SWIMMING: Dressel storms to win in men’s 100 m Free, but Manuel fails to qualify; two more world leads as Oz Trials conclude

U.S. sprint superstar Caeleb Dressel

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There were four finals at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha on Thursday, but all eyes were on Caeleb Dressel in his first final of the week in the men’s 100 m Freestyle. And he delivered.

Dressel powered to the lead right away and made the turn just ahead of Brooks Curry and Ryan Held in 22.46 and then held a small advantage to the wall to win in 47.39, second in the world for 2021.

He was pressed all the way, with Zach Apple (47.72: no. 5 in 2021), Blake Pieroni (48.16) and Curry (48.19) following for the top four places that will earn relay duty in Tokyo. Bowe Becker (48.22) and Held (48.46) may also be on the plane; the U.S. will be the favorite in the 4×100 m Free relay.

In the men’s 800 m Free, Bobby Finke – the no. 2 American in 2021, but the 800 m and 1,500 m national champion in 2019 – swam a steady pace to win in 7:48.22, the no. 8 performer on the world list. Behind him was a fight to the touch with Michael Brinegar overtaking Ross Dant in the final 20 m to grab second in 7:49.94, with Dant at 7:50.66 and open-water star Jordan Wilimovsky fourth in 7:53.07. It was Dant’s second third-place finish – also in the 400 m Free – missing a Tokyo spot by 0.13 and 0.72.

The men’s 200 m Breast final came down to the final 25 m, with five swimmers within a meter of each other. Nic Fink charged to the touch and got clear in the final 5 m to win in 2:07.55, now no. 6 in the world for 2021. A member of the U.S. World Championships team way back in 2013, Fink – at 27 – is a first-time Olympian.

Right behind him were Andrew Wilson, a member of the 2019 U.S. Worlds team, Will Licon – an 11-time NCAA champion at Texas from 2015-17 – and Rio fourth-placer Kevin Cordes. The first to break was Cordes with about 35 m left, then Wilson (in lane 2) and Licon (in lane 6) reached for the wall, with Wilson getting there first (2:08.32) and Licon just 0.18 later.

Hali Flickinger came in as the favorite in the women’s 200 m Fly final, sitting no. 3 on the world list for 2021, almost a second faster than Backstroke star Regan Smith and Charlotte Hook. Smith gave her an argument, and Flickinger grabbed the lead only at the final turn and then went back and forth on the final lap until the last 20 m, winning in 2:05.85, the no. 2 performer in 2021 and a lifetime best by 0.02. Smith was close at 2:06.99 and is now fourth on the 2021 list. Hook was third at 2:07.92, staying at no. 11.

The shocker in the women’s 100 m Free semifinals was that 2016 Olympic champ Simone Manuel qualified only sixth in the morning heats, and then failed to advance out of the semis, to the final. Swimming in semi one, Manuel was last off the start but was third at the turn, but didn’t have her normal surge in the final 20 m and faded to fourth in 54.17, well back of her seasonal best of 53.83 from late May.

The winners were veterans Olivia Smoliga and Natalie Hinds, who tied for the best mark at 53.55, a lifetime best for both; Smoliga had a prior best of 54.15 and Hinds, 54.29, and more can be expected in the final. Former national champ Abbey Weitzeil won heat two in 53.66, ahead of Catie Deloof (53.77). Allison Schmitt, already on the team from the 200 m Free, made the final at 54.08.

Olympic 100 m Breaststroke champ Lilly King was the top qualifier the women’s 200 m Breast semifinals, with only her training partner Annie Lazor close, just 0.09 behind at the final turn in the second semi. But King stayed steady and got to the wall first in 2:22.73, with Lazor at 2:22.80; both have faster seasonal bests. Emily Escobedo won the first semi and had the third-fastest time overall (2:23.87), ahead of Ella Nelson (2:24.80).

Reigning Olympic champion Ryan Murphy looked like he might have been in trouble in the men’s 200 m Back semis, only third at the final turn in semifinal two. But he rocketed his underwater and popped up in the lead and won in 1:55.60, a seasonal best and no. 4 on the world list for 2021. Austin Katz won the first semi in 1:56.26 (no. 10 in 2021), just ahead of Bryce Mefford (1:56.57), the second and third-best times on the evening.

The final race of the night was perhaps the most amazing, as sprint star Michael Andrew – the fastest in the heats at 1:56.25, no. 2 in 2021 – destroyed the field in the second semifinal. He blazed to the lead from the start and was ahead of world-record pace through 150 m, slowing slightly to finish in 1:55.26, fastest in the world for 2021 and moving him to no. 5 on the all-time list! Carson Foster was second in 1:57.77, two and a half seconds back.

Chase Kalisz, the 2017 World Champion in the men’s 200 m Medley, took care of business in the first semi, using his famed Breaststroke prowess to shoot to the lead on the third and win in 1:57.19, moving him to no. 9 in the world for 2021. He was trailed by 200 m Free and 400 m Free winner Kieran Smith (1:57.61) and then Ryan Lochte, trying for a fifth Olympic Games, in 1:58.66 (and making the final).

The U.S. Trials continue though Sunday; Friday’s finals include the women’s 200 m Breaststroke, men’s 200 m Backstroke, men’s 200 m Medley and the women’s 100 m Freestyle.

The Australian Swimming Trials concluded in Adelaide with six finals, and two more world leaders from stars Kaylee McKeown and Emma McKeon.

McKeown got her third world leader of the meet in the women’s 200 m Back, winning in 2:04.28, a slight improvement on her pre-Trials mark of 2:04.31. She was more than two seconds clear of Emily Seebohm in second – 2:06.38 – which still ranked no. 3 on the 2021 world list!

McKeon concluded her domination of the women’s sprints with a world-leading win in the 50 m Free, just out-touching two-time Olympic relay gold medalist Cate Campbell, 23.93 to 23.94. They’re now 1-2 on the year list and McKeon moves up to no. 7 on the all-time list. Cate’s younger sister Bronte Campbell was third in 24.46 (no. 13 in 2021).

Distance star Ariarne Titmus won the women’s 800 m Free in the fastest time in the world … outside of Katie Ledecky. She finished in 8:15.57 and ranks no. 2 worldwide, while runner-up Kiah Melverton timed 8:19.05 and is now no. 3 for 2021. It’s a lifetime best for both, and Titmus remains at no. 7 all-time (prior best: 8:15.70) while Melverton moved up to no. 21.

The men’s finals included the 50 m Free, won by veteran Cameron McEvoy in 22.07, no. 33 on the world list for 2021, and the men’s 1,500 m Free, won by Jack McLoughlin in 14:52.69 (no. 6 on the world list), with Samuel Short second in 14:57.22 (no. 12). The men’s 100 m Butterfly was taken by Matthew Temple – also the winner of the 100 m Fly – in 1:55.25, now no. 12 for 2021.

The meet finished with world-leading marks in nine events – two men’s and seven women’s – and a world record for McKeown in the women’s 100 m Backstroke. No doubt whatever that the Dolphins will be tough to beat in Tokyo.

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