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Countdown to Rio: A recap of the Olympic trials

Recap: 2017 U.S. World Championship Trials
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Swim Across America - DallasThis past week in Omaha, Nebraska, USA Swimming held the 2016 Olympic Trials.  Over 200,000 spectators came to watch the eight days of competition and enjoyed some amazing swimmers complete with light shows, fireworks and even a Cirque du Soleil performance on the final night. The official roster has 45 swimmers, including 30 first-time Olympians, and a handful of returning veterans.

For the returning veterans and gold medalists from the 2012 Olympics, making the 2016 Olympic Team should seem like an easy feat, but it is not — not even for those as experienced and dominant as Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. In the US, only those who finish 1st or 2nd in an individual event make the team (for the 100m and 200m freestyle, first through fifth or sixth place are added to the team to account for relays) and competition is tough!  Even if you finish third by .01 seconds in your individual event, you do not make the team for that event. It can be equally exhilarating as heart-breaking depending on which number you see next to your name on the scoreboard at the end of the race.

Fortunately, Michael Phelps secured his spot on the Olympic Team by winning the 100m and 200m Butterfly along with the 200m IM.  This will be Phelps’s fifth Olympic Games and also his final Olympics!  His rival, Ryan Lochte (11-time Olympic medalist), has made his fourth Olympic team in the 4x200m freestyle relay and the 200m IM (as a side note: Lochte placed 3rd in the 400m IM, in which he won gold at the 2012 Olympics, so he will not be swimming the 400m IM in Rio).  Nathan Adrian (2012 gold medalist in 100m freestyle) made the team in both sprint freestyle races, 50m and 100m.

As for the women’s returning stars, Katie Ledecky (world record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in 800m freestyle) will compete in her 2nd Olympic Games as, yet again, the youngest swimmer on the team!  She will swim the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle in Rio.  Allison Schmitt, who won multiple gold medals at the 2012 Olympics, has made the team in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, but she will not compete in any of the individual events.  Missy Franklin (2012 Olympic gold medalist in 100m and 200m backstroke), made the team in the 200m backstroke and 200m freestyle.  Amanda Weir (3-time Olympic medalist) made the team for her third Olympic Games and will be a part of the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Unfortunately a few favorites and veterans just missed making the 2016 Olympic Team. Tyler Clary (2012 gold medalist in 200m backstroke) finished 3rd at trials, not making the Olympic team.  As with many professional swimmers after an Olympic year, he will be retiring from the sport. Matt Grevers (six-time Olympic gold medalist, including the 100m backstroke in 2012) also finished third at trials and did not make the team. Natalie Coughlin (12-time Olympic medalist, tied with the most Olympic medals for an American female swimmer) also did not make the team. It would have been her fourth Olympic Games.

There are many swimmers who have been very fast for many years and perhaps just missed making the team in 2012, or started to really shine in the years following, or had a great performance at the World Championships last year.  Maya Dirado is one of those stars who has made the team in the 200m IM, 400m IM and 200m backstroke.  Among many other new additions to the 2016 US Olympic Team are Abbey Weitzeil and Simone Manuel who both made the team in both sprint freestyle events (50m and 100m freestyle).  

As a proud University of Georgia Swimming Alum, I must report that UGA has eight swimmers and one coach on the Olympic Team headed to Rio.  For one university that is an incredible number of swimmers on the Olympic Team!  Stanford University and Southern Cal are other universities sending multiple swimmers to the Olympics with three and five swimmers, respectively.

As another exciting fact about this year’s Olympic roster, this is the first time in history that two women of African-American descent will be on the team.  As I wrote back in February,  Simone Manuel and Lia Neal are swimmers to watch and both made the team!  

After eight days and fifteen sessions of competition, the 2016 US Olympic Trials are over and the swimmers and coaches are already preparing for Rio.  It will be exciting to see the first-time Olympians on the big stage and to watch the veterans continue to make history.  Let’s all cheer on Team USA in Rio!

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