SWIMMING: Sensational world leads for Smith, Casas, Murphy, Dressel and King on day two of U.S. International Team Trials

Three more national titles for Olympic and World Breaststroke champ Lilly King (USA) (Photo: USA Swimming)

What is turning out to be a torrid Phillips 66 International Team Trials continued in Greensboro, North Carolina, to select the U.S. team for the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest … and it appears it could be a great one.

On Wednesday, Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky won their second races in two days, but amid a dazzling series of world-leading marks from old and new American stars.

The qualifying protocol is a little complicated, with only the winner of each event guaranteed a spot on the U.S. team, plus the top four in the 100 m and 200 m Freestyles (for relays). Most likely, the top two in each event will be on the U.S. team in Hungary. On Wednesday:

● Women/200 m Freestyle ● World leader Ledecky led the qualifying at 1:56.20, which only two others in the world have matched so far this season.

In the final, Ledecky took control by the 25 m mark and was 0.82 up at the half, had a full-body length lead at 150 m and came through strongly to finish at 1:55.15, the no. 3 performance in 2022.

Behind her was a furious final 50 m with Alex Walsh, Leah Smith and 15-year-old Claire Weinstein battling and the teenager making the best push in the final 15 m to touch second in a big lifetime best of 1:57.08. Smith, second in Tuesday’s 800 m Free, got third at 1:57.44 and Hali Flickinger, the winner of Tuesday’s 200 m Fly, got fourth (1:57.53). The top four are all slated for relay duty in Budapest.

● Men/200 m Freestyle ● Texas star Carson Foster led the qualifiers with an impressive personal best of 1:45.57, moving to no. 3 in the world for 2022.

And Foster was off strongly in the final, leading after 50 m, but got a challenge from Olympic Trials winner Keiran Smith, who had the lead at 100 m with Drew Kibler – the 200-yard Free winner at the NCAA Championships – right behind.

Smith held on, held on and held on and although challenged throughout by Kibler – one lane below him – and Foster, got to the touch first in 1:45.25, fastest in the world this year. He was just 0.07 better than Kibler, now no. 2 worldwide, with Foster making the relay team in third in 1:45.66 (no. 5). Trenton Julian, runner-up in the 200 m Fly on Tuesday, was fourth in 1:46.69.

● Women/200 m Breaststroke ● Oh, yes, this was a race!

The top three in the qualifying were Olympic silver winner Lilly King, NCAA champion Kate Douglass and Olympic bronze medalist (and world leader in 2022) Annie Lazor and they were the class of the field by the 20 m mark.

King sprinted to the lead right away and had 0.86 on Lazor and 0.95 on Douglass at the first turn, but it kept getting closer. Douglass closed to 0.87 back after 100 m and 0.26 behind at the 150 m mark.

Then it was a fight to the finish and Douglass got closer and closer, and Lazor got into the picture late. But King found a little extra in the final 20 m and held on for a world-leading win in 2:21.19, following by Douglass with the no. 2 time in the world (2:21.43) and Lazor third, with the no. 3 time in the world this season (2:21.91), but not on the U.S. team in this event.

● Men/200 m Breaststroke ● The U.S. had no one in the top 25 in the world coming into the morning prelims, but Jake Foster moved up to seventh at 2:09.79 to lead the qualifiers.

The final started with Foster in front, but Charlie Swanson, the no. 2 qualifier (and 2019 Pan American Games 400 m Medley winner) was only 0.25 behind and pressing. Swanson got the lead by the second turn, just ahead of Foster and with veteran Nic Fink third and moving well.

By the 150 m mark, those three had separated and Fink was making a race of it, coming on strongly as Foster lost ground. Fink kept coming on Swanson and Foster could not keep up, and at the touch, it looked like Fink got there first, but the timer said it was a tie at 2:08.84 for both.

That moves both of them to no. 6 in the world for 2022, and a first-ever Worlds team for Swanson, moving up from ninth at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials. Fink, now 28, won the 200 m Breast gold in the Short-Course Worlds in 2021 after finishing fifth in the 200 m Breast in Tokyo.

Swanson said afterwards he was surprised by the win; “I consider myself more a 400 IMer.”  He’ll have a chance in that event later in the week.

● Women/200 m Backstroke ● Olympic fifth-placer Phoebe Bacon zoomed to no. 2 on the world list for 2022 with her 2:06.78 qualifying leader, but she was not going to have an easy final with world-record holder Regan Smith on one side and 2021 U.S. Trials winner Rhyan White on the other.

White got out to a small lead with Smith and Bacon both close after 50 m and the three were separated from the field by the 100 m mark. Bacon was in front, but not by much: just 0.18 up on White and 0.34 over Smith.

It was Bacon and White fighting for the win on the final lap and Bacon barely touched first, 2:05.08 to 2:05.13. Smith was game, but her 2:05.65 only got third. Those are now the nos. 2-3-4 performers of 2022 and the first Worlds team for Bacon, looking for a medal after being “only” a finalist in Tokyo.

● Men/200 m Backstroke ● World Short-Course 100 m Back gold medalist Shaine Casas blew up the qualifying, posting the fastest time in the world at 1:55.57, with Rio 2016 gold medalist Ryan Murphy third in qualifying.

Casas took control from the start and had a 0.21 lead on Murphy at the turn, with Jack Aikins third. Those three were going to be the medalists, with Casas leading at 100 m, but Murphy in front after 150 m by 0.33 and then extending his lead with a brilliant turn and underwater push.

Clearly in front, Murphy lost a little ground to Casas in the last half-lap, but was a clear winner in 1:55.01, fastest in the world in 2022, with Casas at 1:55.46 (no. 2), Aikins third in 1:56.29 (no. 3 and does not get to go to Budapest).

Murphy owns nine Worlds medals, including 200 m Back silvers in 2017 and 2019, but no golds yet.

● Women/50 m Butterfly ● The American Record of 25.48 by Kelsi Dahlia from 2017 and 2018 was clearly under threat, with Claire Curzan – second in the 100 m Free on Tuesday – leading the qualifying at 25.60.

Dahlia qualified second and she got the best start in the final, but it was the 100 m Free winner Torri Huske who was moving strongly by midway. But Curzan kept coming and finally got even with 5 m left and got her hand on the touchplate to finish in 25.49 – 0.01 off the American Record – with Huske at 25.68 and Dahlia third (25.71).

Those marks stand nos. 3-5-6 in the world for 2022.

● Men/50 m Butterfly ● Sprint star Michael Andrew led the qualifying at 23.09, equal-third on the 2022 world list, with reigning World Champion Dressel at 23.16.

Those two were off the blocks well and had control of the race right away. Andrew might have been just slightly in front by the halfway mark, but Dressel came on – as always – in the final 15 m and got to the touch in 22.84, the fastest time ever swum in a U.S. pool. Andrew was close, at 22.87. Maxime Rooney was third in 23.25.

Those are the top three marks in the world for 2022 and Dressel’s 22.84 breaks the ancient (2009) U.S. Open mark of 22.91 by Ryan Lundquist.

That’s two days and world-leading marks in six events so far! Thursday’s program includes the 50 m Breaststroke finals, 50 m Backstrokes, 100 m Butterflys and the 400 m Medleys; the finals will be shown on NBC’s Olympic Channel live at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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