Katie Meili Taking the Spotlight at Arena Pro Series Charlotte

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial content for the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series Charlotte is sponsored by Arena. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our coverage page.

By David Rieder

Until recently, few would have put Katie Meili’s name up with the top female breaststrokers in the country. After all, Jessica Hardy holds the American record and second-fastest time in history, Breeja Larson made the Olympic final in the event, and Micah Lawrence took home the national title last summer. Indeed, the 100 breast has for years been one of the most competitive events for those seeking to represent the United States internationally, making it hard for a newcomer to throw a hat into the ring.

Meili swam at Columbia, not quite a traditional swimming powerhouse, but she finished fifth in the 100 breast her junior year and third as a senior. She swam at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but events out of her control derailed her meet before it began. Meili broke her hand at the Santa Clara Grand Prix a month before competing in Omaha, and she finished 48th in the 100 breast in 1:11.17.

After moving to Charlotte to train with SwimMAC’s elite group, Meili began to look like a possible challenger to the elite bunch at last summer’s U.S. Nationals, where she finished fifth in 1:07.44, a lifetime best time and less than a second behind Lawrence but still seven tenths behind fourth-place finisher Emma Reaney. But Meili has already made up the gap. At last month’s Pro Series stop in Mesa, Meili lowered her lifetime best to 1:07.26 as she easily suppressed a field that included Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson, Lawrence, and Larson.

And in this morning’s prelims in Charlotte, Meili dropped her time even further. Her 1:06.79 qualified her more than a second faster than anyone else (Hardy and Lawrence qualified second in 1:07.87), and it moved her up to a tie with Atkinson for fourth in the world. Another victory tonight would put her on target for a big swim at this summer’s Pan American Games, where she could be the one laying down a target time for the rest of America’s breaststrokers to chase.

Backstrokers, Take Your Mark…

The Charlotte meet features a version of the new backstroke start platforms where swimmers pull a ledge down into the water where they feel most comfortable placing their feet, and the ledge snaps back up to the blocks once the swimmer goes in for the race. The result has been a series of delays while swimmers put the ledges at their desired level and then some awkward starts. Natalie Coughlin, one of the greatest backstrokers in history, actually pulled up off the start when time trialing the 100 back (she would start over) after she had an awkward start.

Between sessions today, I had the chance to try out the platforms, and I, too, felt awkward on the starts. Swimmers cannot pull the ledge as low as they might otherwise place their feet absent the platforms, and as a result, they can’t pull themselves up as high out of the water. However, I found that one does not need to pull up as high on “Take your mark” with the platforms in place. Backstroke starts with the ledge certainly have a different feel than a typical start, and I’m glad I won’t be competing in a meet with the platforms having never before tested one out.

Quick Notes

*Not all heats are created equal. That seems obvious, but even in the circle-seeded heats, some end up with much faster winning times than another in the same event. For instance, National team breaststroker Nic Fink won his heat of the 100 breast, but he finds himself seeded seventh in tonight’s final after two much faster heats aside from his. Don’t be surprised to see some outside smoke in the event tonight, as Fink has sub-1:00 performances on his résumé.

*Marwan El-Kamash, the top seed in the men’s 200 free, achieved his World Championship qualifying standard with his 1:49.03 in prelims. El-Kamash swims collegiately for South Carolina and represents Egypt internationally. But can his top time hold up in what shapes up to be a fast final heat that includes 2011 World Champion Ryan Lochte and 2013 World Champs runner-up Conor Dwyer.

*When doesn’t Katinka Hosszu swim fast? Certainly, she did not have to clock times of 1:57.09 in the 200 free – a second and a half ahead of anyone else – or 4:35.76 in the 400 IM, where she bested second qualifier Hali Flickinger by a mere eight seconds. She should be the favorite to earn two more wins tonight and put herself ahead of the absent Elizabeth Beisel for the top spot in the points race for the Arena Pro Swim circuit.


  1. avatar

    Nice perspective, Rieder!