U.S. Olympic Trials, Day I Notes: Texas Connections Looking Sharp As Final Trials For Eddie Reese Begins

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U.S. Olympic Trials, Day I Notes: Texas Connections Looking Sharp As Final Trials For Eddie Reese Begins

When next month’s Olympic Games in Tokyo come to a close, so will the legendary coaching career of Eddie Reese. After guiding the University of Texas to its 15th NCAA title in March, Reese announced that he was retiring at the end of the Olympic season. So, it was rather fitting that the first event of the United States Olympic Trials featured a heavy Texas flavor.

Of the eight athletes who advanced to the final of the 400-meter individual medley, five will bring Texas connections to the blocks. That’s an impressive total, and can certainly be tied to the Hall of Fame body of work that Reese has constructed during his tenure in Austin. Leading the way into the final is Carson Foster, who is Reese’s latest rising star and delivered a personal-best mark of 4:10.50 to earn the top seed for the evening.

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Carson Foster; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In addition to Foster, other Texas athletes to advance to the final included Jake Foster, David Johnston and Sam Stewart. Meanwhile, Gunnar Bentz trains with the Texas pro group. Adding to the intrigue in the 400 medley is the fact that Bentz is a University of Georgia product, as are second and third seeds, Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland. The only guy in the final without Texas and Georgia ties is Bobby Finke, an NCAA champion and American-record holder from the University of Florida. Bentz ultimately scratched the final.

Adding to the strong efforts by Texas was Coby Carrozza, who was 10th in the 400 free with a mark of 3:50.02. That was a two-second drop for Carrozza, who was the 19th seed entering the meet.

Split-Wave Success

The decision to split this year’s Olympic Trials into a pair of meets, identified as waves, has proven to be a positive result for a key reason: Timing. In the past, with well more than 1,000 athletes qualified for the Olympic Trials, some of the preliminary sessions have been agonizingly long. This year, with many athletes having already raced in the opening wave, Wave II seems to be perfect in length. By having roughly 50 athletes per event, the program does not drag.

Not So Good

A day after Australia flourished in the 400 freestyle at its Olympic Trials, with reigning Olympic champion Mack Horton not even qualifying for Tokyo despite a 3:43 clocking, the United States did nothing to alleviate concerns about its men’s distance-freestyle status. While Kieran Smith is likely to drop a chunk of time in the final, his clocking of 3:48.06 was a weak mark for a top seed. Meanwhile, it only took 3:49.49 to make the final.

Finishing ahead of Horton at the Aussie Trials were Elijah Winnington (3:42.65) and Jack McLoughlin (3:43.27), with Horton at 3:43.92. While it remains to be seen how fast Smith will go in the final, it might be a stretch for the United States to see two guys under 3:47 tonight.

While the United States has had several bronze medalists in Olympic action in the 400 free, it has not won gold or silver in the event since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. There, George DiCarlo and John Mykkanen went gold-silver.

Breaststroke Breakthrough?

Just like the 400 free, the American men have struggled in recent years in the 100 breast. No American finished higher than sixth in the event at the 2019 World Championships, and the breaststroke leg has become a major liability on the 400 medley relay. But Michael Andrew continues to alleviate those concerns. His 58.19 American record in Sunday’s prelims cut another half-second from his already-impressive 58.67 last month and made him the third-fastest man in history behind Adam Peaty and Arno Kamminga.

Andrew has already jumped into medal contention in the individual 100 breast, and if he can improve further, perhaps down to the 57 range, that could nearly eliminate the huge advantage that Great Britain has built on the medley relay breaststroke leg. The American men have never lost a 400 medley relay at a non-boycotted Olympics.