Zane Grothe didn’t qualify for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials final in the 400m freestyle, but as of now he’s in line to qualify for the Olympic team in the event.
The biggest head-turner of the first night of competition in Omaha was in the U.S.’ weakest event.
Kieran Smith, a 21-year-old from the University of Florida, won the 400m free in 3:44.86 to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
“All that was going through my head the last 100 [meters] was I’m about to be an Olympian,” Smith said.
The top two in every event at Trials dating to 1984 generally qualify for the Olympic team, but a potential second men’s 400m free spot is up in the air and could be for two more weeks.
That’s because no other American man in the final hit the minimum time to qualify for the Olympics — 3:46.78, which must be swum between March 1, 2019 and June 27, 2021, according to international rules.
Only one other American swam that time since March 1, 2019 — Grothe, who was 11th in Sunday morning’s preliminary heats to miss the eight-man final. So Grothe is the only swimmer currently eligible for the second Olympic spot behind Smith, assuming the overall U.S. roster isn’t full from other events (which hasn’t happened in recent Olympics).
However, Jake Mitchell, who finished second to Smith in 3:48.17, or any of the other top 10 men from Trials can bump Grothe off the Olympic team. That would happen if any swim 3:46.78 by June 27. They can do that in a time trial or another swim meet, if either is approved by FINA.
Mitchell, a 19-year-old from the University of Michigan, said he was told while warming down that he can time trial, but isn’t sure when he will do it. He is also entered in the 200m and 800m frees later this week.
“There’s going to be a lot less nerves,” doing a time trial than the Olympic Trials, he said. “I know that I’m swimming fast.”
In other finals Sunday, Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland repeated their one-two finish in the 400m individual medley from the 2016 Olympic Trials.
Kalisz, the Rio Olympic silver medalist, won in 4:09.09. Litherland, the 2019 World silver medalist who trains with Kalisz at the University of Georgia, made up a 1.54-second deficit on 19-year-old Carson Foster in the last 50 meters to snag the second spot.
Afterward, Kalisz revealed he battled a shoulder injury in 2019, after spending two years as the world’s best all-around swimmer. Kalisz, who swept the 200m and 400m individual medleys at the 2017 World Championships, finished 10th and third at 2019 Worlds.
“It was really the first time I’ve ever been injured,” said Kalisz, who ranks second in the world this year behind Daiya Seto, the world champion from Japan. “It was kind of devastating.
“I kind of lost a little bit of myself there. These past two years I’ve kind of just been reclaiming all of that.”
In the women’s 400m IM, favorite Melanie Margalis finished third and missed the team by .12 of a second in a four-and-a-half-minute race. Emma Weyant, 19, and Hali Flickinger, the World silver medalist in the 200m butterfly, finished first and second. The top four finishers recorded the four fastest times in the world this year.
“I put my head down in the last 50 [meters],” Weyant said on NBC. “It hurt a lot.”
Two American records fell in semifinals on Sunday.
In the 100m butterfly, 18-year-old Torri Huske broke Dana Vollmer‘s record, clocking 55.78 to lead the qualifiers into Monday’s final. She’s joined by Rio Olympian Kelsi Dahlia and 16-year-old Claire Curzan, the other pre-meet favorites.
In the 100m breaststroke, Michael Andrew lowered the American record in both the prelims and the semifinals. Andrew, who turned pro at age 14 seven years ago, swam 58.14 to lead the qualifiers into Monday’s final. He’s joined by the next three fastest Americans in history — Nic Fink, Andrew Wilson and Kevin Cordes. Rio silver medalist Cody Miller tied for 11th and missed the final.
Trials continue Monday with Katie Ledecky in her first event, the 400m free.
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