Cal Bears at U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials (June 13-20) Preview
The likely largest contingent of 2021 Tokyo "Calympians" will be decided next week
The lifelong Olympic dreams of several Cal Golden Bears will either be fulfilled or temporary (if not permanently) dashed next week at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials from Omaha, Nebraska.
Even if there are signs that Team USA’s Swimming dominance on the world stage may be coming to an end in the near future, there is no denying that Swimming is one of the top sport for the United States at the summer Olympic games. In the 2016 Rio Games, 33 of the 121 medals won by the Americans came from swimming; thus swimming was the plurality of the medals, just ahead of 32 from “Athletics” (mainly track and field, but also including road running and race walking). Sixteen Golds out of the 46 won by the United States also came from swimming.
At that 2016 Rio Games, Cal Olympians, AKA “Calympians”, won a combined 22 medals. Twenty of those came from USA Swimmers in 15 events (if we do not double count the relay medals): 7 Golds, 3 Silvers, 5 Bronzes.
By the end of next week, we will find out just how many USA Swimming Calympians there will be for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics. That selected group will likely be the primary sources of “Cal Olympic Medals” at the Tokyo Games, from Fri, Jul 23, 2021 to Sun, Aug 8, 2021.
How to become a 2021 USA Swimming Olympian?
The honor of being an Olympian will be purely decided by how they perform at the USA Swimming Trials Wave II. No exceptions will be made for past Olympic legends or for any other reasons. While Cal Men’s Swimming head coach Dave Durden will be the men’s head coach for Team USA, he will not have any say on who makes the team but will set the relay lineups in Tokyo. Only the top-2 finishers of most events will become 2021 US Olympians. “Relay only” spots go to places 3-6 (though not completely guaranteed for 6th place) of 100 Free and 200 Free.
The maximum roster size for Team USA is 26 men and 26 women. They get officially filled in the following order: 1) Places 1-4 of 100m Free, 200m Free and winners of other events 2) runner-ups of other events 3) 5th place finishers of 100m Free, 200m Free and 4) (if there are room) 6th place finishers of 100m Free, 200m Free.
NBC and NBC Sports Network (for the prelims) will have all the TV coverage of the meet. Unfortunately, I believe their finals coverage may be tape-delayed for the West Coast in addition to NBCSN showing the morning qualifying on tape delay at 5:30 PM. I do believe/hope that the NBCOlympic.com website will be streaming the exciting action live. I will be making a new post for each day of the Trial and updating the results on those posts.
Unlike the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships which just had prelim and final sessions, all of the races 200 meters or shorter will have three stages: a prelim in the morning, followed by a semifinal that evening. The all-important final of the top-8 qualifier will take place on the following night.
Here is the daily schedule:
Sunday, June 13
Men’s 400 individual medley preliminaries
Women’s 100 butterfly preliminaries
Men’s 400 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 400 individual medley preliminaries
Men’s 100 breaststroke preliminaries
Men’s 400 individual medley final
Women’s 100 butterfly semifinal
Men’s 400 freestyle final
Women’s 400 individual medley final
Men’s 100 breaststroke semifinal
Monday, June 14
Women’s 100 backstroke preliminaries
Men’s 200 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 100 breaststroke preliminaries
Men’s 100 backstroke preliminaries
Women’s 400 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 100 butterfly final
Men’s 200 freestyle semifinal
Women’s 100 breaststroke semifinal
Men’s 100 breaststroke final
Women’s 400 freestyle final
Men’s 100 backstroke semifinal
Women’s 100 backstroke semifinal
Tuesday, June 15
Women’s 200 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 200 butterfly preliminaries
Women’s 200 individual medley preliminaries
Women’s 1,500 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 200 freestyle semifinal
Men’s 200 freestyle final
Women’s 100 backstroke final
Men’s 100 backstroke final
Women’s 100 breaststroke final
Men’s 200 butterfly semifinal
Women’s 200 individual medley semifinal
Wednesday, June 16
Men’s 100 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 200 butterfly preliminaries
Men’s 200 breaststroke preliminaries
Men’s 800 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 100 freestyle semifinal
Women’s 200 freestyle final
Men’s 200 butterfly final
Women’s 200 butterfly semifinal
Men’s 200 breaststroke semifinal
Women’s 200 individual medley final
Women’s 1,500 freestyle final
Thursday, June 17
Women’s 100 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 200 backstroke preliminaries
Women’s 200 breaststroke preliminaries
Men’s 200 individual medley preliminaries
Men’s 800 freestyle final
Men’s 200 breaststroke final
Women’s 100 freestyle semifinal
Men’s 200 backstroke semifinal
Women’s 200 butterfly final
Men’s 100 freestyle final
Women’s 200 breaststroke semifinal
Men’s 200 individual medley semifinal
Friday, June 18
Women’s 800 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 100 butterfly preliminaries
Women’s 200 backstroke preliminaries
Women’s 200 breaststroke final
Men’s 200 backstroke final
Women’s 200 backstroke semifinal
Men’s 200 individual medley final
Women’s 100 freestyle final
Men’s 100 butterfly semifinal
Saturday, June 19
Men’s 50 freestyle preliminaries
Women’s 50 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 1,500 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 100 butterfly final
Women’s 200 backstroke final
Women’s 800 freestyle final
Men’s 50 freestyle semifinal
Women’s 50 freestyle semifinal
Sunday, June 20
Evening session only
Men’s 50 freestyle final
Women’s 50 freestyle final
Men’s 1,500 freestyle final
Full List of the 32 Cal Bears at this meet:
Update: somehow Cal alum Matthew Josa is not listed by Cal Athletics. This might be due to Matthew Austin Josa both training somewhere else as well as competing under the name “Matthew Austin”
The listed events below for each Cal swimmer are based on what is on the pre-scratch psych sheet. Practically, the busiest Cal Bear might only race in at most 3-4 events (I doubt Destin Lasco will swim in 6 events, for example).
