U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Prelims: Teenager Luke Whitlock Clobbers Personal Best For Surprise Top Time in 400 Free

Luke Whitlock -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Prelims: Teenager Luke Whitlock Clobbers Personal Best For Surprise Top Time in 400 Free

The surprise of the first morning of the U.S. Olympic Trials came in the final heat when a teenager competing a short drive from his home in Noblesville, Ind., crushed his best time by almost three seconds to earn the top qualifying time in the men’s 400 freestyle.

Luke Whitlock, representing Fishers Area, had never been under 3:49, but in the latter portion of the race, he took the lead over a heat consisting of 2021 Olympian Jake Mitchell, NCAA champion Jake Magahey and defending U.S. national champion David Johnston and maintained the advantage down the stretch. Whitlock reached for the wall in 3:46.42, which was three-quarters of a second clear of Johnston (3:47.17) as he secured lane four for the evening final.

The performance marked a huge breakthrough for Whitlock, a University of Florida commit whose finishes at last year’s U.S. Nationals were ninth in the 800 free, 14th in the 1500 free and 15th in this 400 free. In an event with no true standout coming in, Whitlock will now have as strong a chance as anyone in the field to qualify for the Olympic team.

Johnston was the top seed while Jake Mitchell claimed third in 3:47.76. Mitchell will try to qualify for his second Olympic team in more traditional fashion than his first. After finishing second in the 400 free at the 2021 Trials but failing to record an “A” cut that would have ensured his spot in the Olympics, Mitchell swam a solo time trial in which he destroyed his time from the original race by two-and-a-half seconds to secure his place in Tokyo.

The final will be a showcase for local swimmers as three Indianapolis-area swimmers with Whitlock, Mitchell (originally from Carmel Swim Club and now the University of Florida) and Aaron Shackell qualifying first, third and fourth, respectively. Shackell, a Carmel alum like Mitchell, came out on top of a tightly packed second-to-last heat as he held off 2021 Olympic bronze medalist Kieran Smith, 3:47.96 to 3:48.25, to touch first.

Smith will try to return to the Olympics in this event from lane seven in the final, with his time just behind the 3:48.16 recorded by University of Georgia swimmer Jake Magahey in the ensuing heat (3:48.16). The last two qualifiers for the final were Daniel Matheson (3:48.57) and Bobby Finke (3:48.63). Rex Maurer just missed the top heat, touching ninth in 3:48.94.

Finke, the 2021 Olympic champion in the 800 and 1500 free, cut four tenths from his best time to place himself into the final, and his signature finishing burst makes him a wild card candidate for the final, a swimmer all his competitors will be fearing out in lane eight.

Further back, in his first Olympic Trials race, Luka Mijatovic placed 12th in 3:50.71, swimming a best time by almost a half-second. Mijatovic just turned 15, but he was only three hundredths off the 15-16 National Age Group record of 3:50.68 established by Larsen Jensen in 2002. Mijatovic will contend for a spot in the final in both the 800 and 1500 free later this week.

The 400 free is considered perhaps the weakest event of any in the U.S. right now. Three years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, Smith earned a surprising bronze while Mitchell also swam in the final, but no American has come close to reaching the podium at the World Championships since then. Last year in Fukuoka, Smith narrowly missed the final in ninth place while Johnston placed 17th.

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Steve West
Admin
11 days ago

That’s awesome to see some young guns coming up!

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