U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Grimes Pulls Away on Freestyle to Capture 400 IM Title; Emma Weyant Takes Second (VIDEO)

Katie Grimes -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Grimes Pulls Away on Freestyle to Capture 400 IM Title; Emma Weyant Takes Second

For 10 months, Katie Grimes has been swimming on a path toward stardom. At last year’s Olympic Trials, when Grimes was only 15, she was the unexpected runnerup in the 800 freestyle behind world-record holder Katie Ledecky, and Grimes went on to finish fourth in the Olympic final of the event. Grimes followed that up with series of impressive results throughout her sophomore year of high school, and in early April, she captured swam at the Open Water National Championships and captured the title in the 10-kilometer event.

But Grimes, now 16, faced a rare setback on the first night of the U.S. International Team Trials. She ended up fourth in the 800 free, an event in which she was favored to qualify for Worlds. One day later, she qualified for the 200 free final but ended up eighth. In the 400 IM, however, Grimes returned to her personal-best-smashing ways, and that qualified her for the World Championship team.

In the final, Grimes took a slight lead after the butterfly leg and extended the margin to almost a second over fellow 16-year-old Leah Hayes and Olympic bronze medalist Hali Flickinger on the backstroke leg. But breaststroke is Grimes’ weak stroke, and Hayes steadily closed the gap while Emma Weyant, the Olympic silver medalist in this event, charged from four seconds back into contention.

With 100 meters to go, Hayes led at 3:34.75, just ahead of Weyant (3:34.92) and Grimes (3:35.22), but then Grimes almost immediately pulled ahead. Weyant has a fantastic freestyle leg, and she moved into a clear second place, but she was no match for Grimes, who split 1:00.95 on the freestyle.

Grimes came into the wall at 4:36.17, clobbering her previous lifetime best of 4:41.02 (set in prelims Thursday) by almost five seconds. Grimes’ performance made her the second-fastest swimmer in the world this year, trailing only Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh.

Her exploits at Olympic Trials, the Olympics and more recently in open water had suggested that Grimes was primarily a freestyler, but she had considered the 400 IM her best event prior to last summer. Even as she broke out and made a name for herself in the sport, Grimes had not put together the 400 IM she was capable of, at least until Thursday evening.

“It just all goes back to my training. Everybody who has seen me train for that race in practice knows that was a long time coming. The past times I’ve swum that race, it really hasn’t worked out like I wanted it to, but it all really came together very nicely,” Grimes said on deck after the race. “I’ve always loved the 400 IM. I think it’s a really fun race. I think it’s really interesting to watch. There are so many different components that go into it. It’s just a really cool race.”

Weyant took second in 4:37.72 to also secure her spot on the World Championships team, her effort well short of the 4:32.76 she swam in Tokyo but good for sixth in the world rankings. It was a year full of change for the 20-year-old as she began her college career after a one-year delay, and while Weyant admitted she wasn’t thrilled with her performance, she did call it “a step in the right direction” as she secured her spot to again race against the best in the world in Budapest.

“This year definitely wasn’t easy,” Weyant said. “It was a big adjustment for me. A lot of newness, but I had my teammates there the whole way and my coaches. Trying to work through college swimming and get back to long course the past couple weeks. I think I’m in a good place right now, starting to get there.”

Weyant finished fourth in the 400-yard IM at the NCAA Championships last month, but the return to long course, her preferred course, was a welcome development, and now the focus turns to again striving for an international podium in her signature event in two months.

The keys to returning to medal contention, Weyant said, will include “swimming a little more long course for sure and working on some of the technical things. I’m actually six strokes less than I did at Trials in breaststroke, so I think that’s a step in the right direction, but I think my tempo in backstroke can be a lot better.”

Flickinger finished well to take third in 4:39.50, but after winning the Olympic bronze in this event in Tokyo, she will not be competing in the event at this summer’s World Championships. However, Flickinger is qualified for the U.S. team in the 200 butterfly and the 800 freestyle relay. Hayes ended up fourth in 4:40.70.



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