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Swimming-Trials over, US switch focus to Australian showdown in Paris

By Thomson Reuters Jun 23, 2024 | 9:49 PM

(Reuters) – Katie Ledecky and a powerhouse American swim team will turn their attention to another Summer Games showdown with arch-rivals Australia after the U.S. Olympic trials concluded in Indianapolis on Sunday.

After nine days of intense competition at Lucas Oil Stadium, normally the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the final tickets to Paris were handed out with Simone Manuel winning the 50m freestyle and Bobby Finke the men’s 1,500m.

Manuel, the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, won the ‘splash and dash’ in 24.13 seconds, just .02 head of Gretchen Walsh, who also earned a spot in the event in Paris.

“I put in a lot of work to get to this point,” said Manuel. “I wasn’t feeling too confident after last night (in the heats), I spent a lot of time watching races where I won and I really wanted to channel that Simone because I know I am a winner and that’s what I did tonight.”

Finke, gold medallist in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics, will defend both titles in Paris after touching first in the final event of the meeting in 14:40.28.

David Johnston finished 12 seconds back of the winner but the result was good enough to earn him a spot on his first Olympic team.

With the U.S. and Australian Olympic trials wrapped up the stage is now set for what is set to be an explosive competition in the Paris pool.

Team USA will once again be targeting top spot in the pool after winning 11 gold medals and 30 overall.

But Australian swimmers are heading to France on a mission to end the American reign after coming close in Japan with nine golds among their 21 total.

“This has been a legendary rivalry in our sport and it is shaping up again to be a really exciting one, both sides of the pool, men and women,” U.S. swimming great Michael Phelps told NBC Sports.

Competing in her fourth Olympics, Ledecky will be counted on to make a major contribution to the U.S. medal haul after winning four individual events (200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle) at the trials.

A seven-time Olympic champion and one of the all-time greats of the sport, Ledecky’s battles with Australian Ariarne Titmus and Canada’s teenage wunderkind Summer McIntosh are expected to be one of the highlights of the Paris Olympics.

With Ledecky and another seven-time gold medallist Caeleb Dressel leading the way, the U.S. will not lack for experience in a squad packed with Olympic and world champions and world record holders.

But the U.S. roster also includes some fresh faces, like 17-year-old Thomas Heilman, who will contest the 100m and 200m butterfly and becomes the youngest male to make the U.S. swim squad since Michael Phelps at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Dressel, winner of five golds in Tokyo, did not qualify to defend his 100m freestyle crown but will be kept busy in Paris in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly as well as potentially being involved in three relay teams.

Regan Smith is also set for a heavy workload after winning the women’s 200m butterfly and 100m and 200m backstroke.

The 22-year-old added some spice to the U.S. and Australia rivalry when she regained the 100m backstroke world record from Kaylee McKeown.

Walsh opened the trials by setting a world record in the women’s 100m butterfly on the opening day and will travel to Paris with her older sister Alex, who earned her spot on the team after finishing second in the 200m individual medley.

They will not be the only siblings on the U.S. squad – Alex Shackell qualified in the women’s 200m butterfly and her brother Aaron won the 400m freestyle.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford)