From Junior Team to Olympic Team: The Nine Members of the 2017 U.S. World Junior Squad Off to Tokyo

regan-smith-
Regan Smith. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

From Junior Team to Olympic Team: The Nine Members of the 2017 U.S. World Junior Squad Off to Tokyo

It is no secret that this year’s U.S. Olympic team bound for Tokyo is young. In total, the squad has 35 first-time Olympians, and eight of them have yet to start college. Of course with a five-year wait between Olympics, there is bound to be some new faces unseating the veterans and this year’s team is no different.

But for many of the Tokyo Olympians, they didn’t come out of nowhere. For those that have followed swimming, this year’s Olympic team is full of a lot of names that are finally getting their big break on the international scene.

Four years ago, the United States hosted the 2017 World Juniors on home soil in Indianapolis. 42 swimmers were selected to “Defend the Nat” as the World Trials were held in the IU Natatorium, and the junior team came back two months later to represent the country in many of their first international meets. Flash forward to 2021, and nine of those swimmers will make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo after many of them got their first taste of international racing that summer in Indianapolis.

Members of the 2017 U.S. World Junior Team Off to Tokyo

  1. Michael Andrew
  2. Michael Brinegar
  3. Patrick Callan
  4. Kate Douglass
  5. Drew Kibler
  6. Kieran Smith
  7. Regan Smith
  8. Erica Sullivan
  9. Alex Walsh

Michael Andrew and Regan Smith were two of the biggest names on the U.S. World Junior team at the Indy meet in 2017. Andrew qualified for Tokyo in the 100 breast, 200 IM and 50 free, and in Indy in 2017, he won gold in the 50 free, bronze in the 100 breast, was eighth in the 200 IM. Andrew also won gold in the 50 back, 50 fly, and bronze in the 50 breast. At the time, Andrew was winding down his junior career, and he was expected to make a run in the senior waters moving forward. There was only a three year window ahead of Tokyo. And at the time, Swimming World’s David Rieder wrote this:

“Andrew, like any swimmer, will be judged on what he accomplishes on the Olympic level. He’s gotten plenty of attention over the years for all the records he’s broken—first the glut of National Age Group records and more recently the World Junior Records—but to get to the Olympic level, he first must find a niche.

“Well, he found one. That 50 free will make sprinters around the country take notice, and they will be looking his way come next summer’s all-important National Championships in Irvine, California.

“What else? Andrew’s form in the 100 breast looked promising in 2016, when he finished fourth in the 100 breast at U.S. Olympic Trials in 59.82, then a World Junior Record. Andrew was never going to make the Olympic team in 2016, and to even finish that high as a 17-year-old was certainly a commendable effort.

“But he never found that level this year in the 100 breast, and he settled for bronze in the event at World Juniors in 1:00.37.

“The other event in which he’s shown real promise in long course is the 200 IM. In March, set a World Junior Record in the same Indianapolis pool with his time of 1:59.19. But for whatever reason, he was off his best in that event, too, over the summer, finishing 10th at U.S. Nationals in 2:00.97.

“His low point for the entire year came in that event on night two at the World Juniors meet, when he swam the 200 IM final barely 15 minutes after the 100 breast final. For a swimmer far better known for his speed than for his endurance, that quick a turnaround proved crippling.

“Halfway through the race, Andrew had already fallen to eighth place. He ended up finishing in 2:07.27, more than three seconds behind anyone else in the race and some six seconds slower than he had swum in prelims.”

Flash forward four years, and Andrew has lived up to his age group hype, winning two events at Olympic Trials.

Regan Smith won gold in the 100 and 200 back at the 2017 World Juniors and was also sixth in the 100 fly. Smith had already made the World Championships team that swam a month prior where she made the final in the 200 back at age 15, so she was already becoming a growing star. Smith set two world records in 2019 in the 100 and 200 back en route to her winning the 200 back world title and 2019 world swimmer of the year by this publication.

Now in 2021, Smith missed the Olympic team in the 200 back, but will race the 100 back and 200 butterfly in Tokyo where she will be a medal favorite in both, including a gold medal favorite in the 100 backstroke.

Alex Walsh was one of the youngest members of the 2017 U.S. world junior team. After breaking a few national age group records at age 14, Walsh made her Team USA debut in 2017 by finishing fourth in the 200 IM in Indianapolis just a few weeks after her 16th birthday. Heading into 2020, Walsh was tabbed as one of the rising stars that could unseat the veterans at Olympic Trials before she headed to the University of Virginia. Heading into Tokyo, Walsh will race the 200 IM as she is ranked second in the world heading into the Olympics.

Walsh’s Virginia teammate Kate Douglass was also on the Indianapolis team at age 15, where she handed off to Walsh in the heats of the 4×100 free relay, and was also 11th in the semifinals of the 50 freestyle. Douglass has since become one of the most versatile swimmers in the NCAA, winning the 50 free NCAA title this past season, and she also finished second to Walsh in the 200 IM at Trials this year. Douglass will race that event, and could be called up for relay duty if needed.

Erica Sullivan had an interesting path to make this year’s Olympic team. In 2017, she was committed to the University of Southern California and was one of the rising stars in distance swimming. In Indianapolis, she was eighth in the 800 free and fourth in the 1500. After originally deferring her enrollment to college, she had a change of heart and will now be headed to the University of Texas this fall, after she races the 1500 in Tokyo in the event’s inaugural Olympic final.

Rising senior Kieran Smith repped the stars and stripes where he won silver in the 200 IM and was fourth in the 400 IM. Smith also raced the 200 back where he finished 11th and out of the final. Smith has since changed his focus to freestyle, where he won the 200 and 400 free at Olympic Trials and will race both events at the Games. Individually, he has an outside chance at a medal in both, and will be a key piece in the United States’ 4×200 free relay that is trying to win its fifth straight gold medal in the event.

Also on the 4×200 free relay, Patrick Callan finished fourth in the 200 free four years ago in Indianapolis and also led off the silver medal winning 4×200 free relay for the U.S. World Junior team. Callan finished sixth in the 200 free at Trials and will get a chance to represent the United States on the biggest stage, and even though the U.S. may not be favored to take gold in the 4×200 free, Callan has been proven to be a strong relay contributor in the past.

Another one on the 4×200 free relay for this summer is Drew Kibler, who raced in his hometown of Indianapolis in the 100 back, where he was fourth in the final, and also the 100 fly, where he was 15th. He was the backstroker on the finals medley relay, but has since shifted his attention over to the 200 free where he was third at Trials, and will represent the legendary Carmel Swim Club as its first Olympic swimmer (along with club teammate Jake Mitchell, who achieved his first junior national cut in 2017).

Michael Brinegar, another Indiana native, will carry his family legacy into Tokyo as his mother, Jennifer Hooker, represented the United States at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Brinegar will race the 800 and 1500 free as he also raced those events in Indianapolis in 2017. At that meet, he won silver in the 1500 free, and bronze in the 800.

With every Olympic cycle, there’s bound to be new swimmers that take over and push out the old veterans. Some of them get their start on the national junior team, and it brings up the question of which members of this year’s junior team will make the push for the team in Paris in 2024. But as of this Tokyo cycle, nine of the swimmers on the Olympic team were on the selected team to race at the biggest junior meet in the world that year.

Members of the 2017 U.S. World Junior Team Off to Tokyo

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    ClubCoach

    Should have entitled this “Michael Andrews and others” because the focus is clearly on hom. Very little about the rest.