U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Prelims: Gretchen Walsh Breaks 56 For First Time, Paces 100 Fly Prelims to Open Meet

Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Prelims: Gretchen Walsh Breaks 56 For First Time, Paces 100 Fly Prelims to Open Meet

During the most recent college season, University of Virginia swimmer Gretchen Walsh lowered the American and U.S. Open records in the 100-yard fly by more than a second as she put on a show in the sprint events at the ACC and NCAA Championships. Now, she is showcasing that improvement in long course as she tries to qualify for her first Olympic team. In April, Walsh blasted a time of 56.14 to move into the all-time top-10 in the event, and now, she has broken through the 56-second barrier for the first time.

In the first event of the U.S. Olympic Trials, Walsh crushed a time of 55.94, knocking two tenths off her previous best time as she moved to sixth on the all-time list. Walsh moved ahead of Dana Vollmer to become the second-fastest American all-time in the event, trailing only the 55.64 which Torri Huske swam to win gold at the 2022 World Championships. Walsh reaffirmed her status as a favorite to qualify for her first Olympic team in Sunday’s final.

But don’t count out Huske, who has gotten off to a hot start in 2024 after a slightly disappointing performance at last year’s World Championships left her with a bronze medal in her signature event. Huske clocked 55.68 at the TYR Pro Swim Series in San Antonio in April for the top time in the world this year, making her the only swimmer to break 56 this year prior to Walsh’s best time Saturday morning.

Swimming in lane four in the final heat of the event, Huske went out significantly ahead of her heat, as is her style, and she finished in 56.26 for the second-best time of the morning. Notably, the time is already well ahead of the mark Huske swam in her bronze-medal performance at Worlds last year (56.61).

Regan Smith, the favorite to win the 200 fly as well as both backstrokes in Indianapolis, is considered a wild card in the 100 fly, having recorded a best time of 56.26 earlier this year, jumping to No. 5 all-time in the event among Americans. Swimming in lane four of the first circle-seeded heat, Smith trailed Emma Sticklen, the NCAA champion in the 200-yard fly the last two years, at the 50-meter mark before closing under 30 seconds and coming into the wall at 56.68.

A pair of Indianapolis-area swimmers occupied the next two qualifying spots in the event. Alex Shackell, a 17-year-old from Carmel considered a strong contender to qualify for the Olympic team in the 200 fly and in the freestyle relays, clipped her best time by 15-hundredths in prelims as she qualified fourth in 57.07 while former Carmel swimmer Kelly Pash went 57.66 for fifth place.

Wisconsin’s Beata Nelson placed sixth in 57.68, three tenths under her seed time, while Claire Curzan, the runnerup to Huske in this event at the 2021 Olympic Trials, was seventh in 58.17. Curzan is capable of much quicker in the later rounds as she owns a best time of 56.20, and she has been as quick as 56.61 this year as she won silver at the Doha World Championships in February.

Abby Arens was eighth in 58.19, followed closely by Sticklen (58.22), Lillie Nordmann (58.38) and Leah Shackley (58.47). Josephine Fuller (58.56), Annika Parkhe (58.58), Olivia Bray (58.67), Charlotte Crush (58.68) and Dakota Luther (58.73) were the other qualifiers for the semifinals. Notably, five out of the top-16 swimmers represent Longhorn Aquatics: Smith, Pash, Sticklen, Bray and Luther.


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