U.S. Olympic Swim Trial Day 7: Murphy and Weitzeil win on Friday; B. Mefford also Tokyo-bound
5 Cal Bears have made Team USA so far. With two days to go, it's the final chances for Nathan Adrian, Tom Shields, Kathleen Baker, Anthony Ervin, etc.
Saturday is the penultimate day of the 2021 USA Olympic Swim Trials. The 26 spots per gender on Team USA are filling up fast.
While the past, current, and future Cal Bears are unlikely to match the number of USA Swimming “Calympians” from 2016 Rio (6 men: Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian, Josh Prenot, Tom Shields, Jacob Pebley; 5 women: Dana Vollmer, Kathleen Baker, Abbey Weitzeil, Missy Franklin, Cierra Runge), the 2021 Team USA Calympian group can still increase rather significantly over these final two days from the current 51 (see list at the end of the post).
Day 6 of the Swim Trials saw two Cal victories, plus an important runner-up finish for another Cal Bear. Two Cal Bears punched their tickets to Tokyo. Four other Cal Bears also set themselves up for a run at the 2021 Team USA by qualifying for the Saturday evening finals.
Cal proves itself as Backstroke U by sweeping the top-2 spots of Men’s 200m Back again
As expected, Cal backstroke superstar Ryan Murphy swept both backstroke events of this US Swim Trials to set himself up for the defense of his two individual Golds.
Five years ago, fellow Cal Bear and training partner Jacob Pebley touched the wall second behind Murphy to book his spot on Team USA, becoming a 1st-time Olympian. On Friday night, fellow Cal Bear and training partner Bryce Mefford touched the wall second behind Murphy to book his spot on Team USA, becoming a 1st-time Olympian.
Be sure to watch the full race below. Cal Bears make up half of the field, with Ryan Murphy wearing a White Cal cap while Daniel Carr, Bryce Mefford, and Destin Lasco all sporting the Gold Cal caps. Murphy, of course, dominated the backstroke during his Cal career, becoming the first and only man to sweep the 100y and 200y Backstroke NCAA titles for all four years. Lasco was the top Cal finisher at the NCAA this past season, ahead of teammates Carr and Mefford.
Bryce, the elder Mefford whose younger brother (and fellow Cal Bear) Colby also raced in this meet, showed great promise earlier this week when he had the top overall 100m Back Prelim time (granted, Ryan Murphy was definitely NOT going full out at the prelim/semi because he did not really need to). He ended up 4th in the 100m Back final, 0.43 seconds off second place.
For 200m Back, Mefford improved on his 3rd place semifinal finish with a brand new personal record that’s a 1.75-second jump to earn that pivotal 2nd spot on Team USA. Mefford touched the wall just over a second ahead of Texas’ Austin Katz and ahead of fellow 2021 Cal teammates Destin Lasco (5th place) and Daniel Carr (8th place). By the way, if you watch the video above, you can see how excited Carr was for Mefford after seeing the results. You have got to love the comradery among the Cal Bears who had spent so much time training together over the past 4 years.
Looking at the times from the past year, Murphy has got some work to do yet to sustain the USA’s backstroke dominance. However, if he does get back to his 2016 Rio form where he set the 100m Back World Record while challenged the 200m Back WR, Murphy should be able to repeat that Double Gold; should he achieve this, he will be the first American to do this and only the 2nd Olympian after East Germany’s Roland Matthes in 1968 and 19722. Should Mefford also be able to improve his time a bit, I am again dreaming about two Cal Bears on one individual event’s podium.
Abbey Weitzeil wins Women’s 100m Free; set herself up for a busy Olympic game
A five-year difference sees Abbey Weitzeil graduate, in addition to a Cal degree in Public Health in the interim, from a high schooler who became an Olympian to now a clear Team USA veteran. Weitzeil was able to maintain her place as the top female American sprinter by winning the 100m Free.
