How Lilla Bognar Nearly Pulled Off Medley Stunner at Olympic Trials

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Lilla Bognar -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

How Lilla Bognar Nearly Pulled Off Medley Stunner at Olympic Trials

With two lengths remaining in an Olympic Trials final, Lilla Bognar was sticking stubbornly close to the favorites. Katie Grimes and Emma Weyant had both captured international medals in the women’s 400 IM, but this 17-year-old from Travelers Rest, S.C., was swimming the best race of her life to put herself within range of making an Olympic team.

Bognar had been building toward that moment for years. She placed fourth at last year’s U.S. Nationals in the 400 IM, although she was never in contention for a spot on the World Championships team, and later in the summer, she took fourth in the race at the World Junior Championships. When athletes with a higher priority declined spots, Bognar got to race on the senior level at the Doha World Championships earlier this year, where she took ninth in the 400 IM and swam in the semifinals of the 200 backstroke.

Entering the Trials final of her best event, Bognar had never broken 4:40, but her much-improved breaststroke was creating the swim of a lifetime. After turning eighth after the butterfly leg, Bognar moved up to third behind Grimes and fellow teenager Audrey Derivaux after backstroke. As expected, Weyant caught up on breaststroke, but Bognar split 1:20.09 to put herself into a three-way race heading into the freestyle.

The magical moment would not last, however, as Grimes and Weyant reasserted themselves on the freestyle leg to qualify for Paris. No huge surprise there; Grimes has captured World Championship medals in the 1500 freestyle and 10-kilometer open water swim while Weyant was the 400 IM silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics.

“My breaststroke, I’ve been working on it for a really long time, so I was excited to see how it could go in the race,” Bognar said. “It was cool. I caught up and stayed with Emma. They’re really, really great breaststrokers. On the flip, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m in the race!’”

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Lilla Bognar (left) at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even though Bognar finished in third place, typically the most heartbreaking spot to finish at an Olympic Trials, this was a different situation. She was not considered prime candidate to make the team, so Bognar had everything to gain and nothing to lose. Grimes and Weyant were facing the pressure, and that allowed Bognar to sneak up and nearly play spoiler. “It was just awesome to be in the final and be able to experience all that and be able to be there,” she said.

Her final time was 4:37.86, her lifetime best by more than three seconds. Bognar continued wracking up personal-best times at Trials, finishing ninth in the semifinals of both the 200 back and 200 IM. When Torri Huske scratched the 200 IM final, Bognar got another chance to race with an Olympic berth on the line, finishing seventh.

Bognar believes she was able to succeed at the first swim meet ever held in an NFL stadium thanks to her experiences racing at previous international meets. She added, “I think having all my friends from Junior team on deck when I don’t have a whole team with me is always great because I always have friends with me and I always have people cheering me on.”

Bognar mentioned fellow junior-team veterans Piper Enge, Addison Sauickie, Teagan O’Dell, Leah Shackley and Madi Mintenko as friends who cheered her on during a meet when she was the only swimmer representing her club, Team Greenville, and one of very few South Carolina-natives to swim at the meet. Bognar is believed to be the first high-school-age swimmer from South Carolina to qualify for a final at Olympic Trials since 1996, and she hopes to provide encouragement to an area with relatively little tradition of national-level swimming success.

“We have a small swimming population, so I hope my experiences here will inspire other kids to join the sport and really uplift the South Carolina swimming population,” Bognar said. “Every time I walk onto pool deck at home, everyone’s like, ‘Hey, Lilla!’ And I love working with the little kids. It’s super fun. It’s always humbling to walk back in, know where you started, see where you started and see them have so much fun.”

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Dmitrii
Dmitrii
8 hours ago

She’s an amazing swimmer and person!

Last edited 8 hours ago by Dmitrii
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