By Jim Rusnak // USA Swimming Director of Media Properties | Wednesday, June 29, 2016
OMAHA – First-time Olympians won each of the four finals contested Tuesday at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, continuing a trend that has become the predominant theme of the meet so far.
For those keeping track, that means eight of the ten events contested in the first three days of the meet have gone to newcomers. And a newcomer has finished among the top two in 9 of the 10 finals. Only the men’s 400m free has gone exclusively to a pair of veterans – 2012 Olympians Connor Jaeger and Conor Dwyer.
That’s a lot of new blood that will be packing their bags for Rio at the end of this meet.
Olivia Smoliga will be one of them. Smoliga earned a spot on the roster tonight after winning the women’s 100m backstroke in 59.02, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year.
“It’s like a new wave of people are coming in,” Smoliga said. “My teammate Gunnar (Bentz) made it tonight in the 200 free as an alternate. He got fifth in the 200. Jay (Litherland) made it in the 400 IM. Chase (Kalisz) made it in the 400 IM. I’m so happy for them, so happy for the young kids coming up, like Jack Conger and Townley Haas. It’s awesome.”
Smoliga was the NCAA Champ in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle for the University of Georgia last March. Her biggest accomplishment on the international scene so far has been a silver in the 100m back at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Her goal going into Rio, among other things, is to enjoy the experience.
“I hope to get more international experience, just enjoy being with such amazing athletes,” Smoliga said. “It’s definitely going to be so much fun.”
Men's 200m Free
Not only will Townley Haas be new to the Olympic Scene after winning the men’s 200m free Tuesday, he’s still new to this whole Olympic Trials thing.
Haas is competing in his first Trials this week. On the first night of competition, veteran Dwyer edged him by about a half second for the second spot in the 400m free.
Tonight it was Haas’s turn to out-touch Dwyer, this time by a hundredth of a second, 1:45.66 to 1:45.67.
Finishing behind Haas and Dwyer were Jack Conger and Ryan Lochte in 1:45.77 and 1:46.62, who locked their spot on the team in the men’s 800m free relay. Fifth and sixth-place finishers Gunnar Bentz (1:47.33) and Clark Smith (1:47.53) may be added to the team later in the week, pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events. Dwyer will now be added to the roster in the 200m free, 400m free and 800m free relay.
Haas won the 200 and 500 free at the NCAA Championships this year, but beyond that, the Rio Games will be his first international meet. His time in tonight’s finals was eighth-fastest in the world this year.
“I never thought I would be here, let alone make the team my first time (at Trials),” Haas said. “It’s all still amazing to me. I’m just trying to soak it in, I guess.”
Women's 200m Breast
Another swimmer competing in her first Olympic Trials and qualifying for her first Olympic Team is Lilly King.
King took the women’s 100m breaststroke with a time of 1:05.20, the fastest time in the world this year.
King has risen to prominence over the past year or so. She took silver in the 100m breaststroke at last year’s World University Games and Phillips 66 National Championships, then broke the American record in the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke en route to a pair of NCAA titles last March.
“I attribute that rise to going to college, and I’m finally starting to train hard, lift weights and do what everybody else is doing at this level,” King said. “To do that this year after already being at the elite level just kind of put the cherry on top of everything.
“I hope to bring a little fun to the (Olympic) Team. I really don’t know anybody because I think I’m the youngest to qualify so far. I’m kind of new to the National Team, but I’m just really hoping to get to know everybody and take in all their experience and their knowledge.”
Men's 100m Back
Of the four first-time Olympians to qualify Tuesday, Ryan Murphy probably has the most international experience.
Last year, he won gold in the 400m medley relay at the FINA World Championships. He also won bronze in the 100m back at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and bronze in the 200m back at the 2011 Pan American Games.
He came out on top of a tough field in the men’s 100m back Tuesday, out-touching David Plummer for the top spot by two-hundredths of a second in 52.26.
Murphy’s time was the second-fastest in the world this year. Plummer holds the top time in the world in 52.12, which he swam in last night’s semifinals.
In Rio, Murphy will face the task of upholding an American tradition in the 100m backstroke, an event in which U.S. swimmers have won gold at the last five Games.
“The job isn’t done yet,” Murphy said. “I’m going to look at this race, find some improvements to make, and hopefully I’ll be a little bit faster in Rio and compete for that gold medal.”
Second-place finishers in tonight’s races include Kathleen Baker in the women’s 100m backstroke (59.29); David Plummer in the men’s 100m backstroke (52.28) and Katie Meili in the women’s 100m breaststroke (1:06.07). All three will likely be added to the roster later in the week, pending swimmers qualifying in double events. If that happens, it will be the first Olympic Games for all three swimmers.
The Other Side
Of course, the flipside of all these newcomers making the team is that some of the more experienced veterans and old favorites have been sidelined – for the time being, of course.
Two such winners Tuesday were Missy Franklin and Matt Grevers, both of whom won gold in the 100m backstroke four years ago in London.
Grevers finished third in the men’s 100m back tonight, about a half second behind Plummer. Franklin finished seventh in the women’s 100m back.
Though obviously disappointed in the outcome, both stars handled it with poise, grace and supreme sportsmanship.
“I would have liked to have a little more of a shot, but I was just saying the point of this meet is to be the best of the best, and the best of the best is Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker,” Franklin said. “They’re going to represent us the best way possible, and I’m incredibly proud of them.
“I can’t wait to see how (they) do, and I can’t wait to see what they’re capable of.”
Grevers tipped his hat to the competition.
“When I was behind the block, I didn’t think about any regrets, or any training I missed, food habits or any indulgences I’ve had,” Grevers said. “I really put everything I could into this season and the last couple years. Nothing to attribute that to except the other guys just doing really well.”
Both swimmers will have more chances to make the team later this week. Grevers will compete in the 100m free and 50m free. Franklin still has the 200m free, 200m back and 100m free to go.
“I’m a little stunned,” Grevers said. “I think if I let it sink in, I’ll be more distraught than I currently am. I’m going to get ready for the 100 freestyle and see if I can get on that relay.”
“I think I am feeling more pressure than I ever have before, but that’s all part of the process, learning how to deal with it and move forward,” Franklin said. “All I can do is the best I can do. I had a race strategy, and I went out and did it. It just wasn’t good enough this time.”
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