In addition to the 100m Free and Women’s 4x100m Free relay, Weitzeil also put herself as the top choice for Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay as well as the brand new Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay (with likely fellow Cal alum in Ryan Murphy…I would LOVE to see two Cal Bear Greats bookend that race to win a Gold medal for Team USA). The medley relay final opportunity does have a history of going to the better Olympic game performer, however. 5 years ago, Weitzeil edged Stanford’s Simone Manuel at the trials but Manuel swam in the Women’s 4x100m Medley relay after winning the historic 100m Free Gold, the first-ever individual swimming Gold medal for a female African-American. With Weitzeil as the X-factor anchor leg in relays, I am still bummed about how her senior year at Cal was cut short by COVID-19 last year; she could have led Cal to the 2020 NCAA Team Championship with her sprint prowess.
While Weitzeil won her semifinal heat, she only had a 3rd best time heading into this final. She was able to touch the wall first when it mattered the most, ahead of a group that included two first-timer in Tennessee’s Erika Brown and Florida’s Natalie Hinds as well as a fellow Rio Olympic veteran in Georgia alum Olivia Smoliga.
Tom Shields and Trenton Julian race for that 2nd Olympic berth in Men’s 100m Fly behind Caeleb Dressel
Caeleb Dressel, if you do not already know that name, will likely have a very special Olympic Games in a month plus. The former Florida Gator great (and Ryan Murphy’s high school teammate) Dressel is basically a lock to win this final tonight.
Battling for that second place and a trip to Tokyo is a group of swimmers led by two Cal Bears. Tom Shields had experienced both close calls back in 2012 and elation in 2016 when he finished 2nd behind Michael Phelps in both Fly events. Trenton Julian has had a very busy week. Julian swam in 200 Free as well as making the finals of both 200m Fly and 200m IM (which he swam a mere 15 minutes before the 100m Fly semi and finished 8th, behind Cal Bears Andrew Seliskar who took 6th and Ryan Lochte who finished 7th in possibly his last Olympic Trials). Julian’s got that Olympic pedigree as his mother was a USA Olympic Swimmer for the 1996 Atlanta Games where she won Gold as a part of the 4x100m Medley Relay.
Shields and Julian had the second-best prelim times and will carry the 2nd and 5th best semifinal times, respectively, into the Men’s 100m Fly final. The battle for that 2nd place is wide open, so why not a Cal Bear?
Last Call for Kathleen Baker and Isabelle Stadden in Women’s 200m Back
Regan Smith, if you do not already know that name, will likely have a very special Olympic Games in a month plus. The Standford commit has already owned some world records, including breaking the 200m Back one held by Missy Franklin. Smith took 100m Back a few days ago and will also be the heavy favorite for the 200m Back.
Hoping to claim that 2nd spot will be a pair of Cal Bears in Kathleen Baker and Isabelle Stadden. A gutsy semifinal swim, despite a broken bone in her right foot, by 2016 Calympian Baker gave her 4th best time in the semifinals. I believe that Baker could have challenged Smith had she been 100%. With the opportunity to go for it all in one swim, do not be surprised if Baker overcomes her injury with the same positive vibe and grace, the same way that she has overcome her Chron’s Disease all her life.
18-year-old Stadden was technically the second-ranked recruit of her class behind Smith. While Smith stayed home to train and deferred Stanford’s NCAA season, Stadden did do NCAA swim as a freshman at Cal earlier this year. Isabelle Stadden certainly got the talent to be an Olympian, but will it be in 2021 or later?
Cal Bears of all ages are in the mix for 50m Free
While researching for this series of posts this week, I was reminded of the 3rd place finishes in the 2016 US Olympic Trials by Madison Kennedy in W. 50m Free and Amy Bilquist in W. 100m Back (just behind Kathleen Baker).3 Both of those women are still seeking the lifelong title of becoming an Olympian. Kennedy is now age 35, and this possibly could be her last good shot at Olympic glory. With Katie McLaughlin earning her Olympic berth earlier this week, Bilquist is now the lone one out of that special Baker/McLaughlin/Weitzeil/Bilquist class to not be an Olympian. They will each be racing for a lane in Saturday night’s Women’s 50m Free final. Abbey Weitzeil is a favorite (but far from a lock, in such an unpredictably short race) to take one of the two spots. Isabel Ivey, a current Cal Bear who is younger than the rest mentioned here, will also be racing.
