TSX BULLETIN: Smith spectacular at U.S. Trials, smashes women’s 100 Back world record, as Finke wins to defend Tokyo men’s 800 Free gold

Regan Smith set the women’s 100 m Backstroke world record in 2019; now she has it again!

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No question all eyes were going to be on Regan Smith in the final of the women’s 100 m Backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Indianapolis, after her sensational American Record in the semifinals.

She was much more sensational in the final, taking the lead right away, with only 2023 Worlds bronze winner Katharine Berkoff able to stay close. And Smith came back in a brilliant 29.19 to finish in a staggering world record of 57.13!

That destroyed the 57.33 mark from the 2023 World Championships in Budapest by Australia’s Tokyo Olympic champ Kaylee McKeown and set up a marquee match-up for Paris. McKeown went out in 28.15 in her 2023 race, but Smith turned in 27.94, and while McKeown closed with a 29.18 final 50 m, Smith did it in 29.19!

Berkoff was strong for second, in 57.91, just off her semifinal time of 57.83, which moved her to no. 4 all-time. Kennedy Noble was third in 58.81.

It’s the second time Smith has owned this record; she swam 57.57 on the opening leg of the women’s 4×100 m Medley Relay at the 2019 Worlds and then McKeown lowered it twice before Smith grabbed it back on Tuesday. The record was not a surprise for Smith, who said she had the mark in her sights for the Trials.

The other final was the men’s 800 m Freestyle, with Tokyo Olympic winner Bobby Finke returning to try and get to Paris and defend. No American was in the top 15 in the world coming in, but Finke took the lead from the start and won wire-to-wire in 7:44.22, now no. 5 in the world for 2024.

Prep Luke Whitlock, who had the fastest qualifying time, stuck with Finke and actually gained on the usually-superfast Finke in the final 50 m, timing 7:45.19, now no. 6 in the world this year. Daniel Matheson was well back in third in 7:49.34.

There were fireworks galore in the morning heats of the men’s 100 m Freestyle, with 2023 Worlds silver medalist Jack Alexy looking great with a lifetime best of 47.08 in heat nine, moving him to no. 2 in the world for 2024 and into a tie for no. 8 all-time (and no. 2 all-time U.S.). He finished in front of Tokyo Olympic champ Caeleb Dressel, whose 47.82 was his fastest in two years in his comeback to the pool. Heat eight saw Notre Dame star Chris Guiliano – who was no. on the world list at 47.49 – win in 47.65.

The evening semifinals were a little more sedate, but Guiliano shined, winning heat one from Backstroke ace Hunter Armstrong in a lifetime best of 47.25, remaining at no. 3 in the world this year. Armstrong made the final easily at 47.59.

In heat two, Alexy won in 47.33, a bit slower than the morning, but with Dressel getting closer and getting another best time since his return in 47.53. Worth noting: Armstrong (24.45) and Dressel (24.60) had the fastest final laps, and it took a speedy 48.11 to reach the final, with five in the 47s.

Simone Manuel – remember her, the Rio 2016 women’s 100 m co-champion? – led the morning qualifiers in a seasonal best of 53.09, with 2021 Trials winner Abbey Weitzeil at 53.56, then Butterfly stars Gretchen Walsh (53.60) and Torri Huske (53.62).

Huske won semi one impressively, turning with a big lead and touching in a lifetime best of 52.90, best in the U.S. for 2024 and now no. 7 on the 2024 world list. Weitzeil was second at 53.66. Manuel won the second semi in 53.16, not quite as fast as the morning, but ahead of two-time World 200 m Medley champ Kate Douglass (53.21); they both passed Walsh (53.33) on the final lap. Could Manuel, who had to re-shape her approach after over-training woes and changing coaches, make a third Olympic team? She still holds the American Record at 52.04 from 2019.

Luca Urlando, now 22, finished third at the Olympic Trials in 2021 in the men’s 200 m Butterfly, but entered as one of the favorites in Indianapolis. Florida All-American Mason Laur had the top time in the heats, with a lifetime best by more than a half-second in 1:55.09. But Urlando took over in the semis, winning heat one in 1:54.64, moving up to no. 6 in the world for 2024. Thomas Heilman, just 17 and the fourth-placer at the 2023 Worlds, went out hard in the second semi and held off Maur, 1:54.93 to 1:55.05, another lifetime best for the Gator star.

The men’s 200 m Breaststroke prelims saw Virginia Tech’s A.J. Pouch leading with his lifetime best of 2:08.25, with Josh Matheny next at 2:09.59. But 2023 Worlds bronze medalist Matt Fallon got a lifetime best of 2:07.39 to win semi two and head the qualifiers, moving to no. 4 on the 2024 world list and no. 2 all-time U.S.! That was enough to beat Pouch, who came up with another lifetime best in 2:08.00!

Matheny, the 2019 World Junior champ, and Jake Foster were 1-2 in semi one in 2:08.79 and 2:09.57; Nic Fink, the 2024 Worlds bronze medalist in this event, grabbed a lane in the final in sixth overall (2:09.80 for third in semi one).

In the women’s 1,500 m heats held in the morning, Olympic champ Katie Ledecky was the leading qualifier as expected, in 15:39.73, the 22nd-fastest swim of her career and no. 23 ever! Second-fastest was Katie Grimes, already the 400 m Medley winner, in 16:10.13.

Ledecky also told reporters that she plans to remove herself from the 200 m Free in Paris, which would allow Paige Madden to move up from third and take her place. Said Ledecky, who was not expected to be a medal contender in the 200 Free:

“Nothing formally gets decided until the end of the week because I’ve got to do what I want to do in the 800 and the mile, but if all goes well, I’m not planning on swimming it individually in Paris, but I will be swimming the relay.

“It’s just the workload and wanting to be really great in the 400, 800, mile and relay. It was good here to swim all three rounds. If all goes well and I do drop it, it will be easier in Paris. Hopefully I’m setting myself up well for that.”

Wednesday has finals in the men’s and women’s 100 m Free, the men’s 200 m Breast and 200 m Fly, and Ledecky again in the women’s 1,500 m.

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