Conor Dwyer looks on after competing in a heat for the men's 200-meter freestyle at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming at CenturyLink Center on June 27, 2016 in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — After each final at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, the winner was automatically named to the U.S. Olympic Team.
The second-place finishers were named on Saturday night.
Only 52 swimmers, male and female, from the U.S. can compete in Rio in 26 events. Rules stipulate that individual race winners, plus the top four in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles, are named to the team. Then second-place finishers fill out the team. Unless enough swimmers qualify in multiple events, some of the second-place finishers won’t make it.
Fortunately, six U.S. swimmers who won races at trials qualified to compete in multiple events, opening up the team to all the second-place finishers.
Here’s a look at who else will be swimming in Rio.
Returning Olympic Medalists
In the opening night of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, Elizabeth Beisel finished second in the 400-meter individual medley behind Maya DiRado. Beisel, 23, earned a silver medal in the event at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Working toward the Rio Games, she pulled muscles in her leg in January 2015 and struggled to come back.
“I can't tell you how emotional today was for me!” she said after the race. “Just so many nerves and doubts over the past year having the injuries and stuff like that, it's hard to block it out, but it's such a relief, such a relief.”
She also competed in the 2008 Games in Beijing. Back then, she was the youngest on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. Now, age 23, she is one of the older Team USA swimmers going to Rio.
Also racing the first night of trials, Conor Dwyer, 27, finished second in the 400 freestyle and said, “I don't like losing, but I will take a bid to Rio” (assuming at that point that all second-place finishers would be named to the team).
He followed it up with another second place in the 200 freestyle, giving him a berth in that event in Rio as well as a spot on the men’s 4x200 freestyle team.
The 2012 Olympian finished fifth in the 400 freestyle in London and won gold in the men’s 4x200 free.
For four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, Olympic Trials did not turn out like she had hoped. She missed qualifying in the 100-meter backstroke, so she will not get a chance to defend her gold medal in that event. She also missed qualifying in the 100-meter freestyle, which will leave her off the 4x100 team.
But her endurance finally shown through in the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke. She finished second to Katie Ledecky in the freestyle race, so will get to swim that event in Rio — and hopefully avenge her fourth-place finish in London (by 0.01 seconds). She will also compete on the women’s 4x200 team, giving her three events in Rio.
Eleven-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte, 31, also struggled at trials. He injured his groin on the first day while swimming the 400 IM prelims. He missed qualifying for Rio in that event, so, like Franklin, will not defend his Olympic gold medal in Rio. But by the end of trials, he had regained his form. In the men’s 200 IM, he challenged Michael Phelps until the final strokes, finishing 0.31 behind his rival.
Phelps and Lochte finished 1-2 in London in the 200 IM and will both try for the podium again in Rio. Lochte has won medals in the 200 IM at every Olympic Games in which he has competed, taking silver medals in 2004 and 2012 and bronze in 2008 (with Phelps winning each time).
Lochte grew sentimental at the end of the 200 IM.
“It was kinda a little heartbreaking at the end because after we finished, we gave each other a hug and said good job, but we both knew that was probably the last time me and him were going to race against each other on U.S. soil,” he said. “It's been a long journey. The journey is not over. We have another month to get ready and show the world that U.S. is still number one.”
Lochte will also compete in the men’s 4x200 free, giving him two events in Rio.
Anthony Ervin, 2000 gold medalist in the 50 free, finished second behind Nathan Adrian and, at age 35, became the third-oldest male to make a U.S. Olympic swimming team. He also qualified to compete in the 4x100 free.
Dana Vollmer finished second in the 100-meter butterfly and made her third Olympic team. She stepped back from swimming after the 2013 world championships and gave birth to her first child in March 2015. She then decided to return to the pool. Labeling her return as #MommaOnAMission, she wants to see if she can defend her 100 fly gold medal in Rio — and possibly reclaim the world record that she set at the London Games.
2015 World Championship Medalists
Kevin Cordes, 22, qualified for Rio by winning the men’s 100-meter breaststroke. As the 2015 world championship silver medalist, he was a favorite to win the 200 breaststroke, as well. But Josh Prenot pulled by him in the final 50 meters. Still, by finishing second, Cordes will compete in two events in Rio.
Cody Miller was not as lucky as Prenot. The 24-year-old couldn’t pass Cordes in the 100 breaststroke. But he held on for second and has now been named to the Olympic team. A University of Arizona grad, Miller helped the U.S. win gold in the 4x100 medley at 2015 world championships.
It’s always hard racing a legend. With all the attention focused on Michael Phelps making his fifth Olympic team, Tom Shields quietly slipped onto the team as well. He finished second to Phelps in both the 100 and 200 butterfly.
“Tom and I swim pretty much the same way, we take it out and step on the gas the first 100 and we see where we stand,” said Phelps after the 200 fly. “I've seen Tom put together some pretty good 200 butterflies over the last couple of years. I think his stroke is getting a lot better. It's exciting that we will be able to train a little bit together and kinda race each other in the training camp, which is something I look forward to.”
A Cal grad, Shields holds the short-course American record in the 200 fly and helped the U.S. men win the gold medal in the 4x100 medley at 2015 worlds.
With much of the attention focused on Katie Ledecky at trials, Leah Smith, 21, is another breakout swimmer who flew under the radar. The great-granddaughter of MLB infielder Jimmy Smith (and great-niece of world light heavyweight boxing champion Billy Conn), Smith finished second to Ledecky in the 400 and 800 freestyle races. In the 400 free, she swam the second-fastest time in the world this year. Ledecky was as excited for Smith’s swim as for her own win in that race.
