U.S. Open Men’s Preview: Hafnaoui-Finke Among Three World Champs Gold-Silver Rematches Set for Greensboro

Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 800m Freestyle Men Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 26th, 2023.
Ahmed Hafnaoui -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

U.S. Open Men’s Preview: Hafnaoui-Finke Among Three World Champs Gold-Silver Rematches Set for Greensboro

The combination of American and international talent racing at next week’s U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., will set up five men’s races that match multiple medalists from this summer’s World Championships, including three that feature the gold and silver medalists from Fukuoka. Such a situation might be commonplace following a global meet dominated by the American men, such as those in the long era of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, but the U.S. men only had two podium finishers in one event at Worlds. Instead, the likes of Leon MarchandHubert Kos and Ahmed Hafnaoui will be facing off with their top American rivals.

It’s not often that the 1500 freestyle would be considered the top race of the meet, but on the other hand, no 30-lap international final has ever come down to five hundredths of a second, with both men annihilating their best times and nearly taking down an 11-year-old world record. American Bobby Finke had built a reputation for finishing off distance finals with a bang, most notably in a pair of upset gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, but Tunisia’s Hafnaoui had finished even faster than Finke in the 800 free final four days earlier, in a race where Hafnaoui won gold and Finke bronze.

After passing 400 free world champion Sam Short around the 1000-meter mark, Finke and Hafnaoui were in near lockstep for the final third of the race. Even as Finke surged, Hafnaoui held him at bay. With 26-low final 50-meter splits, the two hit the wall together, but Hafnaoui got there first in 14:31.54, with Finke in 14:31.59.

Lucky fans in Greensboro get to see these two race in the 800 and 1500 free. Finke is known for swimming up to the level of his competition, so if Hafnaoui can hit the low 7:40s in the 800 or 14:40s in the 1500, expect Finke to go with him. And the races will have plenty of talent alongside the big two with two-time World Championships team member Charlie Clark, Polish butterflyer and distance swimmer Krzysztof Chmielewski and a trio of swimmers training alongside Hafnaoui with The Swim Team, Marwan ElkamashDavid Johnston and Will Gallant.


Hubert Kos — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The mile will take place on the final day of the meet, and right after that will be the 200 back, where the Hungarian who surprisingly became world champion this year, Kos, meets silver medalist and 2022 winner Ryan Murphy. Kos’ performance in the World Championships final made him the ninth-quickest performer ever, and in short course yards, he has emerged as a star in his second season racing for Arizona State, setting himself up with a real shot at breaking Murphy’s NCAA record in the 200-yard back later this season. Murphy has not competed since Worlds as he builds up in training for the Olympic campaign, so meeting Kos in early December will provide a significant test.

We will also see Marchand racing the 400 IM in long course for the first time since breaking Phelps’ world record in Fukuoka, with a familiar foe awaiting in two-time Worlds silver medalist Carson Foster. It was an up-and-down World Championships this year for Foster, although he did tie his lifetime best in the 400 IM while finishing more than four seconds adrift of Marchand.

When the two raced in the yards version of the event at last year’s NCAA Championships, Marchand built a commanding lead over Foster right away, holding a 1.34-second edge over Foster after butterfly and 2.85 seconds after backstroke. But long course races between the two are much different. In the Worlds final, Foster was within two tenths of Marchand through backstroke, but Marchand has the best breaststroke of any medley specialist in history. We’ll see how the race between the two develops in Greensboro, as Foster attempts to shave off the margin to the dominant Frenchman.

In addition to those three 1-2 finishes from Worlds, the U.S. Open will also see the 1-3 finishers from the 800 free (Hafnaoui and Finke) and 100 back (Murphy and Hunter Armstrong), while Marchand will race against the fourth and fifth-place finishers from the 200 IM, Shaine Casas and Foster, respectively. Interestingly, the gold and silver medalists from the 200 fly from Fukuoka are both swimming in the U.S. Open, but neither Marchand nor Chmielewski is entered in that event. The 200 fly will feature Foster, who took sixth at Worlds, against co-fourth-place finisher Ilya Kharun.

