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Where to Watch: 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming, Presented by Lilly

by Brendan Rourke

Caeleb Dressel looking at the time board
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Caeleb Dressel looks on after the men's 50-meter freestyle final during Toyota US Open on Nov. 30, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

  • WHEN

    • June 15-23 (Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, Ind.)

As the Olympic Games Paris 2024 draw closer, so do the trials for several of Team USA's large-team sports. More than 1,000 American swimmers have earned the right to compete at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming, presented by Lilly, for a spot on the Paris 2024 roster. Over the course of nine days of instense competition, USA Swimming will fill out its roster with the best of the best, hoping to secure a pool's full of medals from Paris. Some names will be immediately recognizable, while others have yet to receive their well-deserved spotlight.

Lydia Jacoby speaks during Team USA's Media Summit on April 17, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)

Swimming belongs to a group of sports that fall under the umbrella of qualifying via a single trials event. Every year, hundreds of thousands of swimmers from high schools, colleges, and pro circuits take to the pool and compete in meets around the U.S. and the world. Since it is nearly impossible to take every swimmer’s average times and rank individuals due to several factors, swimmers look to post several speedy times that come in under a “cutoff time” set by USA Swimming. The determined time is usually posted one year after the previous Olympic Games. Those who post an official time under the cutoff time for their discipline can swim in that event at trials.

However, that is just step one. Step two is to pit that time against other American swimmers at this single high-stakes, tension-filled event. Trials are grueling on purpose, as an athlete's ability to manage stress and fatigue are tested. Swimmers often compete in several disciplines to try to make the Olympic roster for at least one event. They are allowed to qualify and make the team for multiple events if they pass the requirements.

Swimmers who place first or second in their respective event will automatically receive a ticket to Paris. Those competing in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle have a bit more leeway, as the top six finishers can earn a spot and be in discussion to make the 4x100 and 4x200m relay teams.

Qualifying for the Olympic open-water swimming event – commonly referred to as “Marathon Swimming” – involves both finishing near the top of the standings at a World Aquatics-sanctioned 10-kilometer competition and other countries’ top finishers based on continental region. The U.S. has three athletes qualified for the open-water swimming event in Paris – Katie Grimes, Mariah Denigan and Ivan Puskovitch. A full breakdown of the requirements can be viewed here.

Below are some of the top storylines heading into swimming trials:

Katie Ledecky competes in the women's 800-meter freestyle final during the TYR Pro Swim Series - San Antonio on April 13, 2024 in San Antonio. (Photo by Getty Images)

Technically, nothing is certain when it comes to making an Olympic team in swimming because nobody can predict what happens at a single event. However, Katie Ledecky earning a Paris roster spot is the most concrete prediction one can make heading into trials. With seven Olympic golds and 21 world championship titles already under her belt, the Maryland native will look to make her fourth consecutive Olympic team.

Ledecky first made waves by winning the 800-meter freestyle at the Olympic Games London 2012 at just 15 years old. Since then, she's become one of the greatest women's swimmers of all time, and constantly shows no signs of slowing down. She’s captured at least one gold medal at every distance from 200m to 1,500m. Barring the catastrophic scenario of sustaining an injury, the current Florida Gator swimmer looks primed to make another Olympic roster and move closer to breaking Michael Phelps’ individual Olympic medal records (28 total medals, 23 golds). She already eclipsed Phelps in world championship gold medals this past year.

Ryan Murphy competes in the men's 200-meter backstroke heats during the TYR Pro Swim Series - Westmont on March 09, 2024 in Westmont, Illinois. (Photo by Getty Images)

Although Ledecky deserves the most attention, several other elite swimmers also deserve some of the spotlight. Multiple athletes will be looking to make their third Olympic Games next month, including four-time Olympic medalist Abby Weitzeil. On the men’s side, former 100m backstroke world record holder Ryan Murphy will also look to make his third Olympic roster. After securing three golds at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Murphy tallied one gold, one silver and a bronze at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Swimming veteran Nic Fink will once again be on the hunt for an elusive Olympic medal. Recently, the 30-year-old collected five medals (three golds) at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar in breaststroke and mixed medley events.

A few younger swimmers will also make their presence known. After sweeping her final NCAA Championships with seven gold medals, Kate Douglass has put on back-to-back impressive showings at the 2023 and 2024 world championships. The New York City native is in a great spot to make her second Olympic roster. Also, be on the lookout for the Walsh sisters, Alex and Gretchen. Alex won silver in the 200m mixed medley in Tokyo, while Gretchen is looking to make her first Olympic team. Finally, Grimes, who has already claimed a Paris spot for the open-water event, is also looking to book a spot for a few indoor events. The long-distance specialist is looking to make the roster alongside Ledecky in the 1,500m freestyle as well as the 400m IM.

