The vast majority of the 35 U.S. swimmers who won medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 will be competing at this week’s Phillips 66 National Championships.
The five-day event begins today in Indianapolis and, this year, is part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast. NBC will broadcast the five-day competition nightly on NBC, NBCSN and Universal HD, with afternoon coverage over the weekend.
On the line are berths for the 2017 FINA World Championships, which will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from July 14-30.
Katie Ledecky is the biggest star competing in the Indiana University Natatorium, on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus in Indianapolis. Since Rio, the five-time Olympic gold medalist has won three NCAA Division I titles (200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyles) as a freshman at Stanford. She also helped the Cardinal win their ninth NCAA title and first since 1998.
Ledecky has also set world-leading times this year in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500-meter freestyles, and in April, she set the 12th fastest time in the world this year — and the fastest by a U.S. female swimmer — in the 400 IM.
At nationals, the 20-year-old is entered in every freestyle race, from the 100 to the 1,500. She is not listed in the 400 IM on the pre-meet psych sheet.
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Rio silver medalist Chase Kalisz has also set a world-leading time this year: in the 400 IM. The 23-year-old also wrapped up his swimming career at the University of Georgia with his third NCAA title in the 400 IM in March 2017.
At nationals, Kalisz plans to compete in both the 200 and 400 IMs, as well as the 200 butterfly, an event he won at both the Atlanta and Santa Clara Pro Swim Series this spring.
Simone Manuel is the reigning queen of freestyle sprints. Since tying Canada’s Penny Oleksiak for gold in the 100 free in Rio, Manuel has added two more NCAA titles (50 and 100-yard freestyles) to her resume. This spring, she won the 50 and 100-meter freestyles at both the Atlanta and Santa Clara events.
In Indianapolis, Manuel, 20, is swimming the 200 free, along with the 50 and 100 frees.
The men’s freestyle sprints will be a showdown between eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian, now an elder statesman of swimming at age 28 (and recently engaged), and 20-year-old Caeleb Dressel, who just finished his sophomore year at the University of Florida. Adrian still holds an edge, having won the 100 freestyle in Santa Clara in June, 0.29 seconds ahead of Dressel. But at the 2017 NCAA championships, Dressel was one of only two men to win three individual NCAA titles (50 and 100-yard freestyles, plus the 100-yard butterfly). In the process, Dressel set new American records in the 100 free and 100 fly.
Both men are entered in the 50 and 100 freestyles at nationals. Dressel is also entered in the 200 freestyle, and 50 and 100-meter butterfly.
Anthony Ervin will challenge Adrian and Dressel in the 50 free. Ervin won gold in the 50 free in Rio and became the oldest individual Olympic gold medalist in swimming. He turned 36 in May and will only compete in the 50 free at nationals.
The new king of backstroke, Ryan Murphy, 21, is a favorite to win both the 100 and 200-meter backstroke races. At the NCAA championships in March, he won both the 100 and 200-yard backstrokes for the fourth year in a row. He recently launched his pro swimming career.
Murphy will be challenged by the former king of backstroke, Matt Grevers, 32, who narrowly missed qualifying for his third Olympics last year. The 100-meter backstroke Olympic gold medalist from the Olympic Games London 2012, Grevers, a new father, is aiming to qualify for his fourth world championship team.
Lilly King, 20, will swim in her “home” pool at Indiana University and is aiming to compete at her first world championships this year. The brash breaststroker — who first stunned the swimming community by winning the 100 and 200-yd breaststroke events at 2016 NCAAs, then followed those up with an Olympic gold medal in the 100 breaststroke in Rio — will likely face her nemesis, Russia’s Yulia Efimova, at world championships (should both women qualify). Efimova currently holds the fastest time this year in the 100 breaststroke.
But in Indianapolis, King will be challenged by Katie Meili, 26, whose confidence soared after she won a bronze medal behind King’s gold in the 100 breaststroke in Rio. Meili currently sits No. 2 behind Efimova in 100 breaststroke world rankings this year, with King in third. In 200 breaststroke, Meili is ranked fifth, while King is 25th.
Other Rio Olympic medalists to watch at the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships: Kathleen Baker, Leah Smith, Abbey Weitzeil, Amanda Weir, Lia Neal, Melanie Margarlis, Cierra Runge, Olivia Smoliga, Kelsi Worrell, Conor Dwyer, Cody Miller, Josh Prenot, Ryan Held, Jimmy Feigen, Blake Pieroni, Townley Haas, Clark Smith, Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Tom Shields.
Individual medalists from previous Olympics competing in Indianapolis include Cullen Jones, now 33, and Elizabeth Beisel, 24, a three-time Olympian and one of only three American women who did not win a medal in the pool in Rio. Jones will compete in the 50 freestyle and butterfly, as well as the 100 free. Beisel is seeded first in the 400 IM.
Notable Olympians not competing in Indianapolis: Michael Phelps has retired and is swimming with the sharks — literally, though hopefully just one shark (see “Shark Week” on July 23, 2017). Missy Franklin is recovering from shoulder surgery. Both Maya DiRado and David Plummer are retired. Ryan Lochte is still serving a 10-month suspension from USA Swimming competitions. And Dana Vollmer is pregnant with her second child.
New Faces To Watch
The NCAA championships are a good predictor of future champions. Mallory Comerford, 19, just finished her sophomore year at the University of Louisville. At 2017 NCAAs, Comerford tied Ledecky for the 200-yard freestyle title at NCAAs in March.
Also making a name for herself at NCAAs, Stanford’s Ella Eastin, 20, won two NCAA titles (200-yard butterfly and 400-yd IM).
From the University of Texas, Will Licon, 22, could be the nation’s new best breaststroker. He was one of only two swimmers to win three NCAA titles in March (100 and 200 breaststroke, and 200 IM).
Also swimming for Texas, Clark Smith, who won a gold medal as part of the 4x200-meter freestyle team at the Rio Olympic Games, is making his mark as a distance freestyle swimmer. He won both the 500 and 1,650-yard freestyle races at NCAAs—the latter race in dramatic fashion, battling with three others down the home stretch. The 6-foot-9 Smith out-touched them all for his third NCAA title.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.