2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Real Race is for Third Place In W 800



  • Top 1-4 to 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
  • Top 2-6 juniors to 2018 Junior Pan Pacs
  • Top 1-2 (from Nationals + Pan Pacs) to 2019 World Championships
  • 1-2 more to 2019 World University Games
  • 1-2 more to 2019 Pan American Games

After shattering her own world record in the 1500 in Indianapolis in May, everyone wondered if Katie Ledecky could do it again in the 800, just days later. Spoiler alert: she didn’t. But she still threw down the third fastest performance of all-time, 8:07.27, good for No. 1 in the world by almost 11 seconds.

So as these distance event previews always go: it’s not a matter of who will win, it’s just a matter of how fast Ledecky will go.

After Ledecky, it will more than likely be Leah Smith, who is the second-fastest American woman this year by four seconds. She was 8:25.05 last weekend in Columbus, good for eighth in the World, and 8:17.22 at the 2017 FINA World Championships last summer. Smith would have to stumble and whoever’s behind her would have to have the swim of a lifetime to grab silver.

Leah Smith (photo: Mike Lewis)

The best battle of this race is going to be for third and fourth.

Open water stars Ashley Twichell (8:29.35) and Haley Anderson (8:29.64) have been the third- and fourth-fastest Americans this year. Twichell was 8:25.31 two years ago, and Anderson’s best of 8:26.60 came in 2012. Right along with them this year is Cierra Runge, who was 8:29.93 in Columbus, with her best of 8:24.69 coming at Summer Nationals in 2014; her fastest between the years of 2015-2017 was 8:28.64, in 2016.

2017 third-place finisher Hannah Moore has only been 8:36.87 this year (during NCAA season in January), but put up massive drops during the short course season. She was 8:27.58 last year. Sierra Schmidt is another NCAA swimmer coming off a stellar short course season, and she’s been 8:36.48 this year; however, her best of 8:27.54 is from three summers ago.

Sixth in the U.S. this year is 17-year-old USC commit Erica Sullivan, who went her best time of 8:30.15 in Indianapolis in May. It was a three-second drop from her previous best, swum a year ago. Seventh is Penn State’s Ally McHugh, who has dropped five seconds since 2017 Summer Nationals, with her best time currently sitting at 8:30.23.

Megan Byrnes 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Eighth in the nation this year is Hali Flickinger, who swum a lifetime best of 8:31.03 in Atlanta in March – her previous best was 8:40.03, from December 2017. Stanford’s Megan Byrnes has also dropped significant time in the past year – about five seconds – with four of those coming this summer. She was 8:35.06 in Indianapolis in May, then dropped her best down to 8:31.58 in Santa Clara in June. Kaersten Meitz, tenth in the nation this year, dropped major time May 2017, climbed back up at the 2017 World University Games, and has since been able to basically match her best at 8:34.7

Dark horse(s): No one wants to put a limit on what 14-year-old Claire Tuggle can do, and we’re no exception. Her time of 8:37.27 from back in April (when she was 13) ranks her 15th in the nation this year. It does seem she would be out of top-8 contention in the 800, unlike in our predictions for the 400. But again, she’s 14 – we can’t predict what she’ll do, whether that’s a five-second drop or a five-second gain. Becca Mann is another contender we can’t count out. Her best time of 8:21.77 came at in late 2015, and she was 8:24.49 early in 2016; but she hasn’t come close to those times since, with her 2018 season-best sitting at 8:35.63 (11th in the nation).

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