By Rachel Lutz//Contributor | Monday, January 7, 2019
The first of five new stops on the TYR Pro Swim Series opens in Knoxville this weekend at the University of Tennessee’s Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.
With the Tokyo Olympics officially “next year” – now that we’ve rung in 2019 – swimmers may start to feel added pressure. Veterans can continue to stake their claim in their signature events, while new swimmers could be poised for breakout performances, especially since Knoxville races will be held in long course.
For Katie Ledecky and Chase Kalisz, competing in the series be a familiar part of the process. They’re the 2018 series champions, after all.
The first major competition of 2019 will also feature Olympic champions Ryan Murphy, Matt Grevers and Simone Manuel.
Olympic medalists Kathleen Baker, Kelsi Dahlia and Olivia Smoliga are also expected to compete after coming off spectacular performances at the FINA World Championships (short course) over the summer.
Where are the best matchups? We explore in our 5 storylines to watch (based on the most up-to-date psych sheet entries) for the TYR Pro Swim Series at Knoxville…
1. Katie Ledecky could face challengers in the 200m freestyle
Katie Ledecky took bronze at this summer’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, behind 18-year-olds Taylor Ruck of Canada and Japan’s Rikako Ikee. Neither of those swimmers are in the field in Knoxville, but Ledecky will still be pushed in by Leah Smith, Pan Pacs bronze medalist in the 400m freestyle, and Simone Manuel, 100m freestyle Olympic co-champion who also took silver in the 100 at Pan Pacs. Others challenging for the podium in this event include Melanie Margalis (entered in seven events) and Hali Flickinger.
Ledecky is also entered in the 400m IM and the 400m and 1500m freestyles.
2. No shortage of talent in the men’s 100m breaststroke
This is one of the men’s events with the most firepower. Michael Andrew and Andrew Wilson finished 1-2 at Nationals last summer in the 100m breaststroke, while Cody Miller won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Plus the top seed in Knoxville is Kevin Cordes, the 2017 Worlds silver medalist in the event and American record-holder. There’s also National Teamers Josh Prenot and Nic Fink to figure into the equation.
3. Dana Vollmer dives back into women’s 100m butterfly
Kelsi Dahlia took home eight medals from the short course world championships, including silver in the 100m fly. She’s the top seed, ahead of Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, the Olympic co-champion in the 100m freestyle. Even Simone Manuel, who shared gold with Oleksiak, is entered in the 100m butterfly.
The other top story within the women’s 100m butterfly is the return of three-time Olympian Dana Vollmer. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m butterfly took some time off to have a child, mount a comeback to compete in Rio, win a bronze there, have another child, and come back again. That’s one serious #mommaonamission!
4. Men’s 100m backstroke should bring fireworks
Team USA’s backstroke depth is no secret, and the matchup in Knoxville should be pretty special. The top two seeds are none other than the most recent two Olympic gold medalists, world record holder Ryan Murphy (2016) and Matt Grevers (2012). Murphy out-touched Grevers by 0.04 at Nationals over the summer. It figures to be a close one, not to mention that Michael Andrew and Jacob Pebley are in the mix, too.
5. Olympic co-champs square off in women’s 100m freestyle
Olympic co-champs Simone Manuel and Penny Oleksiak will battle it out in their signature event, and it will certainly be one of the races with the most eyes on it. They both clocked 52.70 in Rio, though Manuel’s American record stands at 52.27.
But with Lia Neal in the race, alongside Dahlia, Margo Geer, and Olivia Smoliga, it feels like anyone’s guess as to who could land on the podium.
Live finals will air on the Olympic Channel at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday with same-day delay on NBC Sports, plus streaming coverage onsftest.usaswimming.org and the NBC Sports app on Saturday. Wednesday’s timed finals and all the prelims sessions will stream online atsftest.usaswimming.org.