Photo courtesy of Chris Pose
Friday night brought speed with waves of excitement to Olympic Trials—Swimming in Omaha.
While Lilly King and Annie Lazor embraced with big smiles mixed with tears, Caeleb Dressel proved he’s still the fastest man in the pool with a win in the 100 butterfly semifinal–the fastest time in the world this year–and Ryan Murphy added another Olympic event to defend in Tokyo.
Here is my View from the Trials Stand for Day 6 of Olympic Trials. Grab some tissue before you start reading.
King Sends Her Love
As they stood near the blocks before the start of the 200 breaststroke final, training partners and friends Lilly King and Annie Lazor exchanged smiles and then King turned and said something to her.
“I told her ‘I love you. Let’s go get it,’” King revealed after the race.
Lazor, who retired for a year after the 2016 Trials but returned to competition in 2018, finished third in the 100 breast earlier this week but knew her best shot was in the 200.
By the end of Friday’s final, she touched ahead of King – and they both will swim the event in Japan next month.
Trials are the first event Lazor’s been to since her father died in late April from COVID-19. King made the five-hour drive from Indiana, where they train, to Lazor’s home state of Michigan to be there for her friend and teammate.
“The people who are there for you and reach out to you in your highest of highs but especially in your lowest of lows, words just fall short on how much it really means,” she said. “I came here, and I was really nervous to see all these people again It’s my first meet since that’s happened. There are some people, who don’t need to say anything to know that they’re thinking about you.”
Broken but Not Out
A week before Wave II Olympic Trials began, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kathleen Baker announced that she had broken a bone in her right foot in May.
While it kept her out of the water for a spell, she refused to let it stop her from chasing another Olympic team.
Earlier this week, she missed making the final of the 100 backstroke, but Friday night, she qualified fourth in the 200 backstroke semifinals and earned a spot in Saturday’s final with a time of 2:08.58.
If she can finish in the top two and make the team, she’ll have almost five weeks to continue rehabbing the injury before competition begins in Tokyo.
Brown Brings the Outside Smoke
After beating Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel’s time by .02 to earn the final qualifying spot in Friday night’s 100 freestyle final, Erika Brown decided to capitalize on her opportunity.
Swimming in lane 8 with limited view of the top qualifiers in the middle of the pool, she finished a very close second – 53.53-53.59 – behind 2016 Olympic gold medalist Abbey Weitzeil to make her first Olympic team.
“I felt it was a real blessing that I got in at 8th, and I really wanted to prove myself tonight,” Brown said.
Carry Your Basket for you, Miss Ledecky?
Ever wonder who the young (albeit mask-covered) faces are who collect the swimmer’s belongings on deck after they hit the water?
Picked from more than 400 13 through 17-year-olds, these 105 basket carriers, as they are known, are swimmers who largely hail from local club teams in the Omaha Metro.
An additional 20 students who swim for their school teams through Omaha Public Schools (OPS) were chosen to participate as a way to get them interested in possibly joining a local USA Swimming club team.
“They are nominated through Midwestern Swim Coaches based on their good attendance in practice, good work ethic, ability to follow directions and desire to participate,” said Trials Assistant Meet Director Shana Frodyma, who teaches special education classes through OPS and is a past club coach. “We also reached out to Special Olympics Nebraska and they nominated two young swimmers to participate this year.”
Frodyma said the carriers are broken down into three groups – red, white and blue – and they alternate between morning prelims, semifinals and finals, so they all get an opportunity to carry at each stage. They are all fitted for black shorts, a Trials polo shirt and T-shirt and they provide their own white tennis shoes.
Additionally, four carriers – two boys and two girls – who made sectional cuts and were basket carriers at the 2016 Trials, were selected as awards escorts this year.
“Everyone who participates is very excited to be there and they take it very seriously,” Frodyma said. “We’re all excited to provide a positive experience for everyone.”
Top Bear in the Water
In the final of the men’s 200 backstroke Friday, Ryan Murphy felt very comfortable not only because he’s been there before numerous times but also because alongside him were three of his California-Berkeley Bears training mates.
Murphy, the defending Olympic champion, took top honors in 1:54.20–the second fastest time this year–while fellow Bear Bryce Mefford finished second in 1:54.79, also one of the fastest times this year.
Together, they hope to continue U.S. dominance in the backstroke events, as a U.S. swimmer has won both the 100 and 200 at the past six Olympics dating back to Atlanta in 1996 when Jeff Rouse won the 100 and Brad Bridgewater took top honors in the 200.
Lazor Joins Boyfriend in Tokyo
Lazor’s victory Friday night assured her a spot on the team in Tokyo, where she’ll see boyfriend, Vini Lanza, who will represent his home country Brazil in the 200 individual medley.
Lanza, who competed for Indiana and continues to live and train in Bloomington, qualified for the Brazilian team April 23 during his home country’s Trials – and then was on a plane shortly after to console Lazor upon her father’s passing April 25.
“The last couple months, I’ve been going through trying to achieve the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me while going through the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said. “But with the help of all the people who’ve been checking in on me and supporting me and who’ve just pushed me every day, and who’ve distracted me at practice and made meals for me, and my boyfriend who just made the Olympic team and 24 hours later was on a flight home to my parent’s house. It’s just unbelievable the amount of love you see from people who will literally drop anything for you in a time of despair.”