Josh Prenot

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Josh Prenot is the U.S. breaststroke hope to end Olympic drought

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While U.S. male swimmers earned gold medals in every other stroke at the Rio Olympics, the last American man to win an Olympic breaststroke event was in 1992.

“I did not know that stat,” Josh Prenot said last week. He knows now, and he may be reminded more and more as the Tokyo Games approach.

Prenot, the 2016 Olympic 200m breast silver medalist, is the clear hope to end that drought among a maturing group of American breaststrokers.

Consider the 100m breast a long shot for anybody other than Brit Adam Peaty, the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder who has been more than a second clear of the rest of the world each of the last three years.

Prenot is glad that Peaty’s dominance is limited to the shorter distance. In the last five years, five different men topped the year-end rankings in the 200m breast.

Prenot was No. 1 in the most important year — 2016 — when he broke the American record at the Olympic Trials. In Rio, he touched .06 after surprise Kazakh Dmitriy Balandin, the last qualifier into the eight-man final whose time was nearly three tenths slower than Prenot’s in Omaha a month and a half prior.

“It’s tough to come up what I could have done better [in Rio] given the skills that I had at the time,” Prenot, 25, said last week while promoting his role as an athlete mentor for Classroom Champions. “I think my start’s better. I think my turn’s better. I think my underwater’s better now.”

That confidence was absent in 2017, when Prenot was third at nationals and failed to make the world championships team. He later said he was “going through stuff” and prefers to leave it at that.

“I maintain that going to that meet was a bad idea for me, and I think I proved that by embarrassing myself on the national stage,” he said.

Prenot stuck with his coaches at Cal-Berkeley, endured a spring shoulder/lat injury and had the best training stint of his life going into the U.S. Championships in July.

It showed. Prenot clocked the fastest time in the world for 2018 at nationals (a 2:07.28, since surpassed by Russian Anton Chupkov), 1.44 seconds faster than at the same meet in 2017 and .11 off his American record.

“It does not rank that high on the satisfaction scale,” he said, leaving it a level below the swifter Olympic Trials win and slower Rio silver. “I can’t be mad. It’s a great time, but at the same time, I know I’m better than that.”

He may have to be come 2020. Chupkov, the Rio bronze medalist, has gone faster each of the last two years. Japan’s Ippei Watanabe lowered the world record in January 2017, a 2:06.67 that’s a half-second faster than Prenot’s best.

Prenot later struggled at August’s Pan Pacific Championships, the major international meet of 2018. He was fifth in a 200m breast final that did not include Chupkov, swimming more than a second slower than he did at nationals two weeks earlier.

He noted the quick turnaround from meet to meet (less than half the time between Trials and the Olympics) and that his stroke timing was off.

“That’s the reason why I swam bad,” he said.

Prenot’s ups and downs bring to mind his idol, the most famous U.S. male breaststroker of the last 25 years.

Brendan Hansen went from a pair of third-place finishes at the 2000 Olympic Trials (where the top two per event go to the Games), to breaking both breaststroke world records at the 2004 Olympic Trials to silver and bronze medals at the Athens Games, a retirement, an unretirement and an unexpected individual bronze medal at London 2012.

Prenot said he’s had one conversation with Hansen. Three months before the Rio Olympic Trials, Hansen presented the 200-yard breaststroke awards at the NCAA Championships. Prenot took second to Will Licon, with both men lowering personal bests by more than a second (Licon shattered the American record).

“[Hansen] was talking to me and Licon and said, ‘You guys are going to be going 2:07, 2:06,'” Prenot recalled. Prenot’s best 200m breast at the time was 2:08.90. Hansen’s personal best was 2:08.50.

Now Prenot is one of just three U.S. men to break 2:08. To listen to him, 2:06 appears on the horizon.

“When I look at my career, I ask myself, how long am I going to go for? Am I going to transition to the real world?” said Prenot, who grew up on Air Force bases and studied physics at Cal. “Knowing that I’m capable of a performance that I have not delivered yet keeps me going.”

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Anthony Ervin misses world team as Caeleb Dressel keeps rising

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Anthony Ervin defied Father Time in Rio. He couldn’t do it again in Indianapolis on Saturday.

Ervin, who last year became the oldest individual Olympic swimming champion by four years, finished sixth in the 50m freestyle at USA Swimming Nationals. Ervin will not be going to the world championships later this month.

USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, determines the team for worlds in Budapest.

Ervin, who at 36 was the oldest swimmer at nationals by three years, needed a top-two finish to earn a trip to Hungary.