On the men’s side, Nathan Adrian’s hope of making his 4th Olympic game, and the first one as a cancer survivor, will also lie in 50m Free. Adrian did look pretty good in the first 50m of his 100m Free semifinal swim, so maybe he could still make Team USA. Also in the mix is now 40-years-old Anthony Ervin, who won Gold in this event in 2016 to set the record for the oldest male swimmer to win an individual Gold at age 35. Can Ervin defy Father Time? A number of less experienced Cal Bears will also be racing for their shot at becoming an Olympian: Ryan Hoffer, Destin Lasco, Matthew Austin (Josa), and incoming Cal Bear Jack Alexy (who had a strong 100m Free showing) are all in the mix as well.
Day 7 Schedule and Cal Bears to watch
Saturday, June 19
Morning session, 8 AM PT, LIVESTREAM
Men’s 50 freestyle preliminaries
Destin Lasco (heat 1), Matthew Austin (Josa) (heat 3), Anthony (Tony) Ervin (heat 5), Jack Alexy (heat 5), Nathan Adrian (heat 7), Ryan Hoffer (heat 8)
3: Nathan Adrian (21.85) - Q
17: Jack Alexy (22.47)
19: Ryan Hoffer (22.50)
23: Anthony Ervin (22.61)
53: Matthew Austin (Josa) (23.10)
Destin Lasco - Did Not Swim (DNS)
Women’s 50 freestyle preliminaries
Isabel Ivey (heat 3), Amy Bilquist (heat 4), Madison Kennedy (heat 7), Abbey Weitzeil (heat 9)
1: Abbey Weitzeil (24.50) - Q
19: Madison Kennedy (25.53)
21: Isabel Ivey (25.58)
29: Amy Bilquist (25.79)
57: McKenna Stone (26.33) - an incoming freshman who I had left out initially
Men’s 1,500 freestyle preliminaries
Evening session, 6 PM PT, LIVESTREAM
Men’s 100 butterfly final
Tom Shields and Trenton Julian (top-2 makes Team USA)
2: Tom Shields (51.19) - Shields is Tokyo-bound!
Thanks to Caeleb Dressel’s win in this event, all of the 2nd place individual finishers, including both Shields and Bryce Mefford, are all officially Olympians!
Women’s 200 backstroke final
Kathleen Baker and Isabelle Stadden (top-2 makes Team USA)
4: Isabelle Stadden (2:07.86)
5: Kathleen Baker (2:08.78)
Stadden was 2nd behind Regan Smith after the first 100m, but both Smith and she fell to 3rd and 4th, respectively. Alabama’s Rhyan White and Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon grabbed the two Olympic berths.
Women’s 800 freestyle final
Men’s 50 freestyle semifinal
3: Nathan Adrian (21.78) - Q
Women’s 50 freestyle semifinal
1: Abbey Weitzeil (24.27) - Q
Cal Bears who have qualified for Team USA at this meet (as well as the Olympic events that they will likely compete in)
Andrew Seliskar - Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay, 1st-time Calympian
Ryan Murphy - Men’s 100m Backstroke, Men’s 200m Backstroke, (very likely Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay and possibly Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay), 2nd-time Calympian
Katie McLaughlin - Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay, 1st-time Calympian
Abbey Weitzeil - Women’s 100m Freestyle, Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay, (very likely Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay and possibly Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay), 2nd-time Calympian
Bryce Mefford - Men’s 200m Backstroke, 1st-time Calympian
Tom Shields - Men’s 100m Butterfly, 2nd-time Calympian
I will just go ahead and assume that as the 2nd place finisher in Men’s 200 Back that Bryce Mefford will make Team USA (even though that technically will require a couple more swimmers to qualify for multiple events — which will surely happen with Caeleb Dressel for 100 Fly and/or 50 Free or fellow Florida Gator Bobby Finke for 1500m Free).
To be fair, I should point out that 200m Back was not in the Olympics between 1904 to 1960.
Josh Prenot in Men’s 100 Breast, Caitlin Leverenz in Women’s 200 IM, and Cierra Runge in Women’s 400 Free also finished in that agonizing 3rd place. Of course, Prenot and Runge still made the 2016 Rio Games while Leverenz was a 2012 Calympian.