Chase Kalisz punched his ticket to the Tokyo Olympics on June 13, winning the men’s 400m individual medley at the US swimming trials in a sizzling 4min 09.09sec with retired superstar Michael Phelps cheering him on all the way.
Kalisz, silver medallist in the event at the 2016 Rio Games, edged ahead of 19-year-old challenger Carson Foster on the breaststroke leg and held on through a furious closing freestyle leg that saw Jay Litherland overtake Foster on the final lap to finish second in 4:10.33 and secure a chance to improve on his fifth place finish in Rio.
It was a devastating outcome for Foster, who pushed hard through the opening butterfly and backstroke and at the halfway stage had a two-second lead on the field.
“I knew my race plan. I knew Carson was going to take it out fast [but] I know where I need to be to make my move off the breaststroke,” said Kalisz, who became the second-fastest performer in the world this year behind Japan’s Daiya Seto – who clocked a 4:09.02 at the Japanese championships in April.
After he and Litherland exchanged a hug, the veterans consoled Foster.
And as Kalisz gave an on-deck TV interview he got a hug from former training partner Phelps, who was in the stands for the opening night of the eight-day meeting.
He said Phelps, whose world record of 4:03.84 set in 2008 still stands, had long been a source of advice and support in tackling the daunting 400 IM.
“Apart from Jay Litherland he’s the man training partner in my career,” Kalisz said of Phelps, adding it was “awesome he’s at trials.”
Kalisz’s time was his fastest since 2018. He didn’t qualify for the 400m final at the 2019 world championships, when he was battling a shoulder injury.
“I don’t want to say I wasn’t prepared last year, because I was,” Kalisz said. “But I’m 27 now. My body needs rest a lot more than it ever has.”
The first night of competition also produced a first-time Olympian in 19-year-old Emma Weyant, who rallied from third at the 300m mark to win the women’s 400m medley in a world-leading 4:33.81.
Weyant powered past Hali Flickinger and Melanie Margalis, Flickinger earning a spot on a second Olympic team with a runner-up finish in the second-fastest time in the world this season: 4:33.96.
“This morning, I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous so I tried to get that out of my system,” Weyant said. “The plan tonight was just to race.
“That’s something I really had to learn, stick to my race plan and not worry about everyone around me – stick to my strengths and always take it home on freestyle.”
Keiran Smith smashed his previous personal best to earn a first Olympic berth with a victory in the men’s 400m freestyle in 3:44.86.
He finished more than three seconds ahead of the field.
“It’s a pretty good feeling!” Smith said. “I’m really excited with that swim and I’m looking forward to improving upon that against the rest of the world.”
Michael Andrew, gunning for a first Olympic team, opened the trials with a bang, setting an American record in the 100m breaststroke heats and lowering it in the semi-finals with a time of 58.14sec.
“There’s a lot left in the tank,” Andrew said as he looked ahead to the final on June 14.