Emma Weyant stood as the loud and boisterous crowd roared in appreciation. Weyant made a late move, stunningly negatively splitting the final 100 of her 400 IM to pass three veteran Olympians and become an Olympian herself.
“I have never experienced anything like that. It was the biggest crowd I have ever swam in front of. It was really surreal for me,” Emma Weyant said. “I cannot believe it.”
Neither could the crowd, which saw Weyant trailing Hali Flickinger, Melanie Margalis and Leah Smith heading into the final 100 meters, but use a late surge to pass the veteran Olympians and punch her first Olympic ticket in 4:33.81, the fastest time in the world this year. Flickinger, who led most of the race, was passed narrowly by Margalis at the final turn, but re-passed her in the final meters to finish second at 4:33.96, the second-best time in the world this year and likely punch her ticket to Tokyo with her runner-up finish.
Weyant earned the automatic big with the victory — and did it on the final 50.
“I breathe to my right and I could see Leah Smith — and the last 25 I was just trying to put my head down and get to the wall,” Weyant said. “This is my first Trials, but I had goals going into this meet. This meet was all about racing and I got to race some of the best swimmers in the world.”
And defeat them.
It shows how far Weyant has come in her race strategy — especially negatively splitting her final 100.
“I am not sure I have ever done that before. Tonight it was just, ‘whatever it takes.’ That has been my mantra on training,” she said. “I think mentally for me, the fly is the hardest, just trying not to go too hard on it. It hurts in the breaststroke and freestyle, but that is the best part of the race for me. (Knowing my race and how others race) is something I have been working on.”
Flickinger was not surprisingly out fastest in the opening butterfly leg, touching the first 100 in 1:01.42. She built her lead in the backstroke leg as Weyant moved past Leah Smith into second place at the halfway point.
Margalis made a move at the start of the breaststroke leg as Flickinger clung to a narrow lead over Margalis heading into the freestyle. Margalis had a narrow lead ahead of Flickinger on the final turn, but it was Weyant who made the big final move on the last 50 to race past the rest of the field. Flickinger led most of the race and was passed late by Margalis before the final turn before Flickinger passed her back in the final meters.
“It’s a blur,” Flickinger said. “I saw them coming and I knew my legs were a little toast. I used them a lot more than I usually would on the backstroke, so I knew they were coming that last 50. I was self-talking that whole last 50, telling myself, ‘You’ve got it, you can do it, just kick, just kick.’ So I’m still a little in shock.”
Especially since Flickinger has focused most of her career on the 200 butterfly, a race she made the 2016 team in.
“I just kind of started training (400 IM), focusing on it a little bit, the last few months, especially when I dropped time at Mission (Viejo TYR Pro Swim Series stop). We thought maybe we have a shot, we don’t know. But it’s just really cool to see hard work pay off, so I’m really excited,” she said.
It was a tough finish for Margalis, who made a late move to take the lead going into the final turn.
“She’ll bounce back. I was proud of her tonight. Mel is a 29-year-old 400 IMer. They are not a dime-a-dozen and we are proud of that. That was a tough race. She will bounce back and it won’t affect her in the next race,” coach Jack Bauerle said.
Flickinger has been teammates with Margalis and Olympic teammates with Smith, and said it is always hard to see someone not make the team.
“I think we just all embrace each other with such thanks for each other and we know how hard each other works. If you make the team or you don’t, we all did this together,” Flickinger said. “We all are training around the country to push each other, so I wouldn’t have been able to do what I just did without them beside me, so they’re just as much a part of that swim as I was.”
Flickinger was not seen as a favorite in the 400 IM heading into the meet, but her versatility — qualifying in a meet-best nine events at Trials — is paying off in a big way in Omaha.
The finals also saw two other 2016 Olympians in Margalis and Smith — who like Flickinger made the team in other events — as well as NCAA champion Brooke Forde and the top two performers from 2019 nationals — Weyant and Ally McHugh.
Top 8 Results
- Emma Weyant, 4:33.81 (1:02.96, 2:12.82, 3:32.02)
- Hali Flickinger, 4:33.96 (1:01.42, 2:10.70, 3:31.02)
- Melanie Margalis, 4:34.08 (1:03.16, 2:15.76, 3:31.18)
- Leah Smith, 4:34.55 (1:02.60, 2:13.88, 3:32.69)
- Ally McHugh, 4:36.81
- Brooke Forde, 4:38.69
- Evie Pfeifer, 4:40.23
- Justina Kozan, 4:42.72