The opening day of the 2021 Pro Swim Series’ first stop in San Antonio, Texas, which will feature over 100 U.S. National Team and Junior National Team members, begins in earnest with distance day on Thursday evening.

The men’s 800 used to be weighed as more of a ‘training event’ at the national level in the U.S., but with it becoming an Olympic event in Tokyo for the first time, it’ll take on new significance this year. The women’s 800 (at Trials) is a battle for the second spot behind Katie Ledecky, with a field of young swimmers across the country who appear poised to make that race in Omaha a lot more interesting.

In the women’s race, the battle will be a tale of youth versus veterans, with Olympian Haley Anderson and Olympic hopeful Erica Sullivan sitting in the middle lanes, surrounded by a group of very young swimmers. That includes 14-year olds Katie Grimes and Addie Sauickie, plus 15-year olds Bella Sims and Michaela Mattes. Three of the top five seeds (Sullivan, Sims and Grimes) all train with the Sandpipers of Nevada team.

The men’s race will be a small heat with just six entries. Among those are Zane Grothe, the U.S. Open Record holder in the event and front-runner to grab an Olympic spot. Also swimming is Kieran Smith, who went into the coronavirus pandemic with a new all-time best swim in the 500 yard free, leaving a longing for his long course potential. Also racing is Liam Custer, swimming his first big national-level meet since a return-to-racing that was among the most impressive in the country.

Women’s 800 Free Timed Finals

  • PSS Record: 8:06.68, Katie Ledecky (USA), 2016
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 8:48.09
  1. Haley Anderson, MVN, 8:34.93
  2. Erica Sullivan, SAND, 8:38.46
  3. Bella Sims, SAND, 8:41.24

29-year-old veteran Haley Anderson pulled away from the Sandpiper duo of Erica Sullivan and Bella Sims after the 200m mark en route to victory in the lone heat of the women’s 800 freestyle, clocking a time of 8:34.93.

This is the first official long course 800 in over a year for Anderson, who holds a best time of 8:24.13 from 2018, having last raced at the 2019 U.S. Open where she went 8:37.00. The Olympian’s time tonight sneaks her into the world’s top 20 for the 2020-21 season, sitting in a tie with fellow American Emma Weyant.

Sullivan, 20, solidified second place in 8:38.46 coming off of her runner-up 8:31.38 at the U.S. Open in November.

Sims, who turned heads by winning that U.S. Open crown a few months ago at just 15 in a best of 8:27.01, touched third in 8:41.24, the third-fastest swim of her young career.

The third Sandpiper swimmer in the field, Katie Grimes, claimed fourth in 8:43.38, her third-best ever. The 15-year-old notched a PB of 8:37.46 in