmers who starred last year need to take noticeable steps forward, which is a real possibility. Weinstein is entering Trials with a best time of 1:55.26, followed closely on the psych sheet by Sims (1:55.45), Gemmell (1:55.97) and Shackell (1:56.70). Add in Peplowski, Madden, Manuel and more, and the Americans are probably capable of filling out two medal-winning relay quartets.

Of course, only the top four times matter when it comes down to awarding Olympic medals. Let’s see who makes leaps at Olympic Trials — and how big those leaps are — before we determine if the U.S. women will have a chance at pulling the 800 free relay upset.

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Kanga1
Kanga1
25 days ago

As an Aussie I’m happy for the US to remain exactly as they are currently situated! As to having the ability to field 2 relay medalling teams. Australia could do the same, but with both possibly contending for Gold!

Kanga1
Kanga1
25 days ago
Reply to  Kanga1

As to the 4×100m freestyle relay, fielding two teams that could win the Gold and break the WR would certainly be the case for Australia.

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