By Alex Abrams//Red Line Editorial | Friday, August 2, 2019
Although Allison Schmitt never officially retired, she decided to step away from competitive swimming for more than a year following the Olympic Games Rio 2016. A comeback didn’t seem likely for the four-time Olympic gold medalist as she adjusted to life away from the pool.
Now 29 years old, Schmitt is back, and the three-time Olympian has more to prove.
Schmitt continued her return from semi-retirement and made a strong case Thursday for why she could qualify for her fourth Olympics next summer. The Canton, Michigan, native held on to win the women’s 200-meter freestyle with a time of 1:56.97 as the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships continued in Stanford, California.
Schmitt got off to a fast start and created some distance. She then held off a strong push down the stretch from Paige Madden, who finished second at 1:57.84. Brooke Forde was third in 1:57.98.
Katie Ledecky, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the event, elected not to compete following last week’s 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. That decision opened the door for Schmitt to win another national championship with her fastest time in the 200 free since August 2018.
Schmitt earned eight medals between her three Olympic appearances, including golds in the 200 free, 4x200 free and 4x100 medley at the Olympic Games London 2012.
However, she had all but retired following the 2016 Rio Games, where she was a member of the American relay teams that earned gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle and silver in the 4x100-meter free.
Although she believed her competitive swimming career had ended, Schmitt never officially retired or withdrew from the drug testing pool, and sure enough in 2017 she began to get the itch to return. In April 2018, she returned to competition and picked up where she left off. Schmitt, who won two relay silver medals at last week’s world championships, would be 30 when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 begin.
Schmitt’s strong showing on Thursday highlighted the second of five days at the national championships, which are part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. She was all smiles as she celebrated her victory in front of a national TV audience.
Madisyn Cox, meanwhile, broke her personal best by nearly two seconds to win the women’s 200-meter breaststroke at 2:23.84. Swimming at Stanford University could become routine for Cox, who spoke after her victory about how she has applied to Stanford’s medical school.
Abby Arens, at age 17, finished second at 2:25.80. Her time ranks fourth all-time in the 17-18 age group. Jenna Strauch was third with a time of 2:26.05.
While teenagers dominated Wednesday’s opening day of the national championships, college swimmers made their marks and won Thursday.
University of Kentucky swimmer Asia Seidt put together a dominant performance in the women’s 200-meter backstroke. She went wire-to-wire to win with a time of 2:08.90, nearly two seconds better than Emma Seiberlich and Erin Voss, who tied for second at 2:10.86.
The men’s 200-meter backstroke, the last individual event in Thursday’s finals, featured a showdown between University of Texas swimmer Austin Katz and Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas. The 20-year-old Katz came from behind to win the event, posting a time of 1:55.72 to just edge Casas at 1:55.79. Clark Beach finished third with a time of 1:57.14.
Not every national champion was American, though. Swimmers representing other countries are eligible to compete in the Phillips 66 National Championships
Elijah Winnington, a 19-year-old from Australia, won the men’s 200 free. Atlanta native Dean Farris had the early lead, but Winnington closed the gap and then pushed ahead to win in 1:46.19. Kieran Smith finished second at 1:46.25, and Farris took third at 1:46.45.
Meanwhile, the finals of the men’s 200-meter breaststroke featured an international field, with swimmers from five countries competing.
Reece Whitley, who swims collegiately for the University of California, set a personal-best at 2:09.69 to narrowly beat Daniel Roy (2:10.01). As soon as he took a breath and learned he had earned the victory, Whitley celebrated by shouting and splashing the water in excitement in what proved to be the most emphatic celebration of Thursday’s finals.
Competition in Stanford continues through Sunday.
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USA Swimming on behalf of Redline Editorial, Inc.