By Alex Abrams//Red Line Editorial | Saturday, August 3, 2019
Breeja Larson admitted she had to work to stay confident after failing to qualify for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Just four years after winning an Olympic gold medal, she was forced to watch instead of joining the rest of Team USA in the pool.
Larson, who was a member of the American 4x100 medley team that won gold at the Olympic Games London 2012, is regaining her old form. In doing so, the 27-year-old swimmer has put herself in position to qualify for another Olympics.
Larson jumped out to an early lead Saturday and never relinquished it, winning the women’s 100-meter breaststroke in 1:06.78 on the fourth day of the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships in Stanford, California.
Larson posted her fastest time in five years to earn the wire-to-wire victory, beating silver medalist Kaitlyn Dobler, who finished at 1:07.23. Miranda Tucker finished third in 1:07.33. Afterward, Larson couldn’t help but celebrate moving another step closer toward qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
One of the older swimmers competing this week at Stanford University, Larson finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke in London seven years ago.
She said she has overcome the disappointment of missing the Rio Games, relying on several different aspects of her personal life to remain mentally strong, and it showed Saturday.
Larson was one of several feel-good stories on the fourth day of the national championships, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Amy Bilquist said she wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to compete in the national championships after breaking her hand during warm-ups less than two months ago. However, she was cleared a few days before the meet and then made the most of it.
The 21-year-old got off to a fast start, led at the turn and won the women’s 100-meter backstroke in 59.64 seconds. Claire Curzan finished second in 1:00.39, and Caitlin Brooks took third in 1:00.46.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas broke his personal best in the 100-meter backstroke twice on Saturday, first in a morning prelim and then in dominant fashion a few hours later to win a national championship.
Casas finished with the fifth-fastest time in the world this year at 52.72 seconds, becoming the seventh-fastest American of all-time in the event. He quickly separated himself from the rest of the pack, and he beat silver medalist Yohann Ndoye of France by more than a second.
Ndoye came in at 53.80 seconds, followed by Clark Beach in third at 53.95 seconds. Casas built such a large lead that no swimmer was close to him as he coasted to the victory. His time would’ve earned him bronze at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea
While Saturday provided a sense of redemption for Larson and Bilquist, Ally McHugh and Elijah Winnington each added a second gold medal to the ones they won earlier in the week.
McHugh finished strong to win the women’s 400-meter freestyle with a time of 4:07.08, just narrowly beating Haley Anderson at 4:07.77. Sierra Schmidt took the bronze at 4:07.79.
McHugh, fresh off swimming in the 400 individual medley at the world championships, has enjoyed a productive past few days in Stanford. She won the women’s 800 free in 8:26.04 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Winnington got off to a fast start on his way to earning his second national championship of the week in the men’s 400-meter freestyle with a time of 3:47.39. Jake Mitchell took silver in 3:48.09 and Bobby Finke earned bronze in 3:48.17. Two days earlier, the 19-year-old Australian rallied from behind to win the men’s 200 free in 1:46.19.
Oakland University swimmer Devon Nowicki edged the rest of the field in the men’s 100 breaststroke to earn his first national championship 15 days before his 22nd birthday.
Nowicki finished in 59.69 seconds, just slightly ahead of silver medalist Craig Benson at 59.79 seconds and bronze medalist Reece Whitley at 1:00.05.
Competition in Stanford concludes on 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 Red Line Editorial, Inc.