U.S. Olympic Trials: Teen Stars Torri Huske and Claire Curzan Snare Tokyo Bids in 100 Butterfly; American Record for Huske

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials: Teen Stars Torri Huske and Claire Curzan Snare Tokyo Bids in 100 Butterfly; American Record for Huske

As the United States Olympic Trials crept closer, their names frequented articles and discussions pertaining to the selection of Team USA for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Sometimes, it was Torri Huske and Claire Curzan. Other times, their names were in reverse order. Almost always, they were linked by their identities as fast-rising teenagers.

And now, in fitting fashion, Huske and Curzan will make their Olympic debuts together.

Jumpstarting the second night of Trials at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Huske and Curzan finished first and second in the 100-meter butterfly on Monday night, and nailed down invitations to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. With her second American record in as many nights, an effort of 55.66, Huske got to the wall first, with Curzan following in 56.43.

Kate Douglass pressed Curzan to the wall, finishing third in a career-best time of 56.56, with 2016 Olympian and Team USA veteran Kelsi Dahlia also breaking the 57-second barrier with a swim of 56.80. Huske’s winning time was just .18 off the world record of 55.48, held by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, the reigning Olympic champion.

By qualifying for the Tokyo Games, Huske and Curzan officially defined themselves as USA Swimming’s latest teenage stars. And this just might be the start, as both young women will be leading contenders for the podium when the Olympics open next month. In the leadup to Omaha, Huske and Curzan delivered several performances that suggested big things were on the horizon. They each established National Age Group (NAG) records in the 100 butterfly, Huske doing her work in the 17-18 classification and Curzan rewriting the 15-16 category, with a world junior record of 56.20 a complementary achievement.

Beyond the butterfly, Huske and Curzan also flashed speed in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, with those events still to come at Trials. Given what they showed in the fly, it figures they will be factors in the quest for additional Olympic bids, including coveted relay berths.

“It was super exciting being next to (Curzan) and (Dahlia),” Huske said. “I get so hyped up whenever I race (Curzan). I don’t even remember seeing her (during the race), but I know she has great underwaters. But the race was a blur. I think it’s so fun to race each other. I met (Curzan) at a Select Camp and got to know her a little better in Budapest at Junior Worlds. I really admire her work and I’m excited to go to Tokyo with her.”

Since the 100 butterfly is the first women’s event on the Trials schedule, Huske and Curzan did not have to wait long to get moving. The U.S. Trials is widely considered the most-pressurized competition in the world, a meet that routinely leaves home several Olympic-medal contenders. Consequently, sitting around for that initial swim isn’t good for the nerves.

Huske and Curzan, with the schedule in their favor, did not have to play the waiting game. Rather, they were able to immediately ease into the week. For Huske, the 2019 Swimming World High School Female Swimmer of the Year, it was a smoother start, as she ranked second in the prelims of the 100 fly, before popping an American-record time of 55.78 in the semifinals. Both swims looked easy, with Huske bolting to the front of the field and staying powerful through the finish – especially during the semifinals.

As for Curzan, she wasn’t as dominant as Huske through the first two rounds, but the 16-year-old made the necessary adjustments between her prelim race and semifinal performance. Following a Trials debut of 57.61, Curzan improved to 56.81 in the semifinals. Twenty-four hours later, she was even more comfortable with an Olympic invitation on the line.

As expected, Huske surged to the front of the field and produced a first-50 split of 25.65. That speed placed Huske .36 ahead of Sjostrom’s world-record pace and .28 ahead of Curzan. Confirming her dominance in the event, Huske also turned in the fastest back-half split, as she covered those 50 meters in 30.01. For Curzan, her early speed proved to be vital. Down the last lap, Douglass was closing and outsplit Curzan, 30.22-30.50, but not by a big enough margin to erase her early deficit.

As is the case at every edition of Trials, the elation felt by Huske and Curzan was met by the pain endured by Dahlia, who has been a key cog for Team USA since the 2016 Olympics in Rio. To her credit, Dahlia dialed up a trio of sub-57 performances over the past two days. But that consistency and speed fell shy of what is now necessary to represent the Stars and Stripes.

The truth is, the delay of the Olympic Games hurt Dahlia’s chances of traveling to Tokyo, and not because she was a year older. Rather, the extra year gave Huske and Curzan the opportunity to further mature and shift themselves from high-potential athletes to legitimate contenders. For Huske, it also helped she maintained a loose approach.

“I feel like I’m inexperienced and everything here is new and exciting,” Huske said. “Just being here at my first Trials, it’s overwhelming. The first day, I couldn’t focus during practice and my mind was all over the place. It’s nice to experience something for the first time.”

If Huske and Curzan used Monday evening as a well-deserved celebratory opportunity with their families, their attention will soon shift toward the Tokyo Games and what is achievable in their Olympic debuts. A month out from the Games, both teens must be considered medal hopefuls, with Huske a primary gold-medal favorite. A major question for Tokyo is whether Sjostrom will defend her title. A fall earlier this year led to the Swede suffering a broken elbow, and while she will surely race the sprint-freestyle events at the Olympics, she is uncertain whether she will race the fly.

Regardless of what Sjostrom decides, the event will be loaded. Canadian Maggie MacNeil is the reigning world champion and China’s Zhang Yufei is the second-fastest performer in history. Meanwhile, Emma McKeon was sub-56 earlier this week at the Australian Trials.

With Huske and Curzan in the mix, the event looks to be phenomenal.

“I feel like I usually know what I’m capable of, but don’t know if I will go that time,” Huske said. “In the past, people have asked what I think will happen, but I usually dodge those questions. This is a good omen for what is next. I was still surprised when I saw the board. You don’t always know what will happen. I thought maybe I could go 55, but I wasn’t sure. The energy of the crowd here, you can feel it, and I swim better with energy. The more pressure there is, the better I do.”

Results

1. Torri Huske, 55.66
2. Claire Curzan, 56.43
3. Kate Douglass, 56.56
4. Kelsi Dahlia, 56.80
5. Katie McLaughlin, 57.72
6. Kelly Pash, 58.27
7. Olivia Bray, 58.36
8. Aly Tetzloff, 58.57