U.S. Nationals: Alex Walsh Tops 400 IM Prelims; Emma Weyant Disqualified for Illegal Breaststroke Kick

Alex Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Alex Walsh Tops 400 IM Prelims; Emma Weyant Disqualified for Illegal Breaststroke Kick

The first stunner of the day three prelims session at U.S. Nationals came only six heats into the session. Making her first appearance in the 400 IM at an American selection meet, Virginia’s Alex Walsh led comfortably for the first 350 meters before Florida’s Emma Weyant, the 2021 Olympic silver medalist in the event, chased down her former teammate down the stretch.

Walsh ended up touching first in 4:37.84, two tenths clear of Weyant’s 4:38.08, but moments later, Weyant was disqualified for a dolphin kick during the breaststroke portion of the race. The call had already been confirmed via video review. Barring any surprise overturning of Weyant’s DQ, one of the top Americans in the event over the past few years will not race at next month’s World Championships in Fukuoka. In addition to her Tokyo silver, Weyant won bronze at last year’s World Championships.

When the DQ was announced, an audible gasp covered the IUPUI Natatorium, and Weyant jumped out of the pool and walked quickly toward Florida coach Anthony Nesty as she sought to make sense of the call. The DQ rekindled memories of the six years earlier in the same event, when Ella Eastin appeared to have qualified for her first Worlds team before she was disqualified for a violation of the then-little-known “Lochte rule,” dolphin-kicking on her back in freestyle during medley swimming.

Walsh was left with the top time in the event, and Sandpipers of Nevada’s Katie Grimes joined her under the 4:40-barrier with a strong swim in the final heat. Grimes had an early lead before falling behind Fox Valley’s Leah Hayes on breaststroke and then retaking the lead on freestyle. Grimes, who swam a best time of 4:31.88 earlier this year to make herself the fourth-fastest American in history, secured the second seed for the final in 4:39.71, just ahead of Hayes’ 4:40.91.

The battle for World Championships spots should come down to Walsh, Grimes and Hayes, with the Americans still likely to send a medal contender or two to Worlds. Grimes was the silver medalist behind Summer McIntosh last year in Budapest, and while the Canadian teenager is currently well clear of the rest of the world after setting a world record of 4:25.87 in April, Grimes ranks third in the world (and the No. 2 performer, Kaylee McKeown, will not race the 400 IM at Worlds).

The rest of the field was led by Team Greenville’s Lilla Bognar, who dropped almost three seconds to swim a best time of 4:43.28 and secure lane six for the evening. Trojan’s Justina Kozan was fifth in 4:43.80 followed by Alto’s Lucy Bell (4:45.75), Florida’s Zoe Dixon (4:45.82) and La Mirada’s Kayla Han (4:45.95).

Notable withdrawals from the event included Hali Flickinger, Leah Smith and Bella Sims. Flickinger finished seventh in the 200 butterfly on the first night of competition, but she skipped the 200 free Wednesday before scratching out of this race. Flickinger was the Olympic bronze medalist in the 400 IM in Tokyo, but she has already left Indianapolis. Smith and Sims made the World Championships team in the 800 free relay Wednesday (Smith likely, Sims definitely). Sims is entered in the 100 fly later in the session, and both will surely race the 400 free Friday.

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