5 Women’s Events to Watch at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials

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After over a year of uncertainty, the United States Olympic Trials are quickly approaching. With Wave I about three weeks away, most top swimmers have finished their final preparation meets and have eyes on Omaha. The spectacle promises fast swimming and intriguing storylines across the board as swimmers look to punch their tickets to the Olympic Games in Tokyo

With that in mind, here are five women’s events (in no particular order) that promise fireworks at the CHI Health Center. 

50 Freestyle

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

After missing the podium in 2012, the Americans won silver in 2016 via Olympic 100 free co-champion Simone Manuel. While she is favored to take the top spot at Trials, the battle behind her is fierce. 

Defending Olympic Trials champ Abbey Weitzel has represented Team USA in the 50 free at every global event since Rio and will look to continue that streak. Teenage sensation Claire Curzan put her name in the conversation after a jaw-dropping 24.17 last weekend, breaking the world junior record and becoming the third-fastest U.S. woman ever in the process. 

Kate Douglass, Torri Huske, and Gretchen Walsh are all ranked in this season’s world top-25, making them contenders for a top-two finish. 

Can Manuel and Weitzel continue their dominant streak in the sprint event? The two have represented the USA side by side in every global long course championship since 2016. 

100 Butterfly

This is another event that could feature multiple teenagers in the championship final.

For the majority of the Olympic cycle, short course American record holder Kelsi Dahlia has been the top American in the event. A year ago, she was a heavy favorite for a Tokyo spot, but with teenagers Curzan and Huske rapidly improving, her path is not as clear.  Curzan became the fastest active American swimmer in the event with her 56.20 swim at the TAC Titans Premier Invitational last month. Meanwhile, Huske, a Stanford commit, went 56.69 at the same meet, a time Dahlia hasn’t gone since 2018. 

Regan Smith also has a strong chance in the event if she swims it at Trials. While she hasn’t committed to adding it to her event lineup, she swam (and won) the event at all three TYR Pro Series meets she’s competed at this year, beating Dahlia twice. 

The final should be fast as Douglass, Gretchen Walsh, and Katie McLaughlin have all been sub-58 this year and will try to upset the favorites.

100 Backstroke 

What makes the U.S. Olympic Trials unique is that every event feels like an Olympic final. That sense rings especially true in the 100 backstroke. Given Team USA’s backstroke depth, the event has the potential to be faster in Omaha than it will be in Tokyo. 

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Smith, the world record holder, is the favorite, but the second spot is wide open. Former world record holder Kathleen Baker looks back to her best after an illness-riddled 2019. With Olivia Smoliga, Rhyan White, and Curzan all going sub-59 in recent weeks, Baker needs to hit her 2018 form if she wants to swim the event at a second Olympics. 

It took 59.35 to make the final in Rio, but considering the talent the U.S. possesses, it may take dipping under 59 to qualify for the final at Trials and sub-58 to make it to Tokyo. 

200 Individual Medley

The 200 I.M. should be the most wide-open event at Trials. 

Baker is the fastest American in the Olympic cycle, giving her a slight edge going into Omaha. Two-time national champion Melanie Margalis should be in the mix as well. She has been one of the best Americans in the event over the past seven seasons and looks to continue that trend through a top-two finish in Omaha. 

After deferring her medical school enrollment to compete at Trials, 2017 Worlds bronze medalist Madisyn Cox will be aiming to cap off a successful career by making her first Olympic team. Cox made a major statement over the weekend, going 2:08.51 for the fastest time in the world this year.

UVA stars Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass hope they can translate their success in short course to the long course pool and upset the more seasoned veterans.

Whether you’re watching at home or the CHI Health Center, keep your eyes on every lane in the championship final. The event will be extremely close. 

200 Backstroke

While the event should be an easy victory for Smith, the battle for second will be intense. 

The path seemed clear for Baker to get an Olympic berth in the event until a week ago. At the final TYR Pro Series in Indianapolis, NCAA Champion Phoebe Bacon swam a massive personal best (2:06.84) to put herself in Olympic contention. Rhyan White and Isabelle Stadden lurk closely behind after both going 2:07-low within the last week. 

Given the plethora of young talent in the 200 back, there is a high possibility that Team USA could end up with two teenagers representing the U.S. in the event in Tokyo. 

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.