OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Despite retiring from swimming five years ago, the influence of Michael Phelps was felt on the opening night of the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Chase Kalisz, who says Phelps is like a big brother, got himself another trip to the Olympics by winning the 400m individual medley on Sunday.
A hooded Phelps then cheered him on from the socially distant stands sauntered onto the deck to hug his former training partner at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
“Michael supports me a lot,” said Kalisz. “He’ll give me a kick in the butt when I need it, and sometimes I need it. Michael was an older brother to me in my life. I remember interacting with Michael when I was 6 years old – and here we are 21 years later. “
Phelps was impressed with Kalisz’s performance.
“His back half was great,” Phelps told the Associated Press. “I thought he might go a little faster. But he’ll be there soon. He took care of what he had to do. “
On the women’s side, the Americans had offspring: 19-year-old Emma Weyant prevailed against three Olympic veterans in her first tests and won an exciting 400 IM.
Another Olympic rookie, Kieran Smith, cut his previous personal best by almost 3 seconds to win the 400 freestyle and take his place for Tokyo.
Kalisz was halfway behind the top qualifier Carson Foster after the butterfly and backstroke course.
But Kalisz took the lead in the breaststroke and held it through the freestyles to the end, winning in 4 minutes, 9.09 seconds.
“I know where to be to get away from the breaststroke,” said the 27-year-old.
Phelps, who retired in 2016 after winning a record 23 gold medals in the Olympics, said everyone at the trials should get a boost from racing in front of fans.
USA Swimming allowed around 50% capacity in the 14,000-seat arena, with many of the empty seats filled with cardboard cutouts.
After more than a year without fans in the stands, the atmosphere for the swimmers was still a welcome change.
“You get that power from the fans,” said Phelps. “I got goosebumps when I entered the arena tonight.”
Another 2016 Olympian, Jay Litherland, followed Foster over the last 25 meters and took the expected second place on the Olympic team in 4: 10.33.
Foster finished third in 4: 10.86 – outside of the Olympic Games.
This ensured that some veterans would be the first swimmers to grab spots on the squad that will travel with high expectations to the Tokyo games delayed by the pandemic.
Kalisz took silver in the 400 IM at the Rio Olympics while Litherland finished fifth in that event.
Kalisz swam over to hug Litherland after seeing them finish 1-2. Both attended the University of Georgia and are still training together.
“It means the world to have my training partner with me,” said Kalisz.
The pandemic-related Olympics turned out to be a blessing for Kalisz, who hadn’t even qualified for the final of the 400 IM at the 2019 World Championships. He was struggling with a shoulder injury and was clearly not in full force.
An additional year of training was just what he needed before he could take on the grueling 400 IM on exams.
“I would definitely say that,” said Kalisz. “I don’t want to say that last year I wasn’t prepared because I was. But I’m 27. My body needs a lot more rest than ever before. “
Practically in sync with the top 4 In the final round of the 400 women’s IMs, Weyant touched first in 4: 33.81.
Hali Flickinger secured the probable second place for Tokyo with 4: 33.96, while Melanie Margalis (4: 34.08) and Leah Smith (4: 34.55) just missed out.
They set the four fastest times in the world that year, a testament to America’s strength and depth among women.
Weyant said her strategy is, “Stick to my race schedule and don’t worry about everyone around me. Stick to my strengths and always take them home with you when doing freestyle. “
Flickinger, Margalis, and Smith were on the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, but Weyant defeated them all.
“I’m not going to lie,” said the teenager. “I was really nervous so I tried to get that out of my system (in the morning preliminary round). Tonight’s plan was just to race. “
Kieran Smith’s Olympic debut will also be his first time with the national team.
He won in 3: 44.86 but knows that he has to be even faster to get a medal – especially against a strong Australian squad.
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Mack Horton drove a faster time than Smith in his country’s trials, and it wasn’t even good enough to make it onto the Australian team.
“I’m really excited about this swim,” said Smith, who had a best time to date of 3: 47.71. “I’m looking forward to hopefully improving this swim and being competitive with the rest of the world.”
No one else in the eight-man final was fast enough to meet the qualifying time for Tokyo.
Sunday too Michael Andrew has set two American records in the 100th breaststroke, 58.19 in the preliminary rounds in the morning and even faster – 58.14 – in the evening semi-finals.
He will be the clear favorite in the final on Monday.
“There’s a lot left in the tank,” said Andrew. “Maybe I tried too hard with the lights and cameras to go home. Hopefully I can fix that tomorrow. “
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