On the men’s side, look for 16-year-old Thomas Heilman to have a strong showing in the 100m medley. Heilman has a chance to become the youngest U.S. athlete to make the Paris roster for swimming.

Alex Walsh competes in the women's 200-meter individual medley prelims during the TYR Pro Swim Series - San Antonio on April 13, 2024 in San Antonio. (Photo by Getty Images)

As mentioned previously, fatigue normally plays a major factor at swimming trials because athletes will go “all-out” in multiple disciplines in an attempt to make Team USA. While swimming in two, three or four events is pretty common (Ledecky is likely to compete in the 400m, 800m, 1,500m and possibly the 200m freestyle event), some athletes plan to race in even more. Per USA Swimming, University of Florida freshman Bella Sims will be one of the most active swimmers during trials, competing in 11 different disciplines. Kieran Smith, who took home a bronze medal in the 400 freestyle in Tokyo, is slated to race in eight different distances.

Two other notable athletes who could have busy days are Shaine Casas and 2020 Olympian Alex Walsh. Casas especially will be hungry for a spot, as the COVID-delayed trials for the Tokyo Games ruined his rhythm. Originally qualifying for seven trials disciplines, the current Texas Longhorn only swam in two. He failed to make the Tokyo roster for either distance, finishing third in the 100m backstroke behind Murphy and Hunter Armstrong.

Jack Alexy reacts after winning the men's 100-meter freestyle final during the TYR Pro Swim Series - Westmont on March 09, 2024 in Westmont, Illinois. (Photo by Getty Images)

There is no better location in the world to train to make an Olympic roster than a college campus in the United States. An overwhelming majority of the 730+ swimmers that will go to Indianapolis have swum or currently swim for a university or their university’s club team, and several will don caps showing their college logos. The athletes don’t just come from one university, either. They are emerging from everywhere across the country.

University of California swimmer, Jack Alexy, is a frontrunner in several disciplines, including the speedy 50m freestyle. Three-time Olympic medalist and former 100m backstroke world record holder Regan Smith started at Stanford University before competing at Arizona State this past year. The University of Florida boasts the likes of Ledecky, Dressel, Bobby Finke, who took home two golds from Tokyo and current freshman Bella Sims, who also secured an Olympic medal in 2020. The University of Virginia can claim several young stars in women’s swimming, including Tokyo medalists Alex Walsh, Kate Douglass and Paige Madden. The trio are some of the frontrunners in the middle-distance races.

Additionally, another college on the rise is the University of Texas. Several Longhorn swimmers collected medals at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 last October, and are looking to use that event as momentum for trials. Two such Longhorns fitting that mold are Kelly Pash and Dakota Luther in the butterfly. After very strong showings in Santiago, the duo have a chance to make their first Olympic squads. Alaska native and two-time Olympic medalist Lydia Jacoby, who also races for the Longhorns, should have a strong chance to qualify for the 100m breaststroke once again. Finally, look for Carson Foster to have a strong showing in both the 200 and 400m medleys.

Simone Manuel reacts after competing in the women's 50-meter freestyle final during the TYR Pro Swim Series - Westmont on March 08, 2024 in Westmont, Illinois. (Photo by Getty Images)

The beauty of a trials qualification event is that if any American swimmer posts an official time at a sanctioned event under USA Swimming’s cutoff time, they’re in. It does not matter if some swimmers take personal hiatuses for various reasons. This inclusivity adds another reason to why making the Olympic swimming roster is one of the most difficult challenges in sports.

Though their names have not frequently appeared at meets over the past year, veterans Simone Manuel and Caeleb Dressel will be in Indianapolis and competing for a spot just like everyone else. After Tokyo, Manuel, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, stepped away from the sport for a year to focus on herself. Now, she’s on a path towards potentially grabbing a roster spot for Paris. At the Westmont Pro Series in March, Manuel posted a time of 53.35 in the 100m freestyle, ranking her third amongst American women this season. Another stellar performance in Indianapolis could allow Manuel to make her third consecutive Olympic team.

Additionally, Caeleb Dressel, a seven-time Olympic gold medalist, has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows over the past few years. In 2023, Dressel failed to qualify for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships. However, he has had a splendid 2024, starting with celebrating the birth of his first child. Roughly a month later, he returned to the top of the podium, taking first in the 100m butterfly at the Westmont Pro Series. The 27-year-old Floridian will look to make his third straight Olympic team.