USA Swimming Nats Predictions: Haas to Dominate 200 Free?

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Photo Courtesy: Eric Seals-USA TODAY Sports

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By David Rieder.

This year’s schedule for World Championship Trials loads up on relay events early, with the 100 free scheduled for day one and the 200 free for day two. That 200 free will set up the 800 free relays, traditionally a gold mine for the United States.

The women’s 800 free relay was only added to the Olympic program in 1996, but the U.S. has won gold on five of six occasions and also in six of the last seven World Championships. Even with Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Maya DiRado all absent, the presence of Katie Ledecky makes the Americans big favorites once again.

On the men’s side, it’s not so simple. Michael Phelps is retired, and Ryan Lochte, who swam on this relay every year since 2004, is suspended. It’s not clear what to expect from 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer, who has competed sparingly since Rio.

And with Great Britain looking strong in the 800 free relay with James Guy and Duncan Scott, the U.S. men will need to post some good times at Trials in order to be considered favorites heading into Budapest.

Event schedule for day two:

• Women’s 200 free
• Men’s 200 free
• Women’s 200 breast
• Men’s 200 breast
• Women’s 200 back
• Men’s 200 back
• Women’s 50 fly
• Men’s 50 fly

1. Townley Haas wins men’s 200 free comfortably, and Jay Litherland makes the 800 free relay.

Haas finished fifth in the 200 free in Rio, but he showed what he is capable of a day later, when he split 1:44.14 (the fastest in the field) on the 800 free relay. A flat start time in the 1:44-range should be in the cards this summer—if not in Indianapolis, by Budapest.

As for Litherland, he’s a pretty good freestyler. Just ask Lochte.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The morning after the high of making his first Olympic team, Litherland bombed out in the 200 free prelims at Trials, finishing tied for 22nd at 1:49.33. But he’s capable of much more than that, and at the recent Santa Clara Pro Swim Series meet, Litherland beat a field that included Dwyer, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger just minutes after posting a 4:13 in the 400 IM.

And in a year where the U.S. has lost some of its 200 free depth, it might not take anything faster than 1:47-mid to get on the relay.

2. Prenot and Licon go 1-2 in a tight, competitive 200 breast final.

The men’s 200 breast was arguably the best race of the entire week at Olympic Trials, and there’s no reason to expect anything different this year in Indianapolis. Josh Prenot smoked the final 50 to became a first-time Olympian, while a badly-fading Kevin Cordes held off Will Licon to claim the second spot.

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Photo Courtesy: Melissa Lundie

But back to the race itself. Prenot looks like the big favorite after winning an Olympic silver medal in Rio, and his target will be joining Ippei Watanabe under 2:07, even if he spent much of the fall “less committed to actually try to get better at swimming.”

Licon became the first man to break 1:48 in the 200-yard breast in winning the NCAA title this past March, and Cordes was the silver medalist in the 200 breast at the 2015 World Champs.

On top of the front-running trio, Nic Fink and Chase Kalisz have both swum times in the 2:10-range already this year, and Cody Miller can swim up to a 200. Andrew Wilson was not all that far off the pace of the top three at Olympic Trials, finishing fourth in 2:09.35. So maybe this field is even better than last year’s.

3. Kathleen Baker wins the National title in the women’s 200 back and is joined in Budapest by a rookie.

One event after the men’s 200 breast, the women’s 200 back will look absolutely nothing like it did last summer at Trials with DiRado retired and Franklin absent. Lisa Bratton and Amy Bilquist finished third and fourth, respectively, at Olympic Trials, but neither made the NCAA final in the event this season. Danielle Galyer, who finished fifth at Trials, has since retired.

It’s a wide-open event for the first time in a long time, and our pick to win it didn’t even swim the event at Olympic Trials.

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Photo Courtesy: Matt Rubel of Rubel Photography

Baker scratched out of the 200 back after already making the Olympic team in the 100 back. But this year, she comes to Indy as the reigning NCAA champion in the 200-yard back and third-fastest performer in history in the event.

And if a rookie finishes second, that could be a lot of different people—Regan Smith, Asia Seidt, Eva Merrell, Erin Voss and Hannah Stevens all come to mind as possible choices here, and all have very limited international experience. The choice here is Merrell, but nothing in this event is a lock.

Here’s what we do know: Whoever does make the Worlds team will have to post big time drops in order to contend for a medal in Budapest.

Event Predictions

Women’s 200 Free
1. Katie Ledecky
2. Leah Smith
3. Simone Manuel
4. Mallory Comerford
5. Melanie Margalis
6. Katie Drabot

Men’s 200 Free
1. Townley Haas
2. Conor Dwyer
3. Jack Conger
4. Jay Litherland
5. Blake Pieroni
6. Gunnar Bentz

Women’s 200 Breast
1. Lilly King
2. Katie Meili

Men’s 200 Breast
1. Josh Prenot
2. Will Licon

Women’s 200 Back
1. Kathleen Baker
2. Eva Merrell

Men’s 200 Back
1. Ryan Murphy
2. Jacob Pebley

Women’s 50 Fly
1. Kelsi Worrell

Men’s 50 Fly
1. Caeleb Dressel

Click here to view day one’s bold predictions, and check back throughout the week for more.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

8 comments

  1. avatar
    Elliot

    Why Licon over Cordes in the men’s 200 breast?

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      It’s not just over Cordes — Fink, even Wilson and Miller are possibilities. These picks are guesses more than anything else, and Licon looks really good at NCAAs this year in breast (1:47). But the men’s 200 breast is one of the strongest and deepest races of the meet, so there’s definitely no obvious right answer.

  2. avatar
    Rachel

    You picked Conor Dwyer to finish second overall in the men’s 200 free, but you also mentioned that he hasn’t competed much, why do you think he’ll do so well?

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      Track record, plus no one else has really distinguished themselves. Not saying he will be at his best times, but I don’t see anyone else, except maybe Conger, capable of 1:46-low. I could see changing out those two, but third is probably Dwyer’s floor.

  3. avatar
    Nick

    How many people can qualify for the 50s? Is it one or two?

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      Good question — just one. Same in the women’s 1500 and men’s 800, even though those are now Olympic events. Should be fun watching Caeleb in the 50 fly.

      • avatar
        Nick

        What about the 50 free? That’s been an Olympic event since ’88.

      • avatar
        David Rieder

        Oh yeah, top two in that one. (But if you want to see our predictions for that event, on day five, come back Friday.)