Jack Conger rocked the competition Wednesday night in the men’s 200-meter backstroke, bringing the crowd to their feet in the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center and sending the announcers scrambling to determine how close the 17-year-old phenom was to the National Age Group record.
His time of 1 minute 58.54 seconds was well off two-time Olympic gold medalist Aaron Peirsol‘s mark of 1:55.15, but good enough for the seventh fastest time by an American this year, according to USASwimming.org. He won the finals heat at NCSA Junior Nationals by a whopping 4.45 seconds against the nation’s best swimmers under 18 years old.
Conger won the event in the same way he has all year, with powerful underwaters off every wall and near-perfect technique, eliciting cheers from teammates and admirers alike.
With his head locked in place, shoulders and hips guiding his rotation an almost complete 180 degrees from side-to-side, the young star’s lanky arms propelled him through the water with a steady turnover rate from start to finish.
Conger, still a long-shot to make the U.S. Olympic team this summer, will face tough competition at Olympic Trials in his best event, the 200m backstroke, from Olympians Ryan Lochte and Matt Grevers, as well as national team members Nick Thoman and Tyler Clary, and age group rival Ryan Murphy in one of the Americans’ best events.
Conger’s RMSC teammate, Sarah Haase (17), won the women’s 100 breaststroke in impressive fashion, leaving the field in her wake by a full 1.5 seconds. She lowered her long-course best by .03 seconds to maintain her 16th place ranking among U.S. swimmers.
15-year-old Andrew Seliskar (Curl-Burke) swam a gutsy race to win the men’s 200 butterfly in 2:01.80, achieving his first Olympic Trials cut. He was out in a blistering 57.74 for an early lead over the finals heat. He hung on during the final 100 meters to out-touch New Trier’s Reed Malone (16) and Aquazot’s Corey Okubo (16) by .06 and .24, respectively.
It was Seliskar’s second final of the night. After qualifying first in the men’s 100 breaststroke, the rising star finished fourth in 1:05.71. Machine’s Bo Ilgenfritz was seventh in 1:06.18.
Caroline McTaggart (All Star Aquatics) picked up her first Olympic Trials cut in the women’s 100 freestyle. She finished second behind Rachel Bootsma (Aquajets), 56.02 to 56.63. Katie Ledecky (Curl-Burke) was third in 56.71 seconds. Janet Hu (Curl-Burke) was fifth in 57.43. Ledecky broke two NAG records on the opening night of competition in the 1,650 and 1,000-yard freestyle events.
Hellen Moffitt (Curl-Burke) narrowly missed reaching her second Olympic Trials cut in the women’s 200 backstroke. Her time of 2:18.12 was good enough for eighth overall. Jillian Vitarius of Blue Tide Aquatics won the event in 2:12.69. At the conclusion of the night’s finals, Moffitt was allowed to swim the 200 backstroke again in a time trial against two other swimmers who had missed the OT cut. In her second try, the 16-year-old went a personal best 2:17.32. to achieve her second Trials cut — she had already qualified in the 100 backstroke event.
To conclude the women’s events on Wednesday night, NOVA Aquatics’ Emma Nunn stunned Bootsma to win the women’s 200 butterfly, 2:12.02 to 2:14.67. After a strong first 100 meters, Hu faded to 5th in 2:15.91. Nunn’s unconventional stroke was on display at the Tom Dolan Invitational in December where she was beat out by Hu in the short-course meet. But tonight, Nunn came out on top, splitting 33.96 in her final 50 to pull away from Bootsma.
No Potomac Valley swimmer qualified for the top heat of the men’s 100 freestyle, which was won by New Trier Swim Club (Northfield, Illinois) swimmers Jonathan Grodecki (17) and Malone in times of 50.92 and 51.06. Sean Sullivan (Curl-Burke) was the highest area finisher in a time of 53.07. He finished 21st overall.