Unlike college where they race in yard short courses (25 yards), these trials and the Olympic games will be in meter long courses (50 meters).
» Nathan Adrian – 50 Free, 100 Free
» Anthony Ervin – 50 Free
» Ryan Murphy – 100 Back, 200 Back, 100 Fly
» Josh Prenot – 100 Breast, 200 Breast, 200 IM
» Andrew Seliskar – 100 Free, 200 Free, 200 IM, 100 Fly
» Tom Shields – 100 Fly, 200 Fly
Matthew Austin Josa
Collegiate (including those who just graduated)
» Daniel Carr – 100 Back, 200 Back
» Sean Grieshop – 200 Free, 200 IM, 400 IM
» Ryan Hoffer – 50 Free, 100 Free, 100 Fly
» Chris Jhong – 200 IM, 400 IM
» Trenton Julian – 200 Free, 400 Free, 100 Fly, 200 Fly, 200 IM
» Tyler Kopp – 400 IM
» Destin Lasco – 50 Free, 100 Free, 200 Free, 100 Back, 200 Back, 200 IM
» Jason Louser – 100 Breast, 200 Breast, 200 Fly, 200 IM, 400 IM
» Bryce Mefford – 100 Back, 200 Back
» Colby Mefford – 200 Back, 400 Free, 200 Fly
» Dare Rose – 100 Fly, 200 Fly, 200 Free, 400 Free
» Reece Whitley – 100 Breast, 200 Breast
» Zach Yeadon – 200 Free, 400 Free, 800 Free
» Jack Alexy – 50 Free, 100 Free, 100 Back
» Gabriel Jett – 200 Free, 400 Free, 800 Free, 200 Fly, 200 Back
» Kathleen Baker - 100 Back, 200 Back, 200 IM
» Amy Bilquist - 100 Back, 100 Free, 200 Back, 50 Free
» Madison Kennedy - 50 Free
» Katie McLaughlin - 100 Fly, 200 Free, 100 Free, 50 Free
» Abbey Weitzeil - 200 Free, 100 Free, 50 Free
» Rachel Klinker - 100 Fly, 200 Fly
» Isabel Ivey - 100 Fly, 100 Back, 200 Free, 100 Free, 50 Free
» Ayla Spitz - 100 Fly, 100 Back, 200 Free, 100 Free, 200 Back
» Isabel Stadden - 100 Back, 200 Back
» McKenna Stone - 50 Free
With so many Cal Bears at this meet, there are a lot of very interesting storylines. I will attempt to do justice to some of them via some short synopses below. Apologies to the Cal signees, I do not have anything to say about them other than to praise their obviously wise decisions to become Golden Bears.
Nathan Adrian aims for a 4th Olympic Games, 1st since Cancer diagnosis.
Nathan Adrian shocked the swimming world when he announced his testicular cancer diagnosis in 2019. Fortunately, the doctors caught it early and he became cancer-free after treatment. The former gold medalist in 100 Free should still be a favorite to gain one of the 100 Free relay spots, if not an individual event spot. Adrian did win his most recent 50 Free tune-up event, so he definitely should not be counted out there.
In the pre-meet press conference, Durden said the following about Adrian, “This extra year has helped him. Just further removed from cancer, further removed from battling that, further into his life as a husband, as a father, which gives you proper perspective on things. I mean, all those things are really, really good things.”
