By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, May 17, 2019
Friday evening’s finals at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Bloomington had a definite “hometown” feel as Zach Apple, Lilly King, Cody Miller and Zane Grothe took top honors in their respective events in their home pool.
Apple won the 100 freestyle, King and Miller both took first in the 100 breaststroke, and Grothe, who won the 1500 Thursday evening, added the 400 freestyle title.
“It was kind of weird for me about a year ago having big meets here (at Councilman Billingsley Aquatics Center), but I got used to it now, and it’s so easy to swim fast at home,” King said. “I’m thankful we have this great crowd.”
After finishing fourth in the morning prelims, Apple came back strong in the night’s 100 freestyle final to edge fellow Indiana swim mate Blake Pieroni 48.76 to 48.86. Robert Howard, representing the University of Alabama, was third.
“This morning, I felt pretty smooth and controlled, so I knew I’d be faster tonight,” said Apple, who transferred to Indiana last summer for his senior year. “I just wanted to let the finals environment take me through the first 25, and then try to turn on the guns there and then try and go an extra over the last 15 and see what I can do.”
King swam the fastest time in the world this year in winning the 100 breaststroke, an event she has owned for the past three years.
Annie Lazor, who was neck-and-neck with King from start to finish and is one of the favorites in the 200 breast Sunday, finished a very close second with the third-fastest time in the world in 2019. Bethany Galat, Emily Escobedo and Madisyn Cox all tied for third.
Miller, who suffered through a rough 2018 with a knee injury, came back strong with a win against a strong 100 breaststroke field.
He edged 2018 Phillips 66 National Champion Michael Andrew 59.24 to 59.52, while Anton McGee of Iceland was more than a full second back in third place.
“That race meant a lot to me because I had a really rough year last year and had a really gnarly knee injury and was doing really crappy for a long time – probably the worst season I’ve ever had,” Miller said. “To come back from that and swim well in my home pool, and as Rowdy (Gaines) said, ‘put up a top-10 time in the world,’ is pretty cool this early in the summer. I’m just really stoked right now, and it was a fast field. Michael (Andrew) swam really well, my teammate Ian (Finnerty) was killing it, so it was a really good group effort. It was a really fun race.”
Andrew returned to the pool two events later to win the 50 backstroke, edging Grigory Tarasev and Gabriel Fantoni, who swims for nearby Indiana Swim Club. Andrew’s swim in a U.S. pool was his first after competing abroad for the past several weeks.
As expected, Olympic and World Champions (and former Stanford teammates) Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky took top honors in the 100 and 400 freestyle events, respectively.
Manuel got the evening out to a fast start with a win in the 100 freestyle, winning in 53.65 – a tenth of a second slower than her preliminary swim in the morning. Mallory Comerford finished second and Margo Geer was a very close third. Ledecky, who is working speed events more and more into her meets, was fourth.
“The 100 free was ok,” Manuel said. “It wasn’t exactly what I wanted coming off this morning’s swim, but I definitely feel like I have a lot of room for improvement, so it’s a little bit of a bummer, but hopefully things will be better.”
True to form, Ledecky led the 400 free from start to finish, putting more and more distance between her and the rest of the field with each lap. She came in just under the 4-minute mark –3:59.95 – for the first time this year and put up the second fastest time in the world in 2019.
Madisyn Cox and Brooke Forde finished a distant second and third, respectively.
“I was happy with how I swam,” said Ledecky, who just missed the podium with a fourth-place finish earlier in the evening in the 100 free. “I just wanted to be better than I was this morning. I put together a solid swim, so I’m pretty happy with that, and I’m excited for the rest of the weekend.”
In the women’s 200 butterfly, Katie Drabot out-touched Regan Smith for the victory while Ella Eastin was a close third. Two events earlier, Smith edged Kylee Alons and Elise Haan to win the 50 backstroke.
“I mean, it’s just another 200 fly, and I went into it with no expectations, being that the event is still fairly new for me,” Drabot said. “I really just wanted to put my training to work and see where I still need to make adjustments and where I’m doing well. I was really happy that Regan (Smith) was right there with me and that I could put up a good fight with her.”
Rio Olympian Jay Litherland, who is a stalwart in the 400 individual medley, came on strong over the final 25 meters to beat Corey Gambardel and Carson Foster in the 200 butterfly. Litherland’s time of 1:57.99 was a personal best.
“It was a fun one,” he said. “I don’t get to do (200) fly much. It was awesome racing these guys, and it’s always great competition. I’m honored to race with these fast guys.”
Grothe rounded out the evening with a win in the 400 free, his second victory in as many days. Grothe won comfortably with a time of 3:48.27, more than four seconds ahead of Felix Auboeck and six in front of third-place finisher Johannes Callon.
“I tried to set it up just like I did this morning, stay a little more relaxed mentally and go from there,” said Grothe, who also trains with the Hoosier post-grad swimmers. “I mean, the one thing I did a little differently was I tried to go 100 percent this morning. I’ve never done that. It was about two seconds faster than I’ve ever been in prelims. To be about .3 off the fastest in-season I’ve ever done? It’s really a testament to the training I’ve been doing.”
Tomorrow’s events include more intriguing matchups in the men’s and women’s 200 freestyle, 50 breaststroke, 50 butterfly, 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley.
Be sure to catch prelims action on usaswimming.org beginning at 9 a.m. ET. Finals action gets underway at 6 p.m. ET with B finals on usaswimming.org and A finals on the Olympic Channel and nbcsports.com/live.