Caeleb Dressel, Regan Smith take down world records in semifinals

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The U.S. swim team, struggling in the first few days of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, tore through the pool in the first few races Friday, following Simone Manuel‘s 100m freestyle win with two world records in semifinal races.

Caeleb Dressel, swimming a schedule akin to Michael Phelps‘ glory days, found enough speed Friday in the world championship 100m butterfly semifinals to beat a Phelps record that had stood for nearly a decade. Then 17-year-old Regan Smith shocked the field in the women’s 200m backstroke semifinals, beating Missy Franklin‘s world record.

Dressel was well ahead of the field and a couple of feet ahead of the record-marking red line throughout the semifinal, finishing in 49.50 seconds. Phelps set the previous record of 49.82 seconds on Aug. 1, 2009, also at the world championships.

Phelps’ 200m butterfly record fell earlier in the championships to Hungary’s Kristof Milak.

Dressel won seven gold medals in the 2017 world championships — four relays, 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 50m freestyle. This year in Gwangju, he has already defended his 100m freestyle world title and added two more golds in the 50m butterfly and the 4×100 mixed medley relay. He was back in the pool about 30 minutes after his world-record swim Friday, winning his 50m freestyle semifinal in 21.18.

“Both races hurt pretty bad,” Dressel said. “There’s a lot that I need to clean up going into tomorrow. These times mean nothing.”

READ: Dressel starts eight-gold quest after tough 2018

While Dressel’s assault on the record book was no surprise, no such performance was expected from Smith, a 17-year-old swimmer from Lakeville North (Minn.) High School who recently committed to Stanford.

Smith set a world junior record in the 200m backstroke in 2017 and did it again in the heats earlier Friday in Gwangju, finishing in 2:06.01. In the semifinal, she blasted her way to a time of 2:03.35, well under Franklin’s record of 2:04.06 from the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that.”

Smith now has an unusual distinction of setting a world record before winning her first world title. She’ll aim for the 200m backstroke gold in the middle of Saturday evening’s session. She’s entered in no other individual events.

The U.S. team now has a selection dilemma for the 4x100m medley relay, the final event of the championships on Sunday. Aside from Smith, the other options would be world record-holder Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga, who took bronze in the 100m backstroke and gold in the 50m backstroke earlier in the championships.

“We had a really good night tonight, especially with Regan,” Dressel said. “That was phenomenal. I thought that was one of the top three toughest world records on the women’s side, and she just crushed it.”

ALSO FRIDAY: U.S. women win third straight water polo gold

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Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement