U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 5 Notebook: Does More 200 Breast Madness Await?

matt-fallon, olympic trials
Matt Fallon was surprised after finishing first in the men's 200 breast semifinals at Olympic Trials -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 5 Notebook: Does More 200 Breast Madness Await?

In three previous Olympic Trials in Omaha, the men’s 200 breast has included a wild finish every time. In 2008, Brendan Hansen was the undisputed top breaststroker in the United States, and he led through 150 meters, but then, Eric Shanteau (a favorite to make the team) and Scott Spann (who was not) ran him down, and Spann ended up winning a shocking race. Four years later, Hansen and Shanteau were the early leaders, but the almost unheard of Scott Weltz came from behind to upset them, and Clark Burckle snuck ahead of the two veterans into second.

And then, in 2016, Kevin Cordes was out significantly under world record-pace through 150 meters, only to fade as Josh Prenot stormed ahead. Prenot won and broke the American record with what was then the second-fastest time in history, while Cordes had to hold off a charging finish from Will Licon for second, getting ahead by just 0.14.

This year, Licon will look to avenge that heartbreak, and Nic Fink will look to do the same after he finished third in the 100 breast Monday by just 0.06. But the big story of the event so far has been Matt Fallon, who lowered his best time from 2:11.33 to 2:10.13 and then 2:08.91 in the course of one day.

After the race, Fallon was refreshingly honest: He didn’t think he could uncork a performance like that, and he might not have anything left in the tank.

“I was going pretty hard this morning, and I did not think I was going to be able to do that. I could maybe go a little faster, but I think that might be as low as it goes, he said. “Honestly, I didn’t even expect to be in this position at all the entire meet. I’m going to soak it all in. I’m going to have fun and learn with it. Whether or not I make the Olympic team, I’m going to soak it all in.”

A Mixed Green Field in Men’s 100 Free

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Zach Apple behind the blocks at Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The final of the men’s 100 free at Olympic Trials includes several of the sprint stars who have entrenched themselves over the past five years: two-time world champion and American record-holder Caeleb Dressel, 2016 relay gold medalist Ryan Held, World Championships fourth-place finisher Blake Pieroni and Worlds relay gold medalist Zach Apple.

Those are the top four swimmers after the semifinals, but the next four have almost no international experience. Coleman Stewart swam at the World University Games in 2019 and earned a bronze in the 100 fly, but Brooks Curry, Bowe Becker and Brett Pinfold have none. In contrast, a bevy of swimmers considered serious contenders, including lauded veteran Nathan Adrian but also Maxime Rooney, Dean Farris and Michael Chadwick, missed out.

With six swimmers likely to qualify for the Olympic team at least as relay alternates, that means the Americans will be relying on faces new to the elite stage in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, check out how Apple splits his 100 free: In the semifinals, he went out in 23.25, which is solid but nothing crazy, but he came home in 24.53, more than two tenths faster than anyone else in the field. So if Apple is close coming home, watch out.

Last Chance for Annie Lazor

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Annie Lazor at Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In the women’s 100 breast, Annie Lazor dropped more than sixth tenths from her best time in the semifinals, and she looked like the favorite for the No. 2 spot in the event. But then in the final, Lydia Jacoby made history by becoming the first-ever Olympic swimmer from Alaska—at Lazor’s expense. Lazor joined an expanding list of talented veteran swimmers to end up third at this meet, but she has another shot, in her best event.

Lazor has been as fast as 2:20.77 in the 200 breast, and she is the 10th-fastest performer in history, the second-fastest ever among Americans behind two-time Olympic champion Rebecca Soni. In the prelims of the event Thursday, Lazor cruised to a 2:23.63, the top qualifying time for semis by more than a second and a half and actually faster than the winning time from a weak race at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

This is not going to be easy for Lazor as she contends with Lilly King, Bethany Galat, Emily Escobedo and others. The 26-year-old Lazor is in a pressured position, in her last chance to get onto the Olympic team, but she could not be set up better for this event. It is well within the realm of possibility that, with a great performance in Friday’s final, Lazor sets herself up as a serious contender for Olympic gold in this event.

Shaine Casas Also Aiming to Bounce Back

It has not been the Olympic Trials many expected for Shaine Casas, the man who was the NCAA swimmer of the year after lighting up the short course world all fall and winter and capturing NCAA titles in the 100 and 200-yard back and 200-yard IM. Casas was the favorite for the second-spot in the 100 back before that event got a lot faster in Omaha. Hunter Armstrong ended up finishing second, and Casas was third. He was just 0.04 off his best time of 52.72, but that time was from two years ago.

Casas swam the 200 back Thursday morning, and while he also will have the 100 fly Friday, the 200 back represents by far his best remaining chance of getting onto the Olympic team. And unlike Lazor, Casas did not look great in his first race since finishing third. He was the ninth qualifier for the semifinals after fading to third in his heat, and his last 50 split was 31.59, the second-slowest of the top 16 swimmers.

We’ll see if Casas can shift gears in time to make a real run in the 200 back. Ryan Murphy is the clear favorite, but the second spot remains wide open.