Caeleb Dressel won the 50m free in 21.53 seconds, qualifying for his fourth individual event at worlds. He was followed by Nathan Adrian in 21.87. Ervin clocked 22.09.

Dressel, 20, has nine events to choose from at worlds when including five relays (two mixed-gender). He swam in one individual event (sixth in the 100m free) and two relays in Rio (prelim only in the medley relay).

SWIM NATIONALS: Full Results

In other events Saturday, Leah Smith joined Katie Ledecky on the world team in the women’s 1500m freestyle by swimming 16:01.02.

It’s the second-fastest time in the world this year, 25 seconds behind the leader Ledecky. Ledecky had a bye onto the world team in the 1500m by winning the 800m free on Tuesday.

Smith, the Olympic 400m free bronze medalist, qualified for the world team in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, plus the 400m individual medley and the 4x200m free relay.

If Smith swims all of those events at worlds, it lines up to be 7,000 total meters of racing if she makes every final (700 more meters than Ledecky’s slate).

“Last summer, I swam three events [in Rio],” Smith said on Universal HD. “So, this will be really fun to challenge myself.”

Simone Manuel won the women’s 50m freestyle in 24.27 seconds. Abbey Weitzeil held off Lia Neal by .03 to sneak onto the world team.

Olympians Chase Kalisz and Melanie Margalis won the 200m IMs.

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Katie Ledecky wins again at nationals; Lilly King sets Russian showdown

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Katie Ledecky, racing while not very rested, still lowered her fastest time in the world this year in the 200m freestyle by a half-second Wednesday night.

And Lilly King set up another showdown with her Russian rival.

Ledecky took her second title in as many days at the USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The quadruple Rio Olympic champion clocked 1:54.84 to win by 1.84 seconds over Leah Smith, repeating their one-two finish from the 800m freestyle Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“Certainly growing in confidence in that race,” Ledecky said. “It’s right on, or faster than what I was at Trials last year [1:54.88].”

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

The top two swimmers per individual event are in line to make the team for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

The women’s 200m free was loaded with not only Ledecky and Smith, but also Mallory Comerford, who on Tuesday swam the second-fastest 100m free ever by an American. Plus, Olympic 100m free champion Simone Manuel and Olympian Melanie Margalis.

They made up the top five in the 200m free final, putting them all in the world 4x200m free relay pool.

Ledecky has one race left at nationals, the 400m freestyle on Friday. She is the least tapered she’s ever been at a trials meet, meaning she should be much faster at worlds.

If she finishes top two in the 400m free, she’ll be in line to swim six events at worlds in Budapest, her busiest schedule yet at an Olympics or worlds. In 15 career Olympic/world events, Ledecky brought home 14 golds and one silver.

In other events Thursday, King took 2.2 seconds off her 200m breaststroke personal best to win in 2:21.83 over Bethany Galat.

Only Rebecca Soni and Micah Lawrence have swum faster among Americans all time. Only Russian rival Yuliya Efimova has swum faster this year (though significantly, 2:19.83). King of course won the Rio 100m breast over Efimova but didn’t make the Olympic 200m breast final.

King smiled and laughed when asked if she looked forward to facing Efimova for the first time since Rio.

“Of course, I love racing fast people,” King said. “That’s why I’m here. I’m here to race the fast people. I’m here to chase people.”

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot failed to make the world team in the men’s 200m breast, finishing third behind Rio teammate Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink.

Townley Haas convincingly won the men’s 200m free in a personal-best 1:45:03. Haas had the fastest 4x200m free relay split in Rio but finished fifth in the individual final at his first Olympics.

His time on Thursday is second to only one man over the last three years — Olympic champion Sun Yang.

Rio 4x100m free member Blake Pieroni finished second Thursday (1:46.30) to nab the other world team spot.

Zane Grothe (1:46.39) and Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer (1:47.25) were third and fourth and made the relay. The last time Dwyer did not qualify for the 200m free at a major international meet was the 2012 Olympics.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy took the 200m backstroke followed by Jacob Pebley in a repeat of the Olympic Trials.

Kathleen Baker won the women’s 200m backstroke by 2.17 seconds in 2:06.38, the fastest time in the world this year. The Olympic 100m back silver medalist dropped 2.98 seconds off her personal best in the 200m back on Wednesday.

Regan Smith, a 15-year-old who finished second, will in Budapest become the youngest American to race individually at a worlds since Elizabeth Beisel in 2007.

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