“Which current male high school swimmer has the best shot to make the 2012 Olympic team?” This question is The Swimmers’ Circle’s current featured poll as well as a question posed to me back in December. The poll offers the options of six of the best high school swimmers in the country right now, including Clay Youngquist, David Nolan, Kip Darmody, Nicholas Caldwell, Ryan Murphy, and Arthur Frayler. Youngquist made headlines as the Junior National champion in the 200 free, while Caldwell took the 400 free at that meet. Darmody won the B-final of the loaded 100 back at Senior Nationals, and fellow backstroker Murphy won the 200 at Juniors. Frayler is the only one on the list with senior international team experience, having swum the mile at Pan Pacs, and Nolan made headlines when he shattered three national high school records at the Pennsylvania state meet.
The most popular choice on the list is David Nolan. He swam times of 19-mid in the 50 free, 42-low in the 100 free, 45-mid in the 100 back, and 1:41-mid in the 200 IM, the latter of which would have won NCAAs. Nolan is a potential Trials finalist in up to six events, including the 100/200 free, 100/200 back, 100 fly, and 200 IM, but does he have what it takes to get over the incumbent depth on the start list? Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps loom in the 200 IM, with Eric Shanteau and Tyler Clary nipping at their heels. Nolan may have a shot at the 200 IM if Phelps chooses to skip it, but chances of that are slim in the first place. In relay events, he has been talked about as a potential 100 free contender, but, again, a 48-mid effort will be necessary to make top-six, the U.S. has been growing more and more sprint depth, with the likes of Adrian, Lochte, Phelps, Lezak, Grevers, Weber-Gale, Berens, Robison, Brunelli, Savulich, and the list goes on.
I picked Clay Youngquist as the most likely 2012 Olympian of any current high schooler. Youngquist crushed other junior-level swimmers last summer in the 200 free, swimming 1:48.44 to win the Junior Pan Pacific title. That time matched Charlie Houchin’s yearly best to make Youngquist the equal-eighth-fastest American this year. That time stood less than a second behind Dave Walters’ 1:47.78, which he swam to make the World Championships team. Ironically, Youngquist will join Walters in Texas in September, as he chases a spot on the Olympic 4x200 free relay. The competition will be tough; aside from the central core of U.S. swimmers that will swim in Shanghai (Phelps, Lochte, Vanderkaay, Berens, Dwyer, and Walters), Youngquist will face tough competition for a spot from Matt McLean, Tom Shields, and Longhorn teammate Dax Hill. However, the last few spots in a relay event are always up for grabs, and for that reason Youngquist has the best shot of any current high schooler to end up in London.
The high schooler with the best shot to earn an individual berth is Arthur Frayler. At Nationals last summer, Frayler placed fourth in the 1500 free, and he made the Pan Pacs team based on that result. He has taken huge chunks of time off his mile in recent years; at the CeraVe Invitational last January, he swam in the high-15:30s, a lifetime best. The time was down just under 15:30 by April at the Ohio State Grand Prix. In his swim at Long Course Nationals, he clocked 15:07.37, which ended 2010 as the 15th best in the world. Already this year, Frayler’s in-season times have been on par with and in some cases faster than those which he swam last year. Chad LaTourette leads the way in terms of top milers in the country, after finishing last year ranked third in 14:54.48, and Peter Vanderkaay is also a veteran who poses a strong threat. Sean Ryan, Michael Klueh, Michael McBroom, Andrew Gemmell, and Ryan Feeley are among the top challengers to those top two, and it should be another great race come Olympic Trials. However, Frayler is by far the youngest in the mix, and two more years of training under Richard Shoulberg at Germantown Academy will put him in a great spot down the line in Omaha.
Because of relays, I think Clay Youngquist is the most likely current high school swimmer to make it to London next year. However, it is even more likely that no high schooler will make the cut in Omaha next July. For instance, this summer’s World Championship team will be composed of 100% post-grads, since Nathan Adrian, Scot Robison, Scott Spann, and Conor Dwyer all exhausted their NCAA eligibility this year. Additionally, only two collegians (Adrian and Spann) and no high schoolers swam the U.S. men’s team in Beijing, a huge decrease from the six teenagers that had highlighted the team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. That year, Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol both left Sydney to return to high school, while Ian Crocker, Klete Keller, and Erik Vendt went straight to their freshman years at college. Thus, a swimmer as young as Frayler, Youngquist, or Nolan on the team would be surprising, and I don’t think it will happen. Still, it remains an interesting story to watch in the lead-up to Trials next summer.