U.S. Olympic Trials: Michael Andrew Blazes to Victory in 200 Medley; Chase Kalisz Is Tokyo Bound

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U.S. Olympic Trials: Michael Andrew Blazes to Victory in 200 Medley; Chase Kalisz Is Tokyo Bound

Let’s talk for a moment about the 2019 World Championships. During the eight-day meet in South Korea, Michael Andrew pulled off a feat never before achieved in the competition’s previous 17 editions. Flashing his pure speed and all-stroke prowess, Andrew advanced to the finals of each 50-meter stroke.

There were no medals for the American, but the effort was a testament to his versatility and begged the question: Is he capable of – one day – putting together a world-class performance in the 200 individual medley? The answer became clear at this week’s United States Olympic Trials in Omaha, where Andrew has been one of the stars on the men’s side.

Dominating from the start, Andrew cruised to victory in the 200 I.M., going 1:55.44. While the time was just off his semifinal effort of 1:55.26, it got the job done in convincing fashion. There might have been eight guys in the final at the CHI Health Center, but the 200 medley was an Andrew exhibition. The 22-year-old followed his ultra-aggressive gameplan from the start, as he built a body-length lead in the early stages of the butterfly leg and forced his foes into a game of catchup and a race for second.

Andrew bolted to a 1.33-second advantage after the opening butterfly leg, expanded his margin to 1.39 seconds on the backstroke leg and was 2.68 seconds clear of second-place Chase Kalisz at the end of the breaststroke. Really, Andrew’s swim was a game of come-and-get-me. The only flaw was his closing freestyle leg, which he covered in 30.09. Not that it mattered – at least in this outcome.

Andrew’s victory was his second of the week, complementing an earlier triumph in the 100 breaststroke. Whether he adds a third event to his Tokyo Olympic program will start to take shape on Saturday morning, when Andrew steps onto the blocks in the 50 freestyle. The sprint is an event Andrew won at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, and where he will clash with two-time defending world champion Caeleb Dressel.

“The goal this evening was to edge a little closer to the world record,” Andrew said. “I don’t know if it was fatigue or race strategy. I think I was out too fast, and it hurt me on the back end. Once the meet is over, we’ll analyze everything we do. (The last 50), I was really trying to drive the line, but my arms were shot. In this race, my strategy wasn’t really good. I was just thinking about how far they were behind. It got very sloppy at the finish, all things we can be working on.”

Before Andrew shifts his focus to the 50 freestyle, he had every right to celebrate his medley in a big way. If he was not viewed as an Olympic-medal contender before arriving in Omaha, that status has changed. Heck, he might be the favorite heading into Tokyo, supplanting the host-country’s Daiya Seto. At the least, he is a co-favorite.

More than a decade after emerging on the national scene as an age-group phenom, Andrew has met the vast – if not unfair – expectations placed on his shoulders. Even in his pre-teen years, as crazy as it seems, Andrew was touted as a future Olympian. He is now bound for the Games in a pair of events and will be one of the focal points of the American roster.

“I’m honored to have a second event,” Andrew said. “A year ago, I never thought one of them would be the 200 I.M. There is a lot of work left to be done.”

Kalisz, on the strength of his breaststroke leg, placed second in 1:56.97 to earn his first Olympic berth in that event. He was followed in third place by Kieran Smith (1:57.23). Four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte, in what was likely the final race of his storied career, was seventh in 1:59.67. Lochte has been in every Olympic 200 I.M. final since 2004.

At his first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Kalisz won the silver medal in the 400 I.M. In Tokyo, he will see action in both medley events, as he is regaining the form that made him the world champion in both medley disciplines in 2017. The week has marked a big step forward for Kalisz, who has struggled to produce solid performances the past two years. While he has made some adjustments, Kalisz noted there is room for improvement.

“It really wasn’t painful at all for me,” Kalisz said. “I just didn’t get moving and I didn’t really have any momentum on my back half, which I usually do. I think that comes from my fly and my back. I was just kind of off today on those two strokes, and it made my back half suffer a little bit. I’m thrilled to be on the Olympic team. That’s what we came here to do, first and foremost. I don’t want to take away from that. I’m very happy with that aspect. It’s just as far as the time and how I swim it. I need to talk with (Coach Jack Bauerle) more, but I like to think it stems from that butterfly and my backstroke where I just didn’t really get going and just kind of fought my way through that back part of the race. I certainly think I have a lot more to give than that.”

Results:

1. Michael Andrew, 1:55.44
2. Chase Kalisz, 1:56.97
3. Kieran Smith, 1:57.23
4. Carson Foster, 1:57.99
5. Sam Stewart, 1:58.02
6. Andrew Seliskar, 1:58.35
7. Ryan Lochte, 1:59.67
8. Trenton Julian, 2:04.49