U.S. Nationals: Torri Huske Overtakes Gretchen Walsh for 100 Fly Title, Three Fastest Times in the World in 2023

Torri Huske -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Torri Huske Overtakes Gretchen Walsh for 100 Fly Title, Three Fastest Times in the World in 2023

The middle lanes in the women’s 100 butterfly final were split between the swimmers riding high off their performances thus far in Indianapolis, with busy schedules for next month’s World Championships already set, and the duo of dependable multi-event performers from last year’s Worlds that had yet to secure individual swims in Fukuoka. The first group included University of Virginia swimmers Kate Douglass and Gretchen Walsh in lanes three and four, respectively, while the second group featured Stanford teammates Torri Huske and Claire Curzan.

Huske and Curzan were the American representatives in the 100 fly at the 2021 Olympics and 2022 World Championships, and Huske was the world champion in the event, setting an American record of 55.64 to beat the field by a half-second. Huske was likely already heading to Worlds after her fifth-place finish in the 100 freestyle was surely good enough for a relay alternate spot, but Curzan had missed the 100 free final and ended up third in the 200 backstroke, so she was looking for any path to the team altogether.

But that’s the brutal nature of selection meets, and the swimmers have dealt with it. Huske and Curzan have both come through under pressure in the past, but plenty of others, including Walsh, have experienced the other side of being left out.

“It’s kind of like any big meet. Last year at International Team Trials Trials and also at Olympic Trials, that’s always how it is, so I feel like you walk into this already expecting that. I think it’s kind of just the norm,” Huske said. “It’s definitely really nerve-wracking, but I feel like you have to remember that you have to stay in your own lane and put the blinders on, and then it will be alright.

As for Walsh and Douglass, this meet has gone just about perfectly. Walsh got onto the first Worlds team of her career with a third-place finish in the 100 free, and then she broke Huske’s American record in the 50 fly. Douglass pulled off an upset win in the 100 free, lowering her best time by one-and-a-half seconds, and she swam a best time in her runnerup finish in the 200 breaststroke. Both are stellar butterfly swimmers, with Douglass coming off the fastest time ever in the 100-yard fly at the NCAA Championships in March.

In the final, however, Walsh and Huske distinguished themselves from the field right away. Both showed off their underwater dolphin kicking and power as they went out under world-record pace, with Walsh turning first in 25.68 followed by Huske in 25.89. They came up nearly even off the wall, but with 25 meters remaining, Huske’s began to show her endurance and finishing speed. She opened up a miniscule lead, but Douglass was closing down on the top two as well, threatening to add a third individual swim for Worlds.

Huske got to the wall first, touching in 56.18, with Walsh just behind in 56.34. While Huske was a half-second away from her American record, Walsh knocked four tenths from her previous best time of 56.73 set earlier this month. Douglass came in third at 56.43, surpassing her previous best of 56.56 from 2021.

“Obviously there’s been a lot of fast swimming at this meet, which is really exciting, but it’s also stressful, but I feel like whenever that happens, you know that other people are going to bring out the best in you. I was just trying to focus on my race. I typically go out pretty fast, so I was just trying to not look around me and just focus on myself,” Huske said.

“I think that my underwaters were a really big focus for me and just maintaining my speed off my wall. I think that my wall for the past two years has been a really weak point in my swimming, so I was just trying to focus on that.”

Those three performances were the three best times recorded so far in 2023, surpassing the 56.48 of Olympic silver medalist Zhang Yufei and the 56.54 of Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil. Those swimmers will be the biggest obstacles for Huske as she aims to defend her world title, and it will surely take a 55-second swim, possibly even a world record, to earn gold. Huske has plenty of experience racing Mac Neil in particular, having finished well behind the standout Canadian at the Short Course World Championships and NCAA Championships, but the switch to long course racing favors the American.

“I think it’s a good starting point,” Huske said of her time. “Obviously we have a long way to go. I had a really long quarter (at Stanford), and it was really exhausting, and now that I don’t have school, it’s kind of nice that I just get to relax. I think with more time off in the summer where I just get to focus on my training, it will be even better.”

Meanwhile, it was a hard-luck fourth-place finish for Curzan. Her time was a strong 56.61, faster than she swam in last year’s World Championships final on the way to a fifth place finish, but she was again left without a spot in Fukuoka. However, Huske is rooting for her friend to break through in her remaining events.

“At meets, we don’t really talk about (our swims) that much,” Huske said. “We’re both very focused, and we both know that we can handle it. I have a lot of faith in her. She still has some more races to go, 100 back and 50 free. Obviously, I have a lot of faith in her. I see the work that she puts in every single day. She’s one of the hardest workers I know, and her love for the sport is so inspiring. I’m so lucky I get to swim against her every single day, and she’s not done yet.”

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