Ryan Murphy seeks the opportunities to repeat as Gold Medalists on both backstroke events
The safest pick out of all the Cal Bears to earn an Olympic berth has got to be backstroke superstar Ryan Murphy. Murphy won Golds in both backstroke events as well as the medley relay at the Rio Games. He is trying to be the first American man to repeat as a Gold medalist in the 200 Back.
Speaking of 200 Back, Cal grabbed both Olympic berths in 2016 with Murphy and Pebley. Pebley is not at this meet (more on him below), but there will likely be other Cal Bears in that A-Final alongside Murph with Carr and Mefford also being top-8 seeds.
How many individual events can sprinter Abbey Weitzeil qualify for?
Recent Cal graduate Abbey Weitzeil won two relay medals in Rio prior to her matriculation at Cal. Five years later, she is a good bet to make another Olympic team with a top-6 finish in 100 Free (and possibly 200 Free), but can she touch the wall first or second in those races to earn another shot at an individual medal? For 50 Free and 100 Free, it could be a Cal vs. Stanford fight at the top between Weitzeil and Stanford alum Simone Manuel, who gained special recognition as the first African-American woman to earn a swimming Olympic medal.
Can Cal sustain its backstroke legacy on the women’s side? Can Kathleen Baker add to her Olympic legacy or will a new Cal Bear emerge?
2004: Natalie Coughlin (Gold) in 100 Free
2008: Natalie Coughlin (Gold) in 100 Free
2012: Missy Franklin (Gold) in 100 Free and 200 Free
2016: Kathleen Baker (Silver) in 100 Free
Can Cal continue this streak of Olympic backstroke success in 2021? Five Cal Bears will be in the field, including two alumni in Kathleen Baker and Amy Bilquist in addition to three current Cal Bears in Isabelle Stadden, Isabel Ivey, and Aya Spitz.
Baker was a surprise Olympian 5 years ago over other Cal stars like Missy Franklin ad Elizabeth Pelton; she went on to earn an individual medal and sustain that success in collegiate swimming with multiple individual national titles. Another Cal Bear, Rachel Bootsma, played that surprise role 9 years ago when she just edging Natalie Coughlin in the 100 Free at the USA Swimming Trials. Might freshman Isabelle Stadden be the dark horse this year? Isabel Ivey had a stronger NCAA season than Stadden, but Stadden is the more natural backstroker who should thrive in the Olympic long course.
Unfortunately, both Baker and Bilquist have injuries coming into this meet. Baker had “a freak walking accident” but will still compete at the Olympic Trial. Kathleen Baker is no stranger to overcoming obstacles since she became a 2x Olympic medalist despite suffering from Crohn’s Disease. She did skip going to Hungary to swim in the ISL (International Swimming League) bubble last year, likely due to being immunocompromised. Despite not racing competitively for a year, Baker looked strong in 2021 before her recent foot injury, which may or may not impact her training.
In addition to being a contender in the backstroke events, Baker also has the second-best seed time in 200 IM in addition to the second-best time for 200 Back. One of the favorites in the backstroke events is Regan Smith, who is a Stanford commit who deferred enrollment this past year. Could it be a Cal vs. Stanford showdown in those two finals? I certainly would not mind a repeat of this recent result below.
24 Cal Bears seeking 1st-time Olympic glory
Several Cal Bears hope to become a 1st-time Olympian. I will highlight the ones with the best chances below.
With no Michael Phelps at this Olympic Trials, recent Cal graduate Andrew Seliskar hopes to be one of several Americans to fill Phelps’ absence. Seliskar is good enough to earn an individual berth, but his chance to make his first Olympic Games is greatly improved by the extra opportunity to qualify for the 4x200 Free Relay.
Cal junior Reece Whitley has garnered media attention since high school due to being one of the very few role models of African-American swimmers; he was called the Tiger Woods of swimming as a high schooler in Philadelphia. Whitley has a good chance of qualifying in the 200 Breast. His tall frame should make him even stronger in these long courses compared to the short courses in college swimming.
A part of that special Cal women’s swimming class along with Weitzeil, Baker, and Bilquist, Katie McLaughlin had a successful year of swimming after her injury-plagued Cal career. She is capable of qualifying in 100 Fly as the 4th seed.
At age 33, this might be the last realistic chance to make an Olympic game for alum Madison Kennedy. Kennedy will only race in the always wild 50 Free on the last couple of days of this meet.
Trenton Julian, Ryan Hoffer, Sean Grieshop, Daniel Carr, and Bryce Mefford are all recent Cal graduates who are contenders to be Olympians both this cycle as well as in three years. Trenton Julian’s prowess in 200 Free, and its extra available berths, gives him the best shot out of this group to fulfill the Olympic dream. I also would not be shocked if Ryan Hoffer can make the relay with a strong 100 Free swim. Grieshop is the 6th seed in 400 IM. Carr is the 6th seed in both 100 Back and 200 Back, the latter event has Bryce Mefford as the 5th seed. All of these guys technically could still return to Cal and race next year, I suspect that decisions may be inversely related to how well they do this week (it would make sense for those who become Olympian to cash in on that opportunity).
