Three Years Later, Chris Guiliano the Star of 2021 Wave I Trials Alums (See Full List)

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Chris Guiliano the Star of 2021 Wave I Trials Alums Three Years Later

There was, as with so much in 2021, much hand-wringing when USA Swimming was forced into a tough decision. In the name of social distancing and COVID-era safety, the organization decided to divide the Olympic Trials, one of its most complex and consequential meets, into two waves.

Wave I would feature swimmers for whom getting to Trials was the achievement. Wave II would be for those with legitimate chances to reach Tokyo. At issue was how much swimmers in Wave I might miss out on by not being on the main stage of Olympic qualification.

Three years later, the answer appears to be, not much.

Four swimmers who competed exclusively in Wave I of the 2021 Olympic Trials are on their way to Paris this summer. A bunch more turned in outstanding performances at 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis last week, allaying fears that the 2021 swimmers may have missed something beneficial to their development by being off to themselves.

The posterchild is Chris Guiliano. Three years ago, Guiliano was a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association champion from Daniel Boone High who swam just the 50 free at Wave I of Olympic Trials. Three years later, he’s the first American man since Matt Biondi in 1988 to qualify for the Olympics in the 50, 100 and 200 free.

The Olympic Trials experience was completely new to Guiliano last week. That novelty seemed to affect him not one iota.

“In 2021, I swam in Wave I,” Guiliano said after semifinals of the 50 free. “So this was really my first go at this. It’s been a blast. It’s been everything I could’ve asked for and more.”

Guiliano went 22.65 in finals of Wave I, finishing fourth. He had been 22.84 in prelims. Compare that to 21.69 in the final last week, plus winning the 100 free and finishing second in the 200 free.

Guiliano isn’t alone. Anna Peplowski finished fifth at Wave I in the 200 free. Four years later, she was fourth in the big event to get a relay spot in Paris, plus sixth in the 400 free.

Both Shackells also swam exclusively at Wave I in 2021, not a surprise given that they were so young – Alex Shackell had just finished eighth grade, Aaron Shackell 10th . Alex was 23rd in the women’s 100 fly, Aaron 20th in the 200 fly.

None of those four participated in Wave II of Trials, which was an option if you made cuts in Wave I. Among the others who went from 2021 Wave I Trials to second swims at Trials this year (* indicates they also swam at Wave II in 2021):

  • Kristina Paegle*: second in the 100 free/fifth in the 50 free ⇒ 12th and ninth, respectively
  • Camille Spink*: first in the 100 free ⇒ 12th in 200 IM and 13th in the 200 free
  • Amy Fulmer: 15th in the 50 free ⇒ 15th in the 50 free
  • Luke Miller*: second in 100 free ⇒ seventh in 100 fly
  • Patrick Sammon*: third in 100 free ⇒ ninth in 100 free
  • Reese Branzell: 19th in 100 free ⇒ 16th in 100 free
  • Emma Sticklen*: second in 200 fly ⇒ fourth in 200 fly
  • Carl Bloebaum*: first in 200 fly ⇒ 16th in 200 fly
  • Colby Mefford*:  fifth in 200 fly ⇒ fifth in 200 fly
  • Hunter Gubeno: 11th in 200 IM ⇒ 15th in 200 back
  • Leah Shackley: 24th in 100 back ⇒ seventh in 100 back
  • Paige McEachern: eighth in 400 IM ⇒ 14th in 200 IM
  • Kayla Han: ninth in 400 IM ⇒ fourth in 400 free
  • Aurora Roghair: fourth in the 1,500 free/seventh in the 400 free/ninth in the 200 free ⇒ fourth/fifth/11th
  • Kyle Ponsler*: second in 400 IM ⇒ sixth in 400 IM
  • Rex Mauer: fifth in 400 free ⇒ 10th in 200 IM
  • Caleb Maldari: first in 200 back ⇒ seventh in 200 back
  • Anna Moesch*: tied for second in 50 free ⇒ ninth in 100 free
  • Johnny Kulow: 20th in 50 free ⇒ tied for eighth in 50 free
  • Jassen Yep: 17th in 100 breast ⇒ 15th in 200 breast

For most of swimmers, the jumps shouldn’t be surprising. The trajectories of 14-16-year-olds blossoming from ages 17-19 with three years of training and (for most) a college transition is hardly unprecedented. The fact that so many did despite the lack of a formal Trials hints that maybe they didn’t miss much.

In the aftermath of 2021, USA Swimming President and CEO Tim Hinchey said that keeping the Wave I/Wave II divide was possible in the future. There seems to have been little benefit from a swimming perspective. The success of Trials in a football stadium means that USA Swimming will (and should) pursue a bigger-is-better tack in the future. It’s hard to imagine scaling that back, and it’s equally hard to imagine swimmers signing up to swim at a Trials that is not the big Trials.

When each meet drew zero fans because of COVID restrictions, separate meets might have felt more equitable. But with one proving capable of drawing 20,000 fans a night, the wave divide looks concretely a thing of the past.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x