Saturday, June 19, 2021
Friday Night Lights: Lazor, Andrew, Murphy, Wieizeil Shine, Dressel Breaks U.S. Open Record
Swimming’s biggest stars were shining bright tonight on the sixth day of Wave II of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming. Veterans defended titles and newcomers came to play.
The evening began with the women’s 200 breaststroke, featuring defending Trials champion Lilly King, and top contenders Bethany Galat, Emily Escobedo and Annie Lazor. The crowd rallied behind Lazor, who not only just missed an Olympic berth in the 100 but is still grieving from the recent loss of her father.
King shot out in the first 50, but by the 150 mark, Lazor had caught up and took over the entire field, finishing first in a 2:21.07. King followed up with a 2:21.75. Emily Escobedo finished third in 2:22.64.
“I just think that hard work works,” Lazor said. “That’s honestly how I’ve ended up here, and I can’t summarize it any more than that. I’ve just had the perfect support system, teammate and family that just has undoubtedly been there for me every step of the way.”
In the men’s 200 IM, Michael Andrew went out fast and never looked back. Although two tenths slower than his prelims time, he was still swimming solo, finishing first by over one and half seconds to Chase Kalisz. Kieran Smith took third. Sentimental fan-favorite, Ryan Lochte, finished seventh, losing his chance of qualifying for his fifth Olympic Games.
Lochte, one of the most popular athletes here, has held the 1:54.00 world record since 2011, and was in contention for Tokyo by making it to finals. The much-anticipated race offered echoing crowd hype for Lochte with the entire arena on their feet from the start. But the crowd might have expected too much considering Lochte’s age in a sport that is being consumed by the youth.
During the post-race press conference, the visibly emotional athlete said the impact he’s made on other people swimming careers far outweighs any Olympic gold or world records.
“It’s the friendships I’ve created and being role models to younger kids that’s most important. Places I've been, the people I’ve met… I’m going to take all of that with me,” said Lochte.
Teammate Ryan Murphy gave credit to Lochte as well.
“Deep down, he really has a good heart,” Murphy said. “That’s what I really appreciate about Lochte. He really does care about people. It’s a bummer that he didn’t make this team, but what an incredible guy. He’s done so much for our sport, and we will miss him on this team.”
Murphy, just coming off defending his title with a victory in the men’s 200 backstroke, is joined by his teammate Bryce Mefford who just secured his Olympic berth. Murphy’s time of 1:54.20 ranks him second in the world this season.
The women’s 100 freestyle provided high emotion as well, as 2016 Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel was absent from the final after finishing ninth in the semis. Manuel will be back for the 50-meter splash-n-dash on Sunday, saying, “I’m going to go for it. I don’t think I would have showed up to Trials if I didn’t feel like I had any reason to be here.”
The top four relay spots in tonight’s 100 came full circle for the qualifiers. After just missing an Olympic berth in the 100 backstroke, Olivia Smoliga bounced back and grabbed third, and Natalie Hinds, who retired after the 2016 Trials and came back in late 2018 after missing the sport, grabbed the fourth spot to punch her Olympic ticket. As many anticipated, Abby Weitzeil cinched the win with a 53.53 and Erika Brown was second in 53.59.
“We've got our work cut out for us, Simone is leaving big shoes to fill and the Australians are tough. It’s gonna be hard, but it’s gonna be fun,” said Weitzeil. “When you have that flag on your cap, there’s something else that comes out of you.”
Smoliga said she felt extremely relieved for qualifying after missing the team in the 100 back.
“How to try to bounce back, you don’t put in years of work for nothing. I really had to dig myself up out of it, but I’m really proud of myself that I did,” said Smoliga.
Caleb Dressel brought the glory again tonight, this time in the men’s 100 butterfly, breaking his own U.S. Open record with a 49.76. Tom Shields is seated second for finals with a 51.20. Coleman Stewart, Danny Kovac, Trenton Julian, Luca Urlando, Zach Harting and Tyler Sesvold round out the rest of the field for tomorrow night.
The second semifinal, the women’s 200 backstroke was led by Regan Smith and Phoebe Bacon, followed by Rhyan White, Kathleen Baker, Jo Jo Ramey, Lisa Bratton, Isabelle Stadden and Hali Flickinger, who all advance to tomorrow night’s finals.
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