Pro Swim Series Thoughts: Fink, Margalis, Weitzeil Among Impressive Performers

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Nic Fink at the 2021 TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo -- Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Any meet featuring a large collection of the country’s best swimmers just two months out from the Olympic Trials can provide a large swath of information regarding the eventual makeup of the Olympic team. Even if few swimmers are swimming close to their best times at this point in the season, the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo has provided some strong insight into the upcoming showdown in Omaha.

Some of the top storylines through the first three days include:

1. Is Nic Fink the Man in the 100 Breast?

If the U.S. men want to win Olympic gold in the 400 medley relay—an event they have never lost at an Olympics—they need a breaststroker to hold their own. Of course, “hold your own” in this context means staying within a second and a half of Great Britain’s Adam Peaty. In a field full of veterans in their late 20s, no one has separated themselves from the pack. But maybe Nic Fink, fresh off a strong 59.74 100 breast in Mission Viejo, can be that guy?

Fink’s lifetime best is just a 59.40 from back in 2017, but he split 58.57 on a medley relay at the Pan American Games in 2017. He has been on World Championship teams in 2013, 2015 and 2017 but struggled badly at the 2016 Olympic Trials, where he ended up seventh in both the 100 and 200 breast. This time around, Fink believes his experiences will help him perform at Olympic Trials and deal with any ups and downs that come his way over the course of the meet. Given his relay split at Pan Ams and in his in-season performances, he thinks the fast times at the end of the season will follow.

“I’m really happy with my progress this year. I’ve never been 59 in season before, and I was able to do that twice in the past 24 hours. I can’t really ask for anything better than that. The fact that it’s within a few tenths of my official best is awesome. I’m looking forward to getting some rest and seeing what happens,” Fink said. “Seven tenths away today is not a whole lot of time to go 58. I’m thinking it’s right around the corner. I’m due for a drop, and I think it can come.”

Fink added another solid performance in Saturday’s 200 breast, where his 2:09.73 ranked him as the top American this year by more than a second and a half.


2. Melanie Margalis Finally Comfortable with the 400 IM

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Melanie Margalis at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo — Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

After years spent actively avoiding or swimming but dreading the 400 IM, Melanie Margalis has finally embraced the grueling event in full. She owns the fastest time by an American during the Olympic Trials qualifying period, her 4:32.53 from the Des Moines Pro Swim Series in March 2020, and her 4:35.18 Friday in Mission Viejo was faster than any other American has swum during that time period.

After her race, Margalis explained how she has trained herself mentally to use tough 400 IM sets in practice to build her confidence, rather than simply using such discomfort during practice to give herself an excuse to stay away from the 400 IM. She called the mental aspect “really the most important part for me in the 400 IM,” and the physical side has come around.

“I feel more relaxed, and honestly, I am kind of enjoying it more. I realized that I kind of really like the pace of the 400 IM. I like the tempo of backstroke, I like that tempo of breaststroke better than really ramping it up. I’m actually starting to enjoy it some,” she said.


3. Abbey Weitzeil on Overcoming Setbacks Since 2016

In the five years since then-19-year-old Abbey Weitzeil took the sprint world by storm and won both the 100 free and 50 free at the Olympic Trials, her road in swimming hasn’t been smooth. After the Olympics and her freshman year at Cal, she missed the final of the 100 free at World Championship Trials and was at risk of missing the Worlds team altogether before she rebounded to finish second in the 50 free.

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Abbey Weitzeil laughing in the warmup pool at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo — Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

She would go on to deal with significant injuries: during the 2019 NCAA championships, she spent hours at the hospital after jamming her elbow on a finish and had to battle through pain simply to compete the next day. Another arm injury at the 2020 Pac-12 championships knocked her out of that meet.

Recently, however, she has begun to reemerge as one of the country’s top sprinters. At the 2019 World Championships, Weitzeil split as fast as 52.66 in the 100 free, and she swam a lifetime best of 53.18 shortly after. During her first season in the ISL, she took down American records in the 50 and 100 free. And at the Mission Viejo meet, Weitzeil won the 50 free in 24.57 and the 100 free in 53.68, on both occasions faster than she had ever been prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“Everybody’s had some difficulties. Definitely not just me. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I feel like going into college, I had a pretty smooth ride throughout my career. I always kind of went up. When I got to college, I feel like freshman, something new, coming off Olympic year, all this, I struggled a lot, and that was the first time I really didn’t have everything go my way,” Weitzeil said.

