U.S. Nationals: Gretchen Walsh Holds On to Win 100 Fly National Crown (VIDEO)

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Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Gretchen Walsh Holds On to Win 100 Fly National Crown

Gretchen Walsh is best known for her abilities in sprint freestyle, and she emerged as an elite backstroker during her freshman season at the University of Virginia, but speed plays in any stroke, and Walsh showed that in the 100 butterfly final at U.S. Nationals. After qualifying second in prelims behind Gabi Albiero, Walsh hit top speed right away in the final. She was out in 26.17, eight tenths ahead of the field, and a powerful kickout extended her lead. Over the final 15 meters, Walsh began to fade, and a long finish cost her time, but she had enough of a margin to finish first.

Walsh touched in 57.44, one hundredth off her lifetime-best mark set in March 2021. She became the eighth-fastest swimmer in the world for 2022, and among Americans, only Torri Huske and Claire Curzan have been quicker. Walsh moved ahead of Kelsi Dahlia, who swam 57.53 at the International Team Trials in April before announcing her retirement.

Walsh called the 100 fly her “low-pressure event,” but she produced the first long course national title of her career. After the race, Walsh said that she was relieved to be so close to her best time despite not executing some technical aspects of the race.

“This summer, I started training the 100 fly once per week, but before that, I didn’t train fly at all. I just show up and have fun with it,” Walsh said. “The funny thing is right before we got up on the blocks, I saw this bee on Gabi’s block. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m really glad it’s not on my block.’ I was thinking about the bee, and that was kind of distracting.

“I had a pretty bad start per usual, but I just use my underwaters every time. I didn’t think I was going out that fast, but apparently I took it out almost as fast as I went in my 50 fly at World Champ Trials. I took it out in 26.1, and my time from Trials was 25.9. If you factor in my horrible turn, I probably would have taken it out faster. I timed my turn pretty bad because I couldn’t see the wall very well, but I didn’t let that stop me, and I knew that if I could bring it home, my race wasn’t over yet. I kicked out as best I could, tried to just stay strong the rest of the way and hope to get my hands on the wall first, and that’s what I did. It was hard, but I did it, and I’m really proud of myself.”

This U.S. Nationals has been an encouraging meet for Walsh so far after she went under 54 in the 100 free for the first time in three years. After missing the final in that event at last year’s Olympic Trials and then again at the International Team Trials in April, Walsh has made adjustments in her training to ensure she can execute the race properly, and she showed that with a 53.86 that placed her second behind Natalie Hinds. Over the last two days of Nationals, the 19-year-old will be the favorite in the 50 free and a strong contender in the 100 back.

“I think it’s just embracing the baby steps and the accomplishments I’ve had so far this year,” Walsh said. “I was really proud of myself, and I think that’s a huge step for the future for me, just getting back to where I was in my prime. Just knowing that I’m still capable of doing that and then hopefully building on that and getting better is definitely something I’m excited for in the future.”

Albiero placed second in 57.82, knocking a tenth off the lifetime best she set in the prelims. Albiero will make her debut on a U.S. senior-level international team next month when she races at the Duel in the Pool. Third went to Longhorn’s Dakota Luther in 58.39, with Wisconsin’s Beata Nelson (58.47) and Cardinal’s Ai Soma (58.48) just behind Luther.

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