U.S. Olympic Swim Trial Day 6: Cal sweep top-2 spots of M 200 Back, Weitzeil wins W 100 Free
Four Cal Bears qualify for Saturday night's final
Thanks to a strong night session in Day 5 semifinals, the Cal Bears are set up for a big night on Day 6 (Friday).
Cal is Backstroke U!
Five years ago, Cal swept the top two spots of the Men’s 200m Back at the US Swim Trials as Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley touched the wall 1st and 2nd. You can watch that race on YouTube via this link.
While Pebley has effectively retired from swimming last December, a number of Cal Bears (and former training partners) hope to fill that 2nd spot behind Ryan Murphy. Bryce Mefford and Daniel Carr are both Cal seniors this past school year, who still technically got one year of eligibility left due to NCAA’s COVID exception. Lasco is a rising sophomore who has trained with the Cal group (which also includes Ryan Murphy) since early this year (a belated start due to the pandemic, of course).
The four Golden Bears will be half of the field in the 200m Back Final on Friday night. There is only enough space for at most half of them to go to Tokyo for this event.
Obviously, Ryan Murphy himself would still need to finish in the top-2 to earn the opportunity to defend his Gold in this event from the 2016 Rio Games. Murph had to rally in the last 50m to win his semifinal heat, but it was also clear that he was holding back somewhat in these prelim and semifinal races. The expectation is that Ryan Murphy should put up a time in the 1:53 to relatively easily claim that top spot.
Honestly, the separations between Texas alum Austin Katz who got the 2nd seed and Cal’s duo of Bryce Mefford and Destin Lasco are so small that any of those three could earn that 2nd spot. Given all the battle between Cal and Texas at the NCAA level, it would be extra sweet for the Cal Bears to deny a Longhorn here.
It is Abbey Weitzeil time!
While Weitzeil swam in the prelim for the 200m Free earlier this week and then opted to skip despite making the semifinal there, the sprints (100m Free and 50m Free) are her specialty. The 2016 Rio Calympian qualified for both the 50m Free and 100m Free events 5 years ago.
A 1st place here will not only qualify her for 100m Free event and the 4x100m Free Relay but also make her the top choice for 4x100m Medley Relay as well as the brand new Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay (the assumption here would be Team USA could go with Ryan Murphy, Lilly King, Caeleb Dressel, and Abbey Weitzeil). While Weitzeil won her semifinal, her time was slightly behind the top finishers of the other semifinal, a tie between former Georgia star Olivia Smoliga and Georgia pro group training partner (despite her Florida pedigree) Natalie Hinds.
While one can nearly pencil Weitzeil in as a Tokyo Olympian due to those extra relay spots (top-4 are guaranteed to go to Tokyo, but likely the top-6 will all go), the glory to be the top female sprinter in those other relays are on the line (note that since swimmers who swim the prelim will also earn medals, Weitzeil does not necessarily need to be No.1 and swim the finals to medal, but it would obviously be a greater glory to be the one racing in those finals). 1st place might mean 4 medals while 2nd place translates to 2/3. A 3rd/4th place finish would mean just 1 medal opportunity, in most likelihood.
Stanford alum and 2016 Rio Gold Medalist Simone Manuel was eliminated in the semifinal. Manuel had been Weitzeil’s biggest American competition for the past 4-5 years. This is both a reminder of how anything can happen at this meet as well as a Golden Opportunity for Weitzeil to earn that top spot (and all the glory/responsibility that comes with it).
Anything can happen in a final - Seliskar and Julian in 200 IM Final
Andrew Seliskar already booked a spot on Team USA thanks to his 200m Free performance, but he would love to have the opportunity to earn an individual medal. Trenton Julian came close in the 200 Fly but ended up finishing 5th. Both earned a spot in Friday night’s 200 IM final.
Both Cal Bears will need to seriously improve their times to possibly unseat top-seed Michael Andrew (already qualified by winning 100 Breast) and second-seed Chase Kalisz (also qualified by winning 400 IM). We shall see if either Cal Bears can shave 2-3 seconds off their time and if that would be enough.
Last Chances to go to Tokyo for Calympians Kathleen Baker and Tom Shields
As for Friday’s prelim/semi, this is the last opportunity for Kathleen Baker and Tom Shields to make their 2nd Olympic Games. Baker will race in 200 Back after coming up short in 100 Back, likely due to her foot injury.
Baker had set a new World Record in 2018 and was poised to win multiple medals in 100 Back, 200 Back, and 200 IM. She is now down to one last event to get back to the Olympics. Baker did not qualify for 200 Back back in 2016, but she has gotten stronger in this event since.