The full psych sheet is available here, and here are some other swimmers and storylines to watch on the men’s side:

Michael Andrew Looking to Re-Establish Himself


Michael Andrew — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For the first time since missing the World Championships team in a surprising result at U.S. Nationals, Michael Andrew will race against elite American swimmers this weekend. Andrew was set to race at the TYR Pro Championships in late August before withdrawing, and he had mixed results while racing on the World Cup circuit in Europe in October. Andrew puts extensive focus on the 50-meter stroke events, but those are not part of the lineup at the U.S. Open, just like they won’t be at next year’s Olympic Trials. Andrew is entered this week in the three events we can expect him to swim at Trials, the 50 free, 100 fly and 100 breast.

It was only a year-and-a-half ago that Andrew was the World Championships silver medalist in the 50 free, and his mark of 21.41 in that race is much quicker than the 21.57 that Jack Alexy swam to win silver at the 2023 edition of the global meet. Thirty-five minutes after his 50 free, Andrew placed fourth in the 100 fly in a solid time of 51.11, just 14-hundredths outside the medals, and one day later, he clocked a medley relay split of 50.06.

Andrew, now 24, was nowhere close to his best times at this year’s U.S. Nationals, especially in the 100-meter races, but there’s no reason that he cannot find that form again. Same story in the 100 breast, where he was not especially impressive in 2022 or 2023, but he remains the fourth-fastest performer in history at 58.14. Nic Fink has been the dominant American swimmer in the event the past two years, but the American record still belongs to Andrew.

So let’s see if Andrew can place well against his domestic rivals this weekend. Doing so would be a big step to build confidence and momentum on the road toward Olympic Trials.

Making Sense of the Men’s 100 Freestyle


Matt King — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Twelve American men swam faster than 48.50 in the 100 freestyle this year. Eight of those men will race in Greensboro, with the remainder either in the midst of their college seasons or preparing for Junior Nationals the following week. Ryan HeldMatt King and Chris Guiliano all swam sub-48 while Macguire McDuffJustin RessBrooks CurryDrew Kibler and Patrick Sammon were the other standouts who will be competing this week. Expect competition from a strong international contingent, which includes 2022 Worlds bronze medalist Josh Liendo, Hungary’s Nandor Nemeth, the Tennessee duo of Jordan Crooks and Gui Caribe, Indiana-trained Tomer Frankel, Louisville-trained Andrej Barna and Canadians Ruslan Gaziev and Javi Acevedo.

In the long run, who places first or second or even who swims in the B-final at the U.S. Open will not matter. But the American men are in the hunt for more 47s as they seek a rebound in the 400 free relay after a bronze-medal performance this year. The U.S. team could have missed the podium entirely if Great Britain had not been disqualified in prelims. Alexy, the Worlds silver medalist in the 100 free, looks like the rising star in the event while the return of American-record holder Caeleb Dressel looms as a big wildcard, but more 47-mid-or-faster efforts will be needed to ensure a third consecutive relay gold.

Can any of these men who swam big best times over the summer make another jump? Can swimmers like King and Guiliano prove that their swims in Fukuoka (both were on the finals relay) have launched them to another level? Guiliano’s college times have shown significant improvement from last season, so perhaps there is more potential in his long course swimming.

Will another swimmer work his way into the mix? We should keep an eye on Armstrong, who was a 400 free relay prelims swimmer in 2022, and Blake Pieroni, a member of the 400 free relay gold-medal team from the Tokyo Olympics who is returning to the sport after a brief retirement. Casas has solid 100 free chops when he is in top form while teenager Kaii Winkler could be on the verge of a breakout. Winkler missed the summer season due to injury, but he recently clocked 42.14 in the 100-yard free (and 1:32.68 in the 200-yard free) at the Florida High School State Championships, so he should be ready to drop from his long course best time of 48.93.

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