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5 Reasons To Watch The U.S. Olympic Team Trials For Swimming

By Peggy Shinn | June 23, 2016, 3:39 p.m. (ET)

Matt Grevers competes at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool at Indiana University Natatorium on Dec. 11, 2015 in Indianapolis.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming starts on Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the eight-day meet, hundreds of America’s top swimmers will vie for the maximum 52 spots on the team going to Rio.

With nine of 10 individual reigning Olympic champions hoping to return to the Games, the competition for these spots will be hot.

To qualify automatically, swimmers must win their final or finish in the top-four of the men’s or women’s 100- or 200-meter final. If spots remain, then the second-place finishers in each event and the fifth- and possibly sixth-place finishers in the 100 and 200 free may also be added to the team.

Here are the top storylines to watch:

1) Defending Gold Medalists Back For More

Of the 10 U.S. swimmers who won individual gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games, only one retired (breaststroker Rebecca Soni). Nine are hoping to win more medals in Rio. It’s an impressive list.

Michael Phelps reacts after competing in the 200-meter freestyle at Skyline Aquatic Center on April 14, 2016 in Mesa, Ariz..

Michael Phelps: Will the 18-time Olympic gold medalist become the first male swimmer to make five U.S. Olympic Teams? Most likely. Phelps, 30, swam three world-best times in 2015 (in the 100 and 200 butterfly and 200 IM). This year, he’s already been fourth fastest in the world in the 200 IM. Phelps — a new father — is entered in those three events, as well as the 100 and 200 freestyle, at trials, which would likely place him on the relay teams. If he qualifies for Rio, the next question is: How many more Olympic medals can he win?

Katie Ledecky: Already called Legendary Ledecky, she burst onto the scene when she took the early lead in the 800-meter freestyle at the London Games and won her first Olympic gold medal at age 15. Since then, Ledecky, now 19, has never lost an international race, winning 14 gold medals at the 2013 and 2015 world championships and 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. She also sets a world record just about every time she dives into the pool. Look for her to win the 400 and 800 freestyle races at trials, and maybe even the 200 freestyle. She’s even entered in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, as well as the 400 IM.

Ryan Lochte: Since his first Olympic Games in 2004, Ryan Lochte has rarely slowed down. He has competed in six world championships and three Olympic Games, winning medals every time. Now the 31-year-old will likely qualify for Rio and add to his collection of 11 Olympic medals (five golds). Of the U.S. men, only Phelps has won more (Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi have also each won 11). Lochte is a favorite in the 200 IM, which he won at the 2015 world championships, as well as the 400 IM and 200 free. He’s also entered in the 100 free, 200 backstroke and 100 butterfly. Jeah.

Missy Franklin: Franklin was a wunderkind at the 2012 Olympic Games, winning five medals, four of them gold. She followed up with six gold medals at 2013 worlds. Since then, she has finished two years of college at the University of California at Berkeley, where she led the Bears at NCAAs. But she has taken a stroke backwards in international meets. At 2015 worlds, she only earned one gold medal (in the 4x200-meter free). Look for Franklin, 21, to swim in both the 100 and 200 backstroke — her trademark events, but they will likely be hotly contested — and the 100 and 200 freestyle as well.

Nathan Adrian: The freestyle sprinter has blitzed through the winter and spring meets, finishing second overall in the Arena Pro Swim Series. He’s looking for redemption after finishing seventh in the 100 free at the 2015 worlds, the event he won in London four years ago. Already a two-time Olympian, Adrian, 27, is a favorite in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

Dana Vollmer: In winning the 100 butterfly at the London Games, Vollmer set a world record, then retired a year later. Son Arlen was born in March 2015, and she decided to make a comeback. After only a year of hard training, Vollmer, 28, is back to where she was in 2012 — perhaps even better. Should she qualify for Rio — and she’s a heavy favorite in the 100 fly — this will be her third Olympic Games. Vollmer is also entered in the 50 and 100 freestyle races.

Allison Schmitt: Back before Katie Ledecky overtook women’s freestyle, Schmitt won Olympic gold in the 200 free and silver in the 400 free in 2012. After the London Games, Schmitt struggled with depression. But she resurfaced last year, winning the 200m free at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Now 26, Schmitt moved to Arizona to continue training with coach Bob Bowman. She will face tough competition from Ledecky, among others, in both the 200 and 400 freestyle races. She is also entered in the 100 free.

Matt Grevers: At age 31, Grevers isn’t slowing down. The backstroker earned a bronze medal in the 100 back, his signature event, at 2015 world championships. Look for him to make his third Olympic team, then add to his collection of six Olympic medals in Rio. He’s also entered in the 50 and 100 freestyle events, and the 200 backstroke.

