Assessing Claire Curzan’s Event-by-Event Potential for U.S. Olympic Trials

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Claire Curzan -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Assessing Claire Curzan’s Event-by-Event Potential for U.S. Olympic Trials

As the spring of Claire Curzan continues, the world got a reminder on Friday evening that the 16-year-old will be a factor in events beyond just the 100 butterfly. Competing at the TAC Titans Spring Invitational, again in her home pool in Cary, N.C., Curzan swam times of 56.43 in the 100 fly and then 24.17 in the 50 free, taking down the world junior record in the latter event.

Her rapid improvement in the two-lap butterfly race has been the most recognizable measure of Curzan’s breakthrough over the past year, but when that event wraps up on day two of next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials, that won’t be the end of the sure-to-be indelible impact Curzan will make on the eight-day meet.

In fact, there are up to five events where we may see Curzan among the headliners next month in Omaha.

100 Butterfly

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Claire Curzan — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It’s not news at this point to declare Curzan as the clear favorite in the women’s 100 fly. Her three most recent efforts in the event have included a 56.61 in November, a 56.20 in April when she out-dueled fellow teenager Torri Huske (who swam a 56.69 of her own) and then a 56.43 Friday night in Cary. While Curzan had far less daunting competition on this occasion, she took the race out in 25.64, significantly faster than the 26.21 in which she covered the first 50 meters in her April swim and also well ahead of world-record pace. This time, though, Curzan faded coming down the stretch, so it will be interesting to see how she chooses to strategize at Olympic Trials.

Curzan ranks eighth-fastest in history in the event, second-fastest all-time among Americans and second-fastest in the world for 2021 behind China’s Zhang Yufei at 55.73. From a more immediate perspective, Curzan’s time was much faster than the times from the TYR Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis, where Regan Smith won in 57.68 and Kelsi Dahlia, the top American performer in the event for the past several years, took second in 57.75.

100 Backstroke

The 100 back will be the deepest and most competitive event of the Olympic Trials, and Curzan should be among those in contention. She broke 1:00 for the first time in April, swimming a 59.37, and then she clobbered her best time again in May as she swam a 58.82, moving her into the top 25 all-time in the event and to seventh in the world this year. However, the caveat is Curzan ranks behind three other Americans, Olivia Smoliga, Rhyan White and world record-holder Regan Smith. Former world record-holder Kathleen Baker and Phoebe Bacon have also swum under 59 in the past.

However, Curzan could have a decision to make with regards to the 100 back since the preliminaries are scheduled for the morning of the 100 fly final and the semifinals would occur shortly after the 100 fly final. She may choose to focus all her energy on the event that remains her best, the 100 fly, particularly with the depth of the 100 back field, but if she swims the event, she will undoubtedly be in the mix with a tight and fast heat.

100 Freestyle

At Curzan’s big breakthrough meet in April, she swam only a 54.40 in the 100 free, which did not move the needle significantly as far as jumping into the mix for Olympic Trials, where six swimmers will be selected for the 400 free relay in Tokyo. But Curzan is definitely in contention now after she swam a 53.55 Sunday night. That time made Curzan the second-fastest American this year, behind Huske’s 53.46 from their May contest, and she ranks sixth in the Olympic Trials qualifying period behind Simone ManuelMallory ComerfordAbbey WeitzeilErika Brown and Huske.

The American team will undoubtedly need Curzan (and Huske) to keep improving and then team up with their veterans if there is any chance of upsetting Australia for the gold medal in the 400 free relay. Curzan’s massive drop opens the door just slightly, but it will still take a lot to catch the squad from Down Under led by Cate Campbell and Emma McKeon.

200 Backstroke

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Claire Curzan — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Curzan admits that the 200 fly is not her favorite event to swim, but she has had some success in the 200 back and could be a factor should she contest the event at Trials. Her best time is a 2:10.16, which ranks 13th in the U.S. during the Trials qualifying period, but that time is from the 2019 Nationals. In March, she swam a 1:49.35 in the 200-yard back, but Curzan has swum the event only sparingly this season in long course.

The 200 back falls on days six and seven at Trials, overlapping with the 100 free final and the first two rounds of the 50 free, so that might disincentivize Curzan from taking up the challenge of this grueling event.

50 Freestyle

When Curzan and Huske faced off last month, the duo actually tied in the 50 free in 24.44, but Curzan was disqualified for using her lethal underwater dolphin kicks too much and going slightly past 15 meters. So Curzan’s legal best time prior to Friday was 25.26, but by the end of the day, she had swum a 24.17. All the sudden, she was the third-fastest American ever behind reigning world champion Manuel and five-time Olympian Dara Torres. Globally, Curzan tied for 16th all-time and tied for third in the world in 2021.

The 50 free will come at the tail end of the Olympic Trials program (prelims and semifinals on day seven and the final on day eight), and at this point, Curzan should be considered a co-favorite alongside Manuel, with Huske and 2016 Trials winner Weitzeil as their top challengers.


Claire Curzan has described a primary motivating factor throughout the year of training and racing as “trying to set myself up the best I can for Olympic Trials.” During the toughest parts of practice, she thinks about how “this is just going to help me in the long run. When I get to that last 25, last 15 meters of the race, this is what’s going to help me push through to get to the wall.”

Well, Trials begins in one month, and Curzan is positioned beautifully for a productive week. In two events Friday night, she reaffirmed and then established favorite status for the bookends of her program, and we’ll see if she can move up the pecking order in her other events before this weekend is complete.