U.S. Olympic Trials Preview, Day Three: Ryan Murphy, Hunter Armstrong Set for Backstroke Clash

Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials Preview, Day Three: Ryan Murphy, Hunter Armstrong Set for Backstroke Clash

American swimmers, coaches, officials and hundreds of thousands of fans will make their way to Lucas Oil Stadium — home of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts — for a unique U.S. Olympic Trials, complete with three temporary pools (two 50-meter and one 25-meter). The action takes place from June 15-23, with swimmers putting their hopes and dreams on the line for the opportunity to represent Team USA at the Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

These previews are part of a comprehensive Trials edition of Swimming World, which is set to be released next week.



Katie Grimes — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Over the past two years, Canada’s Summer McIntosh has established herself as the fastest swimmer ever in the 400 IM, but American Katie Grimes has been the silver medalist at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships. Grimes, already qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in the 10-kilometer open water event, is a threat to break the American record in the event, with Katie Hoff’s mark of 4:31.12 having lasted for 16 years.

Alex Walsh was a World Championships finalist in the event last year in her first time racing the 400 IM internationally, but she has announced she will not race the event this year.

The favorite for the No. 2 spot is Emma Weyant, the 2021 Olympic silver medalist who was disqualified for an illegal turn at last year’s U.S. Nationals. Weyant is coming off her best college season to date. World junior champion Leah Hayes also figures to be a factor.

Favorites: Katie Grimes, Emma Weyant
Contender: Leah Hayes
Wild Cards: Leah Smith, Lucy Bell, Lilla Bognar
Top 2 at 2021 Trials: Emma Weyant 4:33.81, Hali Flickinger 4:33.96
World Record/Splits: 4:24.38 Summer McIntosh, CAN (Toronto 5-16-24)
27.55                            59.18 (31.63)             1:33.31 (34.13)         2:06.30 (32.99)
2:44.22 (37.92)         3:23.43 (39.21)         3:54.66 (31.23)         4:24.38 (29.72)


As the U.S. men try to assemble a group to return to the Olympic podium in the 800 free relay, there is a clear favorite in Luke Hobson, who joined the sub-1:45 club last year before winning bronze in the 200 free at this year’s Worlds and then swimming the fastest time ever in the 200 yard freestyle at this year’s NCAA Championships.

With a big swim, Hobson could put himself into the individual medal conversation for Paris, but the focus of the U.S. team will be assembling a relay capable of challenging the favored squad from Great Britain.

Kieran Smith and Drew Kibler are veterans of the 2021 relay squad that finished in fourth place — the first time ever an American relay had missed the podium — while Carson Foster has become a stalwart in recent years (although he may skip the individual 200 free at Trials).

Expect a mark of 1:46-low to qualify for the final, and we’ll see who can step up with the requisite speed in the semifinals to position themselves for a run at a top-six finish in the final.

Favorite: Luke Hobson
Contenders: Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Carson Foster, Jake Mitchell
Relay Contenders: Aaron Shackell, Brooks Curry, Baylor Nelson, Coby Carrozza, Grant House, Henry McFadden, Trenton Julian, Patrick Sammon, Jake Magahey, Luca Urlando
Top 6 at 2021 Trials: Kieran Smith 1:45.29, Townley Haas 1:45.66, Drew Kibler 1:45.92, Andrew Seliskar 1:46.34, Zach Apple 1:46.45, Patrick Callan 1:46.49
World Record/Splits: 1:42.00 Paul Biedermann, GER (Rome 7-28-09)
24.23          50.12 (25.89)          1:16.30 (26.18)          1:42.00 (25.70)


The two men who qualified to represent the U.S. at the last Olympics will again be favored to make the trip to Paris. Ryan Murphy was the Olympic champion in 2016, and after losing his world record to Thomas Ceccon at the 2022 World Championships, he got revenge on Ceccon to steal the world title back last year. Hunter Armstrong, meanwhile, won World Champs bronze medals in 2022 and 2023 before upgrading to gold in the absence of Ceccon and Murphy earlier this year in Doha.

Justin Ress, Destin Lasco and Shaine Casas have all been sub-53 in their careers, but only Murphy and Armstrong have the capabilities of going close to the 52-second barrier — the sort of times that would reaffirm their status as definite gold-medal contenders for Paris.

Favorites: Ryan Murphy, Hunter Armstrong
Contenders: Justin Ress, Destin Lasco, Shaine Casas
Wild Cards: Daniel Diehl, Adam Chaney, Jack Aikins
Top 2 at 2021 Trials: Ryan Murphy 52.33, Hunter Armstrong 52.48
World Record/Splits: 51.60 Thomas Ceccon, ITA (Budapest 6-20-22)
25.14                              51.60 (26.46)



Lilly King — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Here is another event where familiar faces could rule the day with Lilly King, the 2016 Olympic champion, set to face off against her successor atop the Olympic podium, Lydia Jacoby.

These two swimmers qualified for the World Championships team last year with sterling efforts, but both struggled to repeat that form on the international level and neither swimmer has posted especially impressive times thus far in 2024. Both will be aiming for the 1:05-low or 1:04 swims that will be necessary to contend for medals in Paris, although China’s Tang Qianting has set the international pace thus far this year with an Asian record of 1:04.39.

Veteran Annie Lazor has retired and moved to coaching, so if anyone can touch this decorated duo, it would be Kaitlyn Dobler, a past NCAA champion in the 100 yard breast and the only active American aside from King and Jacoby to break 1:06. Kate Douglass, the American record holder in the 200 breast, will not race the 100-meter distance.

Favorites: Lilly King, Lydia Jacoby
Contender: Kaitlyn Dobler
Wild Cards: Emma Weber, Piper Enge, Alex Walsh
Top 2 at 2021 Trials: Lilly King 1:04.79, Lydia Jacoby 1:05.28
World Record/Splits: 1:04.13 Lilly King, USA (Budapest 7-25-17)
29.80                              1:04.13 (34.33)


Since the Tokyo Olympics, Katie Ledecky has opted against racing the individual 200 free at major meets, so we’ll see if she swims this race through to the final. But she is heavily invested in the U.S. women’s 800 free relay, and we’ll find out in Indianapolis if the Americans can assemble a squad capable of challenging the favored Aussies.

Claire Weinstein actually beat Ledecky at last year’s U.S. Nationals, but she faltered at Worlds. Thus, it was fellow teenagers Bella Sims, Erin Gemmell and Alex Shackell joining Ledecky on a silver-medal-winning relay quartet.

The more 1:55s (or faster) that the Americans can post at Trials, the better the chances of challenging Australia. As for the composition of the field, expect some surprises in the semifinals: Three years ago, Sims and Brooke Forde each made huge improvements and came from off the radar to qualify as relay swimmers in this event.

Favorite: Katie Ledecky
Contenders: Claire Weinstein, Bella Sims, Erin Gemmell
Relay Contenders: Alex Shackell, Leah Smith, Anna Peplowski, Paige Madden, Simone Manuel, Katie Grimes
Wild Cards: Isabel Ivey, Aurora Roghair, Leah Hayes
Top 6 at 2021 Trials: Katie Ledecky 1:55.11, Allison Schmitt 1:56.79, Paige Madden 1:56.80, Katie McLaughlin 1:57.16, Bella Sims 1:57.53, Brooke Forde 1:57.61
World Record/Splits: 1:52.85 Mollie O’Callaghan, AUS (Fukuoka 7-26-23)
26.93          55.94 (29.01)          1:24.74 (28.80)          1:52.85 (28.11)

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