Other current Cal Bears in the mix include Rachel Klinker, who had a breakthrough year in collegiate swimming, and a pair of highly regarded freshmen backstrokers in Destin Lasco and Isabelle Stadden.
Durden singled out the positive attitude of Lasco in his pre-meet press conference. “Destin Lasco is probably the nicest guy you're ever going to meet. I mean, truth be told. He was up there in COVID testing for about three and a half hours today, and he came out and was smiling, and he was like, It was great. It was a wonderful experience. So like that's the type of kid that he is and that's a little bit of a manifestation of [the Cal backstroke] group. I mean, it's, they really enjoy spending time with each other.”
Cal Bears seeking a return to the Olympic Games:
I have mentioned the recently formed International Swimming League (ISL) a few times already in this post, one of the main proponents for the formation of that professional swimming league was Cal alum Tom Shields. Shields made the 2016 Rio Games after narrowly missing out on 2012. Shields looked rejuvenated swimming in the ISL for the LA Current (which had plenty of other Cal Bears). Part of it might have been his fondness for swimming in a team setting (Shields was also great for Cal at the NCAA Championships). Nonetheless, Tom Shields is certainly a contender in both 100 and 200 Fly, particularly with a Michael Phelps in the mix.
Josh Prenot earned a silver in 200 Breast at Rio. He has been one of my personal favorite Calympians for being a physics major. Prenot did not swim that fast in ISL action, however; it is possible that his best chance to return to the Olympics is in the 200 IM rather than beating fellow Cal training partner Reece Whitley in 200 Breast.
Despite being age 40, Anthony Ervin will give it another go in 50 Free. Ervin won gold in 50 Free back in 2000 but then repeated as the gold medalist in 2016, when he set the record for being the oldest individual swimming medal winner at age 35. Can he defy Father Time again?
While Ervin no longer trains with the Cal pro group, Durden is obviously still pulling for him. “[Anthony Ervin] has taught me about human potential and he's done so in a lot more eloquently than I just put it. So I'm excited to see him race. I hope the smile on my face says that. I'm really excited to see him get up and compete against this group.”
Young Cal Bears who advanced from Wave I last week:
Due to COVID and fewer swimming events across the country this past year, the 2021 Olympic Trials were broken into two waves for the first time. Wave I last week saw a number of Cal Bears who had slower official time competing for spots in next week’s Wave II. Two current Bears were able to finish in the top-two of their event last week to advance to next week.
Out of 6 male Cal Bears (all current members) who entered Wave I, Tyler Kopp (400m IM) and Colby Mefford (200m Fly, 200m Back) advanced by winning those events. While they are highly unlikely to compete for a spot on the Olympic Team, racing in Wave II got to be a great learning experience for these guys.
For the Cal women, 10 - 4 current, 6 future, raced in Wave I last week but none advanced to Wave II.
Former Calympians who are NOT at this Olympic Trials:
Jacob Pebley: Sadly, Pebley had mental health struggle after being the lone USA male Cal Swimming Olympian to not medal at the 2016 Rio games when he narrowly missed it by placing 5th in 200 Back. He stopped competitive swimming last December and will skip this meet. He might still race in year 3 of the ISL this summer, however.
Missy Franklin: Franklin was the darling of the 2012 Olympics, when she got to know Cal head coach Teri McKeever and eventually decided to come to Cal. She only got to race in the 4x200 relay in 2016 Rio and opted for a few changes, including training with the Cal men before leaving Cal for Georgia. Ultimately, Franklin had to medically retire from swimming in December 2018. She is currently expecting her first child.
Natalie Coughlin: The 11x medalist and Cal/USA legend last swam competitively in year 1 of ISL in 2019. While Coughlin has never officially announced a retirement, she skipped ISL year 2 last year (and gave birth to a second child).
Dana Vollmer: The 3x Calympian and 7x medalist retired in 2019 after a brief return to competitive swimming after giving birth to her second child in 2018. She was able to make the 2016 Olympics after maternity leave in 2015.
Cierra Runge*: The one time Cal Bear, who won an NCAA relay title as a major contributor to Cal’s 2015 NCAA team championship title, was a 2016 Rio Gold Medalist in 4x200m Free Relay. For some reason, Runge was not listed on the official Cal Athletics website for 2016 after she had transferred to Wisconsin. Cierra Runge has since transferred again to Arizona State, whose swimming programs collectively took a redshirt this past year.
As a very casual follower of swimming, thanks for this. Gives me some things to watch for.