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US swimming trials a big hit in Indianapolis

Gretchen Walsh smiles after a Women's 50 freestyle semifinals heat Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The crowds were large and raucous. The biggest stars largely lived up to their billing. And plenty of promising young swimmers emerged over nine days in Indiana.

The U.S. Olympic swimming trials wrapped up Sunday night with the final two events at Lucas Oil Stadium, rounding out the roster for the Paris Games.

Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel are among those who will be going for gold in the City of Light, joined by potential new standouts such as Kate Douglass and Thomas Heilman.

Setting up a temporary pool inside the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts took the event to a whole new level. Nearly 300,000 fans turned out, with two sessions drawing crowds of more than 20,000.

The set-up drew rave reviews from the athletes.

“It’s been awesome. I think it blew away all of our expectations,” Ledecky said. “Just walking in the first day, it was incredible to see how it came together. Once it filled up with people, it made us all even happier.”

Star Power

Ledecky won all four of her freestyle events, ranging from 200 to 1,500 meters, and she’ll again be the face of the American team as she competes in her fourth Olympics.

Ledecky won’t swim the 200, an event that produced only a fifth-place finish in Tokyo, and she’ll need to improve on her times in the 400 to have a shot at gold in that star-studded event.

But she remains the favorite in the 800 — an event where she’ll be going for a four-peat — and the 1,500.

Dressel, who took an extended layoff from swimming after Tokyo, won a pair of events in Indy and appeared to be regaining the form that produced five gold medals at the last Olympics.

“I’m really good at racing,” he said. “You put me in a race, I will make it close, as close as I possibly can, even if I have to try to kill myself to get there.”

Manuel, whose last Olympics were marred by overtraining syndrome, claimed an individual event on the final night of the trials with a victory in the 50 freestyle. She’ll also be a key performer on the 4×100 free relay.

She said her winning race “felt like the longest 50 of my life because I wanted it bad. I really wanted to swim an individual event.”

Bobby Finke, the winner of the 800 and 1,500 freestyle races in Tokyo, will get a chance to defend his titles after winning both events at the trials.

On The Rise

Douglass showed why she is regarded as one of the world’s most versatile swimmers.

The 22-year-old New Yorker claimed spots in three individual races in Paris: the 200 breaststroke, 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley. She’ll also be a key performer on the relays.

She has all the makings of being the breakout American star in Paris, leading the charge to take down the powerhouse Australian women’s team.

“Making the team was part of the process, but we have bigger goals that we want to accomplish in Paris,” Douglass said.

Also keep an eye on Chris Guiliano, who will be the first male American swimmer since the great Matt Biondi to compete in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events, and Heilman, who at 17 became the youngest male swimmer to make the U.S. team since Michael Phelps.

World Records

The trials provided a chance to send a message to the rest of the world, but only two world records were broken in Indy.

Gretchen Walsh set a standard in the women’s 100 butterfly with a time of 55.18 seconds, She eclipsed the mark of 55.48 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostoom at the 2016 Olympics.

Regan Smith broke the mark in the women’s 100 backstroke, touching in 57.13 to take down the time of 57.33 set by Australia’s Kaylee McKeown.

Put A Ring On It

Lilly King sure had a trials to remember.

Not only did the breaststroke queen qualify for two Olympic events in her home state, she got a big surprise after her final race.

King’s boyfriend, former Indiana University swimmer James Wells, pulled out a ring, dropped to a knee and asked her to marry him.

She said yes with a kiss and a big hug.

Siblings, Times Two

The U.S. will have two sets of siblings on its Paris team, the first time that’s happened since 2004.

Gretchen Walsh and big sister Alex both claimed spots at the Olympics. So did Aaron and Alex Shackell, a teenage brother-sister duo from the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.

“I’m so happy,” Gretchen Walsh said. “It’s such a relief for my family now that we’re going to Paris together. It’s a dream come true. I’m just so excited.”

Falling Short

Claire Curzan, a relay silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, was one of the biggest stars of the 2024 world championships in Doha. She won four gold medals and six medals overall at a meet that was missing many of swimming’s biggest stars.

The 19-year-old failed to make the team for Paris. She made the finals in all three of her events, but her best finish was third in the 200 backstroke, missing an Olympic spot by 0.07 seconds.

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