Erica Sullivan Jumpstarts Pro Series in Knoxville With Victory in 800 Free

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Erica Sullivan (Pro Swim Series – Knoxville)

The United States’ Olympic season officially started on Thursday night in Knoxville, Tenn., as the second stop of the TYR Pro Series opened at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center. With competitors focused on flourishing at the appropriate time, the winning times reflected a stretch of heavy training as only one man broke the eight-minute barrier and one woman managed to go faster than 8:30.

With two-time defending Olympic champion Katie Ledecky opting to bypass this Pro Series stop, 19-year-old Erica Sullivan took advantage of the opening and stood atop the podium following a performance of 8:29.75. Sullivan led wire to wire to prevail ahead of Kaersten Meitz, who touched the wall in 8:31.85. Sullivan and Meitz were the only two athletes to dip under 8:35.

Sullivan is expected to challenge for the second spot behind Ledecky in the 800 freestyle when the United States Olympic Trials are held in Omaha in June. Last year, Sullivan ranked 15th in the world behind her best time of 8:26.13. That mark left her behind Ledecky, Leah Smith and Ally McHugh among Americans.

On the men’s side, Denmark’s Alexander Norgaard covered his 16 laps in 7:59.63, an effort that supplied a comfortable victory over the United States’ Zane Grothe (8:03.21). Norgaard trailed Grothe for just the opening 100 meters, then gradually pulled away. Norgaard finished eighth in the 1500 freestyle at last summer’s World Championships.

Action picks up in Knoxville from Friday through Sunday, with the likes of Simone Manuel, Allison Schmitt and Nathan Adrian scheduled to compete. How Adrian performs is an intriguing storyline as the veteran sprinter is chasing a fourth Olympic berth, complementing Team USA representation in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Adrian is also coming off a season in which he faced bigger hurdles than defeating the guys lined up next to him on the blocks. Last year, Adrian fought testicular cancer and emerged as one of the sport’s most-inspiring tales.

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