Morning Splash: Looking Back on Bold Predictions and Olympic Trials

venue-olympic-swimming trials
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial Coverage provided by Suit-extractor-logo

By David Rieder

U.S. Olympic Trials ended one week ago, and the swimming competition at the Olympic Games begins in 27 days. Everyone wants to know if Michael Phelps can add to his 18 Olympic gold medals or if Cameron McEvoy can crack the world record in the men’s 100 free.

Four years after winning four gold medals in London, will Missy Franklin even get onto an Olympic podium this time around? Who will steal the thunder as the dominant woman of the meet—Sarah Sjostrom, Emily Seebohm, Katinka Hosszu, Katie Ledecky or Cate Campbell?

All of those questions will be answered in due time—and we at Swimming World are already working hard on our own predictions for how those events will shake out in the full Olympic Preview due out at the end of the month.

But what’s the point of predictions if you aren’t held accountable? In a series of eight bold predictions posts, we picked all 26 races at U.S. Trials. Let’s see how those went.

(This will only include the top two finishers in every event that qualified for individual swims in Rio.)

Nostradamus: 9

In more than one-third of the events, we were spot-on in picking the top-two, in correct order, and that included one event on each day until the abbreviated day eight. Those events on the men’s side included two Con(n)ors making the team in the 400 free and Kevin Cordes and Cody Miller grabbing spots in the 100 breast, as well as Michael Phelps edging Ryan Lochte in the 200 IM.

Caeleb Dressel edged Ryan Held for the second spot by three one-hundredths in the 100 free, and Tom Shields also made me look good as he beat out training partner Seth Stubblefield by four one-hundredths in the 100 fly. For the women, we got LedeckySmith in the 400 free, Ledecky-Franklin in the 200 free, KingMeili in the 100 breast and AdamsFlickinger in the 200 fly.

First is first, and second is first: 3

It’s the Olympic Trials—as long as you’re first or second, you make the team. The runner-up is basically the winner*.

*Note that this apparently did not apply to the media swim. This runner-up is still bitter about that fact. 🙂

In three different events we just got the order mixed up—not that the actual order matters in the long run. That includes Maya DiRado’s victory over Elizabeth Beisel in the women’s 400 IM, Kelsi Worrell getting the better of Dana Vollmer in the 100 fly and Abbey Weitzeil beating Simone Manuel in the 100 free.

To Maya, Kelsi and Abbey: apologies for underestimating you. To Elizabeth, Dana and Simone: it does not matter, and have fun in Rio.

We are the champions: 7

Forget all those great things about second place for a moment: in these seven events we at least nailed the winners. As with most rational human beings, we had Phelps pegged to win the 200 fly and Ledecky the 800 free. DiRado in the women’s 200 IM was not so tough a call, and neither was Connor Jaeger in the men’s mile.

Ryan Murphy did indeed sweep the backstrokes—a two one-hundredths victory over David Plummer in the 100 back moves one more event into this category. Chase Kalisz got the victory in the 400 IM—and come on, how many people picked Jay Litherland to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the meet?

Sorta Close? 5

In a further five events, we correctly picked at least one Olympian—it just wasn’t the winner. Conor Dwyer came close to proving me correct in the men’s 200 free, but he ended up one one-hundredth behind eventual winner Townley Haas. Kevin Cordes at least led most of the way in the men’s 200 breast, but Josh Prenot had one truly incredible last 50.

Missy Franklin made the team with a gritty finish in the women’s 200 back, and Nathan Adrian ended up getting the touch in the men’s 50 free. Manuel didn’t win the women’s 50, but she again got second to Weitzeil, and that was good enough.

Guess Again, Melon-Head: 2

Hey, we all have bad days sometimes, right? In a whopping 7.6% of the events on the schedule, we completely flunked. Sure, Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin had the most decorated résumés entering the final of the women’s 100 back, but they got seventh and eighth, respectively.

In the women’s 200 breast, we picked the two women that finished 2015 with the top times in the country, Micah Lawrence and Laura Sogar. In fact, those two still have the top times in the country the past two years, but Lawrence got fourth and Sogar ninth at Trials as Lilly King and Molly Hannis got on the team.

So 12 out of 26 events where we picked the correct top-two, 16 out of 26 where we got the right winner and all but two where we got at least one Olympian correct.

So the final verdict on the bold predictions? Sufficiently bold.

Final Thoughts on Trials

Some differing opinions here, for sure. So many moments stood out over the eight nights of racing in Omaha. Jay Litherland’s finish in the men’s 400 IM to pass Ryan Lochte was the biggest stunner of the meet and did indeed set the tone. The three-man match race in the men’s 100 back lived up to all the hype, and the emotional reactions of first-time Olympians like Kelsi Worrell and Hali Flickinger were special to witness.

An underrated moment that’s not often mentioned in this discussion: the women’s 100 back. Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker entered as the top seeds and favorites, but all the attention was on the two decorated swimmers in outside lanes, Franklin and Coughlin. Even though Smoliga and Baker were the new faces, the pressure was on.

Both delivered the best swims of their lives—Smoliga winning in 59.02 and Baker touching second in 59.29. The new guard took the two spots in this event, but that should by no means be a cause for panic from a U.S. standpoint. As did so many of the talented youths that claimed a spot in Rio this week, Smoliga and Baker proved to be elite.

But for me, the best race of the meet came in the men’s 200 breast, where Josh Prenot stunned Kevin Cordes and recorded the second-fastest time in history as Cordes barely held off Will Licon for second—with Licon posting easily the best swim to ever finish third at Olympic Trials.

Let’s set the stage: first race of the night, crowd amped from the laser light show and countdown. (The atmosphere was better when the first race of the evening was a final and not a semifinal.)

The eight swimmers got on the blocks, and the arena went silent. All of the sudden, a cart of dishes spilled over, and everyone on the starting end—including the guys on the blocks—could hear it. (You can even hear it on the race video.)

Cordes was heavily favored after blasting a 2:07.81 in the semifinals, his best time and a new U.S. Open record. He went out in a ridiculous 1:00.77 at the halfway point, but he could not gain separation—both Prenot and Licon were right with him, all three swimming ahead of the superimposed world record line.

Coming home, Prenot surged. He had by far the fastest split (32.98), and he finished in 2:07.17. After finishing third in the 100 breast and scratching both IMs, this was his only hope of making an Olympic team, and boy did he deliver. Now, many prognosticators have him penciled in as a gold medal favorite in Rio.

Cordes faded the last lap, but he had just enough in the tank to hold off Licon. Licon’s time of 2:08.14 would have won every previous Olympic Trials in the event and a medal at every previous Olympics.

This event had it all: the exuberance (Prenot), the relief (Cordes) and the heartbreak (Licon). The best race of the meet had everything that makes Olympic Trials so great and so awful—but mostly, so unique.