Initially afraid to put her face in the water, Smith started out as a backstroker but became a distance freestyler when her siblings began swimming for a distance program. Now a senior at the University of Virginia, Smith helped the U.S. win gold in the 4x200 free at worlds in Kazan, Russia, last year. In Rio, she will swim three events: 400 and 800 frees, plus the 4x200.
Also in this category: Missy Franklin (gold in 4x200 free, silver in 200 backstroke, bronze in 200 free and 4x100 free), Ryan Lochte (gold 200 IM and 4x100 medley, silver in 4x200 free), Conor Dwyer (silver in 4x200 free).
2015 World Championship Team
Three other world championship team members qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team by finishing second in their races.
Stanford University sprinter Simone Manuel, 19, was a favorite to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team and lived up to expectations. She finished second in the 100 free and will also compete on the 4x100 free team.
“I expected to do well so I just was still surprised, though, to see the Olympic rings by your name when you finish!” Manuel said after the race.
In the 100 backstroke, Kathleen Baker, 19, went out fast and was ahead of world-record time at the turn. After Olivia Smoliga passed her in the final lap, Baker held on for second. Baker was shocked to finish second, beating Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin. Baker just finished her freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley and was runner-up in the 200 IM at NCAAs. At the 2015 world championships, she made the final in the 100 back and ended up eighth.
Melanie Margalis surged past 2012 Olympian Caitlin Leverenz in the 200 IM.
“I just knew that I needed to be near Caitlin,” said Margalis. “I knew she was going to go off in breaststroke. But I am really confident in my freestyle, so I knew I still had a chance to do it if I just dug deep.”
The 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate finished seventh in the 200 IM at the 2015 world championships. In 2013, she won a bronze medal in the 200 IM at the World University Games. She was also a 200 IM bronze medalist in the 2014 short course world championships.
Reigning National Champions
Katie Meili, 25, graduated from Columbia University in 2013 and never had any idea that she would be an Olympian. Then she won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in the 100 breaststroke as well as the national championship title in the event. Still, she had doubts.
“I don't know if I ever actually thought I would [make the Olympic team], even around last year when I started really improving, and I kind of had a glimmer of hope,” she said. “I don't think I still thought I would be, until right now.”
She finished second to Lilly King in the 100 breaststroke and is going to Rio.
“Rush of emotion, extreme happiness, extreme gratitude, unbelief,” she said through tears after the race. “I never thought I would be here, so it's really special.”
Hali Flickinger made her first Olympic team after finishing second in the women’s 200 butterfly. The 21-year-old from the University of Georgia was a bronze medalist at the 2015 World University Games. This year, at NCAAs, she finished third in the 500-yard freestyle, and fourth in both the 200 free and 200 fly. She won the 200 fly at nationals last summer.
In the men’s 200-meter backstroke, Jacob Pebley swam by reigning Olympic champion Tyler Clary to clinch a spot on the Rio team. He was thrilled to join Cal teammate Ryan Murphy in the event.
A former junior world backstroke champion, Pebley, 22, came to trials as the reigning 200 backstroke national champion. He also won a gold medal in 200 back at the 2015 World University Games.
Reigning NCAA Champion
When Caeleb Dressel was 10 years old, he caught Ryan Lochte’s eye. The Olympic champion visited Dressel’s school and noticed the kid’s speed.
“Just seeing the improvement that he’s done, especially in the last couple years, it’s amazing,” said Lochte during trials.
Dressel, now 19, used his speed to win 2016 NCAAs in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles. Then he came to Olympic Trials and finished second to reigning Olympic champion Nathan Adrian in the men’s 100-meter freestyle. After the race, he broke down and cried in his sister’s arms. Rio will be his first Olympic Games.
He will also compete in Rio on the men’s 4x100 free team.
“He’s not done yet,” added Lochte. “He’s going to only get faster.”
2015 World University Games Competitors
One of triplet brothers, Jay Litherland, 20, came to Omaha with an outside chance of making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. He was, after all, competing in the 400 IM with reigning Olympic champion Ryan Lochte and world championship medalist Chase Kalisz. His best result at an international meet was gold in the 400 IM at the 2015 World University Games, held last July in Gwangju City, South Korea.
Then Litherland passed Lochte in the final 50 meters and finished second to Kalisz.
“I was never losing hope, but I never really thought I would catch him (Lochte),” Jay said. “I’m kind of in shock.”
Litherland’s brothers, Mick and Kevin (who are identical, Jay is a fraternal triplet), are also aiming for the Olympic Games. All three brothers swim for the University of Georgia.
“I’ve told them this is only the beginning,” Jay told TeamUSA.org. “We all learn from this. I think they will definitely have a chance next time.”
In the women’s 200 breaststroke, Molly Hannis surged in the final lap and passed world championship silver medalist and 2012 Olympian Micah Lawrence. Touching the wall in second, behind Lilly King, Hannis made her first Olympic team. Hannis, 24, graduated from the University of Tennessee. She was the runner-up in the 200 breaststroke at the 2015 national championships.
Hali Flickinger is also a World University Games competitor. She won a bronze in the 400 IM and 200 fly. And Leah Smith was considered a breakout swimmer at WUGs. She won the gold medal in the 400 free in 4:04.66, the sixth-fastest time in the world in 2015. Jacob Pebley is also a WUG gold medalist in the 200 backstroke.
Married With Children
At the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, David Plummer finished in the most painful spot — third in 100-meter backstroke, just 0.12 seconds from making the Olympic team. Since then, his life has changed. Now 30, he is married, with two kids (his youngest is just 5 weeks old).
He will also be able to call himself an Olympian come August. He finished second in the 100 back and is going to Rio.
Asked how he felt to finally make the team — versus just missing it — he said, “Honestly, I think it's shock, both times.”
Dana Vollmer also fits in this category. Son Arlen was born in March 2015.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.