Baker, Katie McLaughlin, Abbey Weitzeil, and Amy Bilquist all committed to Cal together. Baker and Weitzeil were the only ones of that group to make the Olympics in 2016. Katie McLaughlin is currently the only one in right now. She was asked about Baker’s injury struggle this year and how it mirrored her own injury struggle in 2016. McLaughlin said, “After I got out of the pool, Abbey and others were right there to hug me. We welled up with tears. It was really special. It's cool to have friends like that when things aren't necessarily going their way, they're still excited for me, and I really appreciate that and it shows what good characters they [have] that it's not just self-motivated. [They] can be happy for me and still be on their journey. So I'm really grateful for them. Kathleen's got another chance out here, so -- we believe in her.”
Also seeking a return trip to the Olympics is Tom Shields in Men’s 100m Fly. Shields came agonizingly close in 2012, but he was able to make his first Olympic Games in 2016 when he qualified for both 100 Fly and 200 Fly. Shields won the 100 Fly event at one of the TYR Pro Series meet a few months ago.
Shields should be able to make the 100 Fly final. I am less certain about Baker due to her performances earlier this week. Nonetheless, I would love to see both Calympian greats do well on Friday.
Day 6 Schedule and Cal Bears to watch
Friday, June 18th, 2021
Morning session, 8 AM PT, LIVESTREAM
Women’s 800 freestyle preliminaries
Men’s 100 butterfly preliminaries
Dare Rose (heat 3), Ryan Hoffer (heat 4), Trenton Julian (heat 5), Tom Shields (heat 7), Ryan Murphy (heat 9), Andrew Seliskar (heat 9)
With several of these guys already set to swim in finals tonight, it is a good bet that only a few of these guys will race in this prelim.
Tom Shields made the 2016 Rio Games in this event when he placed 2nd behind Michael Phelps. This time, can he grab that 2nd spot behind Caeleb Dressel?
T2: Tom Shields (51.71) - Q
T2: Trenton Julian (51.71) - Q
13: Matthew Josa (52.52) - Q; This is the first mention this week of Matthew Josa who swam at Cal for two years but was not listed on the official Cal list.
UPDATE: On the list of finalists, Matthew Josa’s name has been changed to “Matthew Austin”. Apparently, Matthew Austin Josa might want to go by a different name now? Matthew Austin has the same listed year of birth (1995) as the former Cal swimmer.
30: Dare Rose (53.29)
DNS - Ryan Murphy (to prep for 200 Back final)
DNS - Andrew Seliskar (to prep for 200 IM final)
DNS - Ryan Hoffer (to prep for 50 Free tomorrow???)
Women’s 200 backstroke preliminaries
Ayla Spitz (heat 1), Kathleen Baker (heat 6), Isabelle Stadden (heat 6)
Kathleen Baker has the 2nd best seed time entering this event, but can she overcome her right foot/tendon injury in her 3rd and final chance to return to the Olympics?
Isabelle Stadden might be the one to watch here. After Stanford commit Regan Smith, it is a fairly wide-open field, especially if Baker is not right.
8: Isabelle Stadden (2:11.01) - Q
11: Kathleen Baker (2:11.78) - Q
25: Ayla Spitz (2:13.66)
Evening session, 6 PM PT, LIVESTREAM
Women’s 200 breaststroke final
Men’s 200 backstroke final
Ryan Murphy, Destin Lasco, Bryce Mefford, Daniel Carr (top-2 makes Team USA)
1: Ryan Murphy (1:54.20)
2: Bryce Mefford (1:54.79)
5: Destin Lasco (1:56.98)
8: Daniel Carr (1:58.76)
Cal Bears go 1-2 and will claim both spots on Team USA for this event!
Women’s 200 backstroke semifinal
Isabelle Stadden and Kathleen Baker (top-8 advance to Saturday’s final)
4: Kathleen Baker (2:08.58)
7: Isabelle Stadden (2:09.20)
Both Cal Bears have made the final!
Men’s 200 individual medley final
Andrew Seliskar and Trenton Julian (top-2 makes Team USA)
6: Andrew Seliskar (1:58.35)
8: Trenton Julian (2:04.49)
Women’s 100 freestyle final
Abbey Weitzeil (top-6 likely make Team USA)
1: Abbey Weitzeil (53.53) —> Weitzeil is officially Cal’s 4th Olympian from this meet.
Men’s 100 butterfly semifinal
Tom Shields, Trenton Julian, Matthew Austin (Josa) (top-8 advance to Saturday’s final)
2: Tom Shields (51.20)
5: Trenton Julian (51.70)
15: Matthew Austin Josa (53.03)
Julian had a strong swim just a mere 15 minutes after racing in the 200 IM. Both Julian and Shields will be in the 100 Fly Final, racing for that second berth behind Caeleb Dressel.
Cal Bears who have qualified for Team USA at this meet
Andrew Seliskar - Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay, 1st-time Calympian
Ryan Murphy - Men’s 100m Backstroke, Men’s 200m Backstroke, 2nd-time Calympian
Katie McLaughlin - Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay, 1st-time Calympian
Abbey Weitzeil - Women’s 100m Freestyle, Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay, 2nd-time Calympian
(technically not yet official) Bryce Mefford - Men’s 200m Backstroke, 1st-time Calympian