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Lilly King, Kieran Smith Both Ready For Tokyo 2020 After Fiery Finals at 2021 Olympic Trials

by Justin Limoges

Lilly King celebrates winning the Women’s 100m breaststroke at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 15, 2021 in Omaha, Neb.


OMAHA, Neb. – Two-time Olympic gold medalist Lilly King qualified for her second consecutive Olympic Games tonight at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming.
King, 24, overtook the women’s 100-meter breaststroke final in 1:04.79 tonight, giving her the opportunity to defend her 100 breaststroke gold medal from the Olympic Games Rio 2016.  

“It’s great [to get the chance to defend my 2016 gold medal], it’s kind of what I expected going in,” King said. “But I was not expecting Lydia [Jacoby] to have an incredible race right there.

“It’s been awesome, I’ve seen people that I don’t know just show up and make the team. So, I’m really excited to get to know my new teammates and see how they do in the summer.”
The 17-year-old phenom, Lydia Jacoby, finished right behind the veteran in the final in 1:05.28, giving her the chance to be named in the second women’s 100-meter breaststroke spot for Tokyo.

King completed yesterday’s semifinals in 1:04.72, a slight drop from tonight’s concluding result. While that drop was not necessarily pleasing to King, she was still happy to hit back-to-back, sub-1:04s – her first in almost four years. 
“I normally want to send a three, so I thought tonight was a little sloppy,” King said. “But you know, I should always be happy with a 1:04 – that’s the first time I’ve had multiple 1:04s since 2017. So, I’m happy with the time but not exactly happy with how the race went.”

With this being the Olympian’s second straight Games, King noted how she sees herself transitioning from a new face in the U.S. Olympic Team to an experienced role model. 

“[The Olympics in] 2016 was my first big national team teammates,” King said. “[It was] just a lot of experience in learning from my teammates and now people who are my idols and now my very good friends. So just learning and getting to know them and how they activate me and stuff, and now I’m on that side of it, so hopefully I can deal and pass that down.”

Kieran Smith became the first American at Trials to secure a second qualification to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The 21-year-old completed the men’s 200-meter freestyle final in 1:45.29, nearly half a second faster than his previous time, 1:45.74, which earned him first overall in yesterday’s semifinals. 

His winning time set him as the eighth-fastest American in the men’s 200 free of all time following Conor Dwyer’s 2016 time of 1:45.23.

“It means a lot to be able to represent USA in a relay,” Smith said. “It’s something that I’ve never done in an Olympic stage.” 

Townley Haas, 24, finished right behind Smith in 1:45.66. With that, Haas qualified for the 4x200-meter freestyle relay and has the chance to take the second spot in the individual 200-meter freestyle on the Olympic roster. 

Smith punched his first Olympic ticket following his 400-meter freestyle victory on the first night at Trials, where he boasted almost a five-second improvement – 3:48.06 to 3:44.86 – from the preliminary round.

The original goal was to come in and secure spots on the U.S. Olympic Team, according to Smith. Now having qualified twice, he is interested in winning medals for Team USA.

“I want to be in finals contention and the main goal, representing Team USA, is to win as many medals as possible,” Smith said. “So, I don’t think [finals contention is] out of the question, especially since we get four extra weeks of really good preparation.”

While the Games are nearly five weeks away, Smith is still interested in competing in what he calls his remaining “bonus events”: 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley, which take place on both Wednesday, July 16 and Thursday, July 17, respectively. 

“This is something that I really dreamed of,” Smith said. “I wanted to swim the 400 as well as the 200 in Tokyo, and now I have what I call bonus events going forward. I’m going to swim the 100 free, see what I can do, and then probably the 200 IM on day five.”
Just yesterday, Katie Ledecky earned a spot on the Tokyo 2020 roster – her third-straight U.S. Olympic Team – after dominating the women’s 400-meter freestyle. Today, she spearheaded the women’s 200-meter freestyle semifinals in 1:55.83.

“Of course, this was my biggest day of racing, just from top to bottom, from this morning [during the preliminaries] to tonight [in the semifinal],” Ledecky said. “So, it was good to just turn that around and get some rest in between and put together a good swim tonight.”

Ledecky noted how she’s “just taking it one session at a time,” as the renewed experience of competing in multiple meets and crowded events have begun to take their toll against a very competitive field. 

“I think I was a lot more nervous than I expected to be going into last night and just had to get used to this environment again,” Ledecky said. “I feel like we went from zero to 100 again in terms of fans.”

The atmosphere of fans returning to the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska has been refreshing for both rookies and veterans alike.

According to Ledecky, it has taken a little longer to get back into the flow of things.

“Just being in that environment again, even for somebody like me, just takes some getting used to and just getting into the meet and finding my stroke, finding my rhythm and feeling a lot more relaxed coming off last night,” Ledecky said. “So, I know we all just put a lot of pressure on ourselves just to make that team, and once you do, I think it’s a bit of a weight lifted off your shoulders.”

Paige Madden, Katie McLaughlin and Olympic veteran Allison Schmitt finished in second (1:56.44), third (1:57.37) and fourth (1:57.53), respectively, behind Ledecky.

Luca Urlando and Zach Harting notably tied for first overall in the men’s 200-meter butterfly semifinal this evening. Urlando, 19, won Heat 1 in 1:55.21, while Harting, 23, replicated the same time in Heat 2, which will lead into a highly anticipated final tomorrow night. 

“Obviously, me winning that race doesn’t really mean much,” Harting noted. “But it just means that I have a spot in tomorrow’s final and that’s the one that everyone wants to win.”

19-year-olds Alex Walsh and Kate Douglas also headlined the women’s 200-meter individual medley to cap off the third night of action. Walsh finished in first at 2:08.87 with Douglass following up in 2:09.99.

Justin Limoges is a 2020 sports communication graduate from Bradley University, originating from Newport, Vermont. He is a digital media assistant for