“Learning through that and learning how to get out of the hole I was in and learning that life isn’t just swimming and learning that you have to enjoy it to swim fast. Make sure you’re enjoying your whole life.”


4. Can Dressel Lead Men’s 800 Free Relay Back to the Top?

The U.S. men have won four straight Olympic gold medals in the 800 free relay, with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte leading the way on each occasion, but the event has been a struggle in recent years. The Americans fell to third at both the 2015 and 2017 World Championships. It’s been evident that new blood is needed to return the 200 free in the United States to the top level, but could that infusion of speed come from Caeleb Dressel?

The event fits into his program for Olympic Trials, and so does the 800 free relay for the Olympics. He swam a 1:47.57 on Friday to edge Andrew Seliskar, and that suggests he has the potential to drop into the 1:46-low or even 1:45 range by the end of the season. Russia has been the most impressive country so far this year in the 200 free, with Martin Malyutin, Ivan Girev, Alexander Shchegolev and Aleksandr Krasnykh all swimming in the 1:45 range at their national championships. Fellow gold-medal contenders Australia and Great Britain will also likely post some statement swims at their Trials.

For the Americans to have a shot at gold, there must be some massive swims in the next few months. Maybe Dressel can take his sprint speed up to the 200. Maybe Kieran Smith can convert his impressive yards performances to long course. Maybe Seliskar can improve on his current best time of 1:45.71, and maybe Townley Haas can return to his best form and crack into the 1:44 range. Maybe someone like Dean Farris or Zach Apple or Blake Pieroni or even Luca Urlando has a big drop. Any of these scenarios could happen, but the Americans need four of them to put all the pieces together for any shot at top honors in Tokyo.


Quick Hits from the TYR Pro Swim Series

– The U.S. women lost a tight battle to Australia in the 800 free relay at the 2019 Worlds, but Katie Ledecky returning to her best form and solid depth can give them a chance at returning to the gold-medal podium in Tokyo. Allison Schmitt, in particular, had a disappointing World Championships and was left off the finals relay, but if she swims at her best this year, she could provide an X-factor.

“It’s obvious by my performance I wasn’t at my best at Worlds. We’ve looked at that and really changed things around. I’m able to listen to my body more,” Schmitt said after finishing second to Ledecky in the 200 free in Mission Viejo in 1:58.04. “I’m grateful to be still competing, and I look forward to the next few months because I feel like I’m in a very good spot, and I know that (coach) Bob (Bowman) has a very good plan as well.”

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Olivia Smoliga at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo — Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

– The women’s 100 back will be among the most competitive events at Olympic Trials, with world record-holder Regan Smith, former world record-holder Kathleen Baker, 2016 Olympian Olivia Smoliga and Pan American Games champion Phoebe Bacon all seeded under 59. Smoliga beat out a tight field that included Baker to win the event in Mission Viejo, clocking a time of 59.04 in the process, and she spoke about the need to manage her thoughts and emotions to respond to the pressure of Olympic Trials.

“The mental prep has definitely been different,” Smoliga said. “I think just trying to promote as much control of my thoughts as I can and visualizing my races and really just being prepared for anything, anticipating anything, just trying to be a lot more calm and focused.”

– On the flip side from the women’s 100 back, the men’s 200 fly looks like one of the weakest events in the United States. The fastest Americans this year are Gabriel Jett (1:57.82) and Nicolas Albiero (1:57.86), from prelims and finals in Mission Viejo, respectively. During the Trials qualifying period, the top American performer is Luca Urlando at 1:53.84, which would have been good enough for silver at the 2019 World Championships, but Urlando has not competed in a long course 200 fly since November 2019. Still, he remains by far the best American hope in the event.

– Schmitt has experience with the evening prelims/morning finals format used this week in Mission Viejo and to be used again at the Tokyo Olympics. She is going for her fourth Olympic team this summer, and her first Games came in 2008, when the format was debuted.

In fact, eight medalists from the 2008 Games are still competing and have either qualified for or could qualify for the Tokyo Games: individual medalists Cate Campbell, Laszlo Cseh and Ryan Lochte and relay medalists Schmitt, Nathan Adrian, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk and Matt Targett, the 35-year-old Australian who has recently made a comeback. Targett swam in Saturday’s 50 free and took eighth in 22.62.

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