The U.S. Olympic swimming trials are a festival of light, music and competition where some of the best swimmers in the world have churned through the water over the past week here in Omaha, Nebraska, to try and earn a coveted spot on the American Olympic team.
It’s not for the faint of heart. Hundreds qualify to race. Perhaps a half dozen in each race truly have a shot at being one of the top two finishers to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Two swimmers celebrate at the end while other come within a few scant seconds but fall short.
Avon’s Madison Kennedy came so close Sunday night in the finals of the 50 meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Kennedy, 28, finished third with a time of 24.48 seconds, just 0.15 of a second behind 19-year-old Simone Manuel. Abbey Weitzel, also 19, won the race in 24.28 seconds – the second fastest time ever in U.S. trials history in the event.
Weitzel and Manuel both had their best times ever in the 50 free, which are the sixth and seventh, respectively, fastest times in the world this year. Kennedy’s time of 24.48 is her third fastest performance in the event and the 12th fastest time in the world. Her career-best time of 24.39 came in Saturday’s semifinals.
The race was broadcast live on NBC and broadcaster Rowdy Gaines said he was rooting for Kennedy to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Six of the eight finalists, including Weitzel and Manuel, had already claimed spots on the Olympic team. Weitzel and Manuel also finished first and second, respectively, in the 100 meter freestyle race.
Weitzel pulled away – as best as one can in a race where 0.85 of a second separates the entire race field – while Manuel surged as the finish. “My speed was there,” Manuel said. “My focus was making sure the speed was there for the whole 50 (meters) and not just the last 25 meters.”
Kennedy was disappointed in not making the team. She also feels for her fans and supporters throughout the nation. “I feel bad for all of the people that have supported me because I know they’re gonna be sad for me,” she told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s cool to know that they love and care for you but it just stinks to know they’re also going to feel really sad and I really can’t do anything about it.”
Kennedy had a great day Saturday in qualifying for the 50 meters. She was the No. 1 qualifier with a time of 24.52 and swam a career-best time of 24.39 in the semifinals to earn the No. 2 seed behind Weitzel.
On Thursday, Kennedy swam in the 100 meters and had the two fastest times of her career in the event. She swam the 100 in 54.18 seconds in the semifinals but finished ninth, just 0.11 of a second out of the finals.
It was Kennedy’s third trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2012, she was fifth in the 50 free and eighth in the 100 free. She plans to keep swimming and hopes to try again in 2020.
“The Olympic Trials are an interesting time in an athlete’s life,” Kennedy said in a June interview. “Some think it is a culmination of your worth, of your career. I don’t believe in that. It’s just another meet. We can keep swimming after that. There are lot of meets that I haven’t been to yet.”
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials
At Omaha, Nebraska
Women’s 50 freestyle: 1. Abbey Weitzeil 24.28 seconds, 2. Simone Manuel 24.33, 3. Madison Kennedy 24.48, 4. Olivia Smoliga 24.70, 5. Katrina Kopanka 24.84, 6. Dana Vollmer 24.96, 7. Lia Neal 25.00, 8. Amanda Weir 25.13.