By Steve Keating
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) – Connor Jaeger and Abbey Weitzeil wrapped up eight days of cut-throat competition by claiming the last two wins at the U.S. Olympic trials on Sunday as the final pieces of the Rio Games swim team were put in place.
It was the second victory of the trials for both Jaeger and Weitzeil, who will be part of the 45-member squad that includes 30 first-time Olympians.
Jaeger, who qualified in the 400m free on the opening day of the trials last Sunday, was back in the CenturyLink Center pool for the finale touching first in the 1,500 meters freestyle in 14 minutes, 47.61 seconds, fourth fastest time in the world this year, while Jordan Wilimovsky secured the last spot on the squad with his runner-up finish.
Weitzeil, winner of 100 meters free, added the 50 free to her Rio agenda getting home in 24.28, just 5/100ths of a second in front of Simone Manuel.
With the trials over the focus quickly shifts to the Rio pool next month where the U.S. will look to a mix of youth and experience to produce an American gold rush.
At one end of the spectrum are Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 22 medals, who qualified for his fifth Games and Ryan Lochte his fourth. At the other extreme are 30 Olympic newcomers.
“I feel like we’ve seen some guys step up that we haven’t had before and I can’t wait to see them go to the Games and step up again,” said Bob Bowman, Phelps’ longtime coach who will take charge of the U.S. men’s team in Rio.
“I feel very good about where we are now but going forward we are going to have to step up to a new level.
“We have our tried and true guys; Michael and Ryan, those guys we’re going to be able to count on them, but it’s going to be very exciting to have a new group of guys step up … and kind of take us into the next era of swimming.”
Swimmers arrived in Omaha declaring the pressure of the U.S. trials was far greater than anything they face at an Olympics but monstrous expectations will weigh heavily in Rio where the stage is bigger, the spotlight brighter and the competition tougher.
The trials failed to produce a single world record while just one American mark fell.
The meet finished with just two American men, Josh Prenot (200 breast) and Ryan Murphy (100 back), at the top of the world rankings.
Two women also top the world list, Katie Ledecky (200, 400, 800 free) and Lilly King (100 breast).
“One of the things we have always done well, better than anyone else, is improve from the trials to the Games,” said Bowman.
“I’m confident we will do that again, we have a great plan in place and quite frankly we are going to have to do that if we are going to have the kind of Olympics we expect to have and want to have.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)