Eight nights in Omaha resulted in 50 swimmers being added to the U.S. Olympic Team for Tokyo, and the drama was palpable throughout the whole week thanks to a number of close finishes and surprising upsets. Below are just a few of the moments for which this year’s U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials will be most remembered.
Katie Ledecky wins two events in one night
With Katie Ledecky a lock to make the Olympic team, the only touch of drama surrounding her performance at Olympic Trials was how she would handle a grueling night that featured not one, but two finals. First up on Wednesday night, the 200m freestyle final (Ledecky’s most vulnerable event); then just over an hour later, the 1500m final (one of her strongest events). Unsurprisingly, the 24-year-old superstar won both events in a testament to her versatility across the spectrum of swimming distances. It’s the same double that Ledecky will have to do at the Olympics, but her path to victory won’t be as easy in Tokyo. Australia’s Ariarne Titmus recently swam the No. 2 time ever in the 200m and has moved ahead of Ledecky on the all-time list.
Caeleb Dressel looks ready for Olympic breakout
With Michael Phelps now retired, Caeleb Dressel is expected to become the next big American swimming star on the men’s side. After dominant performances at the last two world championships, he could win as many as seven medals in Tokyo. But first Dressel had to secure his place on Team USA in what effectively served as an Olympic tune-up. It’s safe to say that the tattooed Floridian looks ready to live up to expectations this summer after comfortably winning all three of his individual events in Omaha. Among his best swims: He nearly broke his own world record in the 100m butterfly during a semifinal heat, and he tied his own American record in the 50m freestyle on the final night of Trials (video below).
Simone Manuel qualifies in last chance
One of the biggest shocks from Olympic Trials was Simone Manuel missing the cut for the 100m freestyle final, an event she won at the last Olympics. She finished ninth in semifinal, just one position and .02 seconds shy of advancing onward. Afterward, Manuel revealed that she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier in the year, which led to her needing to spend weeks out of the pool. Her hopes of making Team USA suddenly became pinned on the 50m freestyle, an event held on the final night of Trials. This time, she won the race by the slimmest of margins — 0.1 seconds — to secure her second trip to the Games.
Michael Andrew lives up to the hype (and then some)
At age 14, Michael Andrew became the youngest American swimmer to turn pro. Eight years later, he showed the world exactly why he had been billed as a swimming phenom throughout his teenage years. It wasn’t just that the fact that he won several events — it was the way he won them. In the 100m breaststroke, Andrew set the American record twice — once in the prelim, once in the semifinal — and then won the final by just .01 seconds to qualify himself for Tokyo (video below). He later threatened the 200m IM world record on two separate occasions, falling off the pace in the final leg but still winning the race both times, and then finished second in the 50m sprint to qualify for a third event.
Lilly King fulfills promise to Annie Lazor
After Annie Lazor’s father passed away in April, her training partner and friend Lilly King drove five hours to attend the visitation. Then King made a promise to Lazor’s mother: She would do everything she could to get Lazor onto the Olympic team. King, a reigning Olympic champion, easily made the team by winning the 100m breaststroke final, but Lazor missed the cut in third. Their next and final chance came in the 200m breast, and after King offered some words of encouragement on the training blocks, the two jumped into the pool in adjacent lanes and proceeded to beat the competition together, with Lazor finishing first and King taking second to deliver one of the most emotional moments from Trials. That swim qualified them to race the 200m breast together in Tokyo.
Jake Mitchell’s solo swim takes him to the Olympics
The final of the men’s 400m freestyle featured eight swimmers who had yet to meet the Olympic qualifying time, so finishing in the top two would mean nothing if they didn’t swim below 3:46.78. Race winner Kieran Smith hit that mark, which locked up his spot in Tokyo, but the rest of the field was all above 3:48. Two nights later, second-place finisher Jake Mitchell got first crack at hitting the Olympic standard when world governing body FINA approved a solo time trial for him. The time trial was held at the end of the night after all other events had concluded. Many fans had left by that point, but the ones who remained at the arena were boisterous in their support of Mitchell, and in response, he delivered the swim of his life, shaving more than two seconds off his previous time to hit the standard and put himself on the team.
Rhyan White upsets world champion in 200m back
After a crazy year leading up to Trials, Regan Smith is expected to be one of Team USA’s leading medal contenders at the Tokyo Games. Although she qualified in two individual events, she won’t be contesting her signature event, the 200m backstroke, after a surprising upset saw Rhyan White and Phoebe Bacon finish ahead of the reigning world champion to take the two Olympic spots. White, who swims for the University of Alabama, surged in the second half of the race to overtake three swimmers, including Smith and Bacon, and claim the win.
Of the 53 members of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team, 11 of them are currently teenagers. Leading the way is 19-year-old Regan Smith, who qualified in the 100m backstroke and 200m butterfly. Surprisingly, Smith did not qualify for the 200m back, an event in which she holds the world record, as she was upset by fellow teenager Phoebe Bacon, 18, at Trials for one of the two spots. Katie Grimes, the youngest member of the team at 15, qualified for the 800m free alongside Katie Ledecky (who was 15 when she made her Olympic debut and won that event), and Lydia Jacoby, 17, is set to become the first Alaskan swimmer to compete at the Olympics. But the youth movement was perhaps most apparent in the women’s 100m butterfly (below), where 18-year-old Torri Huske (who broke the American record twice on consecutive nights) and 16-year-old Claire Curzan secured the two spots for Tokyo.
Olympic spot decided by .02 seconds
Victory is nice, but at Olympic Swimming Trials, the real race is for second place. A top-two finish is all that’s needed to get onto the Olympic team, and that’s the main goal for anyone competing at Trials after all. One of the most dramatic battles for second place (and also first place) came in the women’s 200m medley. The top three swimmers — Alex Walsh, Kate Douglass and Madisyn Cox — finished within .04 seconds of each other, with second and third-place decided by just .02. Ultimately it was University of Virginia teammates Walsh and Douglass getting the Olympic spots, with Madisyn Cox getting left out altogether in heartbreaking fashion.
Want to watch more highlights from U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials? You can find clips from select event finals below.
Who made the Olympic team?
The following athletes won selection to the Tokyo Games thanks to their results at Olympic Trials. The top two finishers in each event qualified for the team, and up to six swimmers were taken for each of the relay events.
Men's 50m free
Men's 100m free
Blake Pieroni — 4x100 relay spot only
Brooks Curry — 4x100 relay spot only
Bowe Becker — 4x100 relay spot only
Men's 200m free
Drew Kibler — 4x200 relay spot only
Andrew Seliskar — 4x200 relay spot only
Patrick Callan — 4x200 relay spot only
Men's 400m free
Men's 800m free
Men's 1500 free
Men's 100m back
Men's 200m back
Men's 100m breast
Men's 200m breast
Men's 100m fly
Men's 200m fly
Men's 200m IM
Men's 400m IM
Women's 50m free
Women's 100m free
Olivia Smoliga — 4x100 relay spot only
Natalie Hinds — 4x100 relay spot only
Catie DeLoof — 4x100 relay spot only
Allison Schmitt — 4x100 relay spot only
Women's 200m free
Paige Madden — 4x200 relay spot only
Katie McLaughlin — 4x200 relay spot only
Bella Sims — 4x200 relay spot only
Brooke Forde — 4x200 relay spot only
Women's 400m free
Women's 800m free
Women's 1500m free
Women's 100m back
Women's 200m back
Women's 100m breast
Women's 200m breast
Women's 100m fly
Women's 200m fly
Women's 200m IM
Women's 400m IM