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7 Burning Questions For U.S. Swimming National Championships

By Karen Rosen | July 30, 2019, 7:58 p.m. (ET)

Caeleb Dressel celebrates after winning the men's 100-meter freestyle at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 25, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.


Although it seems like the recent 2019 FINA World Championships put an exclamation point on the swimming season, it’s far from over. Hundreds of swimmers are churning into this week’s national championships with new goals – although maybe not the freshest legs – and an eye toward the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith are among 22 swimmers from the world championships, which concluded Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea, who have entered the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships in Stanford, California. The meet, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.

Due to travel, fatigue and jet lag, it’s a tough turnaround from worlds, where Team USA won 27 medals in the eight-day meet in the pool, plus three open water medals earlier in the meet.

Here are seven burning questions for nationals:

1.What’s at stake? Swimmers can get their Olympic trials cuts (qualifying times) this week as well as nail down national team funding for next season by posting a time that ranks in the top six for the year. Nationals is also a selection meet for the junior world championships.

Sure, it looks backwards to hold nationals after worlds. The 2019 world and Pan American Games teams were actually selected last year at the 2018 nationals and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships to give athletes more time to prepare. For American swimmers who did not compete on an international team this summer, nationals is their chance to make an impression heading into the Olympic year.

Jack Bauerle, the University of Georgia coach who is a veteran of Olympic and world coaching staffs, said athletes often come out of the woodwork the year before an Olympic Games.

“We have a lot of up-and-comers right now,” he said. “It’s a heck of an opportunity for some of the ones that don’t view themselves as No. 1 or No. 2 to get some confidence.

“There’s an open door here to be in the finals. It changes their image of themselves, and sometimes that takes care of a lot of coaching. When you get to the highest part of any sport it becomes a lot about confidence, especially if you’re trying to take the final leap.”

In 2016, half of the world championships team from 2015 went on to the Rio Olympic Games. Those 27 athletes comprised 57 percent of the U.S. Olympic team.

Four years earlier, 29 athletes (57 percent) of the worlds team went on to London in 2012, making up 59 percent of that team.

2. Who’s here from worlds? Dressel has drawn comparisons to Michael Phelps for his medal potential in Tokyo. A sprint freestyler and butterflyer, Dressel won eight medals in Gwangju, including six golds. He also set three American records and posted personal bests in all four of his individual events. At age 17, Smith set world records in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes as well as on the 4x100-meter medley.

Other athletes who stood on the top step of the podium in Gwangju that will also appear in Stanford include Kelsi Dahlia, Olivia Smoliga, Mallory Comerford and Abbey Weitzeil. Hali Flickinger, Allison Schmitt, Gabby DeLoof, Haley Anderson and Jack Conger won silver medals while Katie Drabot, Hannah Moore and Ashley Twichell earned bronze. World team members Ella Eastin, Brooke Forde, Ally McHugh, Abrahm Devine, Zane Grothe, Jack Levant, Grant Shoults and Justin Wright are also on the entry list.

Nathan Adrian is one of six athletes from worlds slated to compete at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where swimming runs Aug. 6-10. DeLoof is also on that list, which makes quite an ambitious schedule if she competes both at nationals and Pan Ams.

3.What about Katie Ledecky? Although the Avery Aquatic Center was Ledecky’s home pool while competing for Stanford University, the five-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time national champion won’t be in the pool for nationals. According to a USA Swimming spokesperson, Ledecky, who was ill in Gwangju and spent some time at a local hospital, is not immediately coming back to the United States. Given her health issues, Ledecky could benefit from some time off.

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4. What can Ryan Lochte achieve in his comeback meet? The controversial 12-time Olympic medalist will swim in his first competition since a 14-month suspension. Lochte is hoping to make his fifth straight Olympic team next year and the swimming community is eager to see if he’s fit to beat swimmers half his age. At 34, Lochte is entered in five events – the 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 200 IM and 400 IM. Although Lochte’s suspension began in May 2018, he was allowed to submit entry times from June 2018 for four events and was given an exception for the 200 free. Lochte, who has won five Olympic gold medals and is the world record holder in the 200 IM, was suspended for receiving an IV infusion of more than 100 milliliters in a 12-hour period. Previously, he was suspended for 10 months following an incident at the Rio Olympic Games.

5.Is Dana Vollmer really retiring? Yep. The 2012 Olympic champion in the 100-meter butterfly and seven-time Olympic medalist (including five golds) announced that she will retire after swimming her signature event Friday. Vollmer, a 31-year-old mother of two, wrote a three-page letter to fans in which she reflected on her career and thanked those who supported her along the way.

“Over the years, sport and life fully merged, and the dance between sport experience and life experience enriched me in ways that I appreciate daily,” she wrote. “But days only have so many hours, and other parts of my life are asking for my time and attention. This week I am leaving elite level swimming.”

In 2000, Vollmer was the youngest athlete to compete at the Olympic trials at age 12. She made her first Olympic team in 2004, missed the 2008 team, then won her individual gold in London. She was the first woman to break 56 seconds and still holds the American record of 55.98 seconds. Vollmer won the bronze in the 100 fly in Rio, as well as a silver in the 4x100 free and a gold on the 4x100 medley.

“This is not letting go of a dream; it’s having the ambition to start a new one!” she wrote. “While it is sad to see this chapter of my life coming to a close, I do so with a full heart. Over the past twenty-seven years, I have learned lessons that will continue to shape me in the future, and I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for every moment. …

“Thank you to everyone who has supported me as a fan and cheered me on during my journey. Now, I look forward to cheering on the next generation!”

6. Luca and Carson who? Luca Urlando and Carson Foster could grab a share of the spotlight in Stanford. Urlando broke Phelps’ age group record in the 200-meter butterfly earlier this season with a time of 1:53.84 and he wasn’t even peaking for that meet. Foster, 17, broke a Phelps age group record at age 10. He will attempt to upstage Lochte in the individual medley events.

7. What’s Australia doing at the U.S. championships? Because the meet does not select athletes for senior international teams, swimmers from other countries are allowed to enter. Besides Australia, there are notable athletes from Great Britain and France. So, national pride is also on the line for Team USA in Stanford.

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Ryan Lochte

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Dana Vollmer