Olympic Swimming Top Races, No. 10: Gretchen Walsh, Torri Huske Trying to Hold Off International Rivals in 100 Fly

gretchen walsh
Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Olympic Swimming Top Races, No. 10: Gretchen Walsh, Torri Huske Trying to Hold Off International Rivals in 100 Fly

The Olympic swimming competition will begin Saturday, July 27, with the best swimmers in the world competing for medals in 28 individual races and seven relays over nine days of competition. Before that, Swimming World will count down the top-10 most anticipated races of the Games, where we can expect to find the best races and where the most decorated athletes will be racing for history.

Eight women have broke 56 seconds in the 100 butterfly, and the seven fastest will all swim in Paris, albeit not all in this particular event. Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, the 2016 gold medalist who held the world record until last month, rarely swims her one-time signature event anymore while Regan Smith, who clocked 55.62 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, did not qualify to swim the event thanks to the efforts of her American teammates.

The world record now belongs to Gretchen Walsh after the 21-year-old University of Virginia swimmer blasted a time of 55.18 in the semifinals of the U.S. Trials. Walsh then held on to win a fierce final in 55.31 while 2022 world champion Torri Huske (55.52) and Smith (55.62) were breathing down her neck in the closing meters.

Prior to Trials, Walsh was coming off a college season in which she crushed the fastest times ever in four short course yards events (50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 fly) but still had something to prove in the long course pool. A multi-year campaign to reach the international level finally paid off in 2023, but she did not stand out at her debut World Championships aside from some solid relay swims and a bronze medal in the 50 butterfly, an event not contested in the Olympics. But Walsh showed her newfound mastery of long course with her world record and Olympic qualification last month.

Huske, meanwhile, is swimming best times again after a rough 2023 summer season. She arrived at the Fukuoka World Championships as the defending champion in the 100 fly, but she swam a full second slower than her best time as she fell to bronze. But despite losing the spot of top American 100 flyer to Walsh, Huske eclipsed her previous American record with a mark of 55.52 in Indianapolis, jumping up to No. 3 all-time in the event. Always a fast starter, Huske’s back-half speed in the race was two tenths quicker than she had ever been before.

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Zhang Yufei was last year’s world champion in the 100 fly — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Based on these results, the Americans could finish 1-2 in Paris, but China’s Zhang Yufei and Canada’s Maggie Mac Neil will try to stop them. Zhang was the world champion in the event last year and the only swimmer to crack 56 seconds all year, swimming a mark of 55.86 at the Asian Games. Her best of 55.62 is tied for fifth all-time, one spot behind Mac Neil’s top time of 55.59. Mac Neil has not broken 56 since the Tokyo Olympics, but she was the gold medalist three years ago and remains one of the best finishers in the world.

Germany’s Angelina Kohler is a wild-card in the mix after winning the world title in February (in a field missing most of the event’s top contenders) in 56.11, which ranks her 11th all-time and fastest non-American swimmer thus far in 2024. Then there’s Australia’s Emma McKeon, now 30 years old but the bronze medalist in this race three years ago by one hundredth over Huske. In her third Olympics, this will be McKeon’s only individual event, and she remains dangerous. She owns a 2024 best of 56.58, and her lifetime-best of 55.72 ranks seventh in history.

The other swimmers racing in Paris who have been sub-57 this year include Australia’s Brianna Throssell, China’s Yu Yiting, Japan’s Mizuki Hirai and Sweden’s Louise Hansson. These swimmers will be in the mix for spots in the final, but expect the Americans, Zhang and Mac Neil at the forefront of the medal race with Kohler and McKeon trying to move into the mix.

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Isabelle Fraser
Isabelle Fraser
1 day ago

It should be an exciting olympics

Kanga1
Kanga1
1 day ago

Unquestionably Walsh is the overwhelmingly raging favourite after her new WR. Although I’d love to see Emma win or medal, I think she’s washed after her Australian Trials. So barring that the Canadian or German please! Even Americans over systemic drug cheating China!

Derek Whitson
Derek Whitson
18 hours ago
Reply to  Kanga1

USA 🇺🇸

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