Bella Sims, Katie Grimes Break 4:30-Barrier in 500 Free at Juniors West

Bella Sims -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bella Sims, Katie Grimes Break 4:30-Barrier in 500 Free at Juniors West

At the start of Thursday, only two women in history had broken 4:30 in the 500-yard freestyle, Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. That number seemed destined to grow with Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh racing at the Eastern edition of Junior Nationals, and indeed, McIntosh swam a time of 4:27.52 to move to second all-time behind Ledecky’s U.S. Open record of 4:24.06. But an hour after that result, a pair of rising American teenagers also achieved sub-4:30 swims at the Western Juniors meet.

It was obvious that Bella Sims and Katie Grimes were in fine form after the duo led their Sandpipers of Nevada squad to an enormous swim in the 800 free relay Wednesday. In that race, Smith led off in 1:40.78 to become the eighth-fastest 200 freestyler in history, and then Grimes, Macky Hodges and Claire Weinstein finished up for a time of 6:52.66, a National Age Group record by more than 10 seconds. One day later, they joined an exclusive club in the 500 free.

Sims blasted out the early part of the race, and she flipped at the 100-yard mark in 50.15, already two seconds up on Grimes, but Grimes would slowly chip away at Sims’ lead after the first 200 yards, getting within a second of Sims by the end of the race. In the end, Sims touched in 4:28.64, obliterating her previous best time of 4:32.28, which was also the meet record.

Sims moved to third all-time in the race behind Ledecky and McIntosh while sneaking ahead of Smith’s best (4:28.90). The time is not a National Age Group record since Ledecky swam as fast as 4:26.58 before her 19th birthday, but Sims will have her entire freshman season at the University of Florida to continue her pursuit of that record.

Grimes, meanwhile, came in at 4:29.53, moving her to fifth-fastest in history. Previously, her best was 4:32.97, also from last year’s Juniors meet. She is the second-fastest 15-16 girl in U.S. history behind Ledecky’s NAG record of 4:28.71.

Weinstein finished third in 4:33.03, while Crow Canyon’s Bailey Hartman took fourth in 4:33.72 after swimming ahead of Weinstein for almost the entire race. Those swimmers moved to fourth and fifth all-time in the event for 15-16 girls behind Ledecky, Grimes and Sims. Overall, Weinstein ranks fifth all-time and Hartman 21st.

Interestingly, Sims and Grimes both obliterated the winning time in the event from last year’s NCAA Championships (4:33.24) while Weinstein also snuck under that mark. The top four swimmers all crushed the current top time in college swimming for the 2022-23 season (4:38.34).


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