Natalie Coughlin competes at the Santa Clara International Grand Prix at George F. Haines International Swim Center on June 1, 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Tyler Clary: Versatile Tyler Clary, 27, will make a bid for his second Olympic team on the first night of trials, competing in the 400 IM where he’s considered a favorite (the U.S. has won gold in the event at the last five Olympic Games). He would also like to defend his 200m backstroke Olympic gold medal, and he’s considered a contender in the 200 fly as well. Clary also made the cut in the 200 freestyle. After Rio, Clary plans to turn his focus to NASCAR.

2) Also Back For More…

While these two Olympic champions might not have had the performances they hoped for the last time around, watch for their potential comebacks heading into Rio.

Natalie Coughlin: In the past three Olympic Games, Coughlin has won a medal in every event that she has entered, giving her 12 medals. In 2012, she was disappointed to only make the bronze-medal-winning 4x100-meter freestyle team. A backstroker, Coughlin, 33, now also competes in sprint freestyle races; look for her in the 50 and 100 free, and as the top seed in the 100 back. Should she make it to Rio and win another medal, she will become the most decorated female swimmer ever, passing Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres, who also have won 12 Olympic medals.

Anthony Ervin: At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Ervin was only 19 when he tied for gold in the 50 free. Twelve years later, he made a comeback for the London Games and finished fifth in the final. Now 35, Ervin is still one of the fastest freestylers in the U.S. Look for him to contend in the 50 and 100 at trials.

3) Silver Medalists, Looking For Gold

At the London Olympic Games, seven U.S. swimmers won individual silver medals in the pool, including Phelps, Lochte and Schmitt (who also won golds). Look for Cullen Jones (silver, 50 freestyle) and Elizabeth Beisel (silver, 400 IM) to make the Rio team — and try to turn silver to gold.

4) Relay Swimmer Going For Individual Gold

At the 2012 Olympic Games, Conor Dwyer won a gold medal as part of the men’s 800-meter freestyle relay. It was the only medal that he won at his first Olympic Games. Now 27, Dwyer’s name has been everywhere in Arena Pro Swim Series results this year. Most recently, he swam the third-fastest time in the world this year in the 200 free and eighth-fastest in the 400 free at the Santa Clara Arena Pro Swim Series meet, where he claimed the overall series title. At trials, he’s a favorite, along with Ryan Lochte, in the 200 freestyle. He’ll also contend in the 400 free, and is entered in the 100 free and 200 IM.

5) Names to Watch 

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming will feature more than Olympic veterans. Plenty of younger swimmers have made names for themselves at international meets since London.

Katie Meili swims the 100-meter breaststroke at the Pan American Games on July 17, 2015 in Toronto.

Look for Stanford stars Simone Manuel and Maya DiRado to contend in the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 200 and 400 IMs, respectively. DiRado won the silver medal in the 400 IM at 2015 worlds. She is also entered in the 200 free, 200 back and 200 fly, while Manuel could also appear in the 100 fly and 200 free.

In the distance freestyle races (400 and 1,500), Connor Jaeger, 25, is a favorite. He finished sixth at the 2012 Olympic Games (when he qualified at 2012 trials, it was only the fifth time he had swum 1,500 meters). He has since won bronze in the 400 (2013) and silver in the 1,500 at the world championships.

In breaststroke, 22-year-old Kevin Cordes is the man to watch. The University of Arizona star won two medals (silver in 100, bronze in the non-Olympic 50) at 2015 worlds.

Pan American Games gold medalists Katie Meili and Kelsi Worrell both aim to make their first Olympic teams. Meili, 25, posted the third-fastest time in the world in the 100 breaststroke in 2015, and Worrell, 21, posted the world’s third-fastest time in the 100 butterfly last year.

Breaststroker Lilly King could be a breakout star if she makes it to Rio. In mid-May, the 19-year-old from Indiana University swam the second-fastest time in the world this year in the 100 breaststroke — just behind reigning world champion Yuliya Yefimova from Russia. This will be King’s first Olympic Trials. 

For a broadcast schedule of when and where to watch Olympic Trials, click here.

For an event schedule of trials, click here

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

Related Athletes

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Conor Dwyer

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Michael Phelps

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Katie Ledecky

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Ryan Lochte

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Missy Franklin

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Nathan Adrian

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Dana Vollmer

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Allison Schmitt

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Matt Grevers

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Tyler Clary

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Natalie Coughlin

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Anthony Ervin

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Elizabeth Beisel

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Cullen Jones

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Simone Manuel

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Maya DiRado

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Katie Meili

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Kelsi Worrell