U.S. Nationals: Gretchen Walsh Blasts American Record in 50 Butterfly; Earns Solo Duty For Worlds

Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Gretchen Walsh Blasts American Record in 50 Butterfly; Earns Solo Duty For Worlds

Make it back-to-back breakthrough performances for Gretchen Walsh.

One day after qualifying for a relay spot on the American 400-meter freestyle relay at next month’s World Championships in Japan, Walsh punched her ticket to Fukuoka in an individual event – and in stylish fashion. The top seed heading into the final of the 50 butterfly, Walsh backed up that status by putting together a dominant performance to set an American record of 25.11. Walsh was followed to the wall by Torri Huske, who went 25.33 and also dipped under the former American mark, the 25.38 that Huske popped at last year’s World Championships.

In scaring the 25-second barrier, which has only been cracked by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, Walsh became the No. 3 performer in history.

Walsh entered the 50 butterfly riding the momentum of her effort in the 100 freestyle on the opening day of the meet. Clocking in at 53.11, the University of Virginia standout finished behind former college teammate Kate Douglass and Team USA veteran Abbey Weitzeil. Most important, the showing guaranteed Walsh her first trip to the World Champs.

An age-group and high school phenom, Walsh has been a force for UVA during collegiate action. During the spring, as the Cavaliers claimed their third consecutive NCAA team title, the 20-year-old won gold in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, while contributing to a quartet of championship relays. The next step was going international.

While Walsh represented the United States at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships and World Junior Championships in 2018 and 2019, respectively, she’s been long expected to wear the Red, White and Blue in senior waters. That day is now a month away, and Walsh has the potential to enhance her schedule for the World Championships.

“I don’t swim (the 50m butterfly) very often,” Walsh said. “This morning I was feeling really good about it going into today. Yesterday, I punched my ticket to Japan so that was awesome, and it just gave me a breath of air. I was like, ‘Okay, I can relax now. No pressure and just have fun’. (In the 50m fly), I just wanted to go out there and put up a good time. I’m shocked – more than I could have ever expected in one event. That was awesome. I had a race strategy, tried to execute it and just keep my head down.”

Over the last three days of the competition, Walsh is entered in the 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. She will be a contender in all four, with her best chances likely in the 50 free and 100 fly. Regardless of what unfolds, Walsh has accomplished her immediate goal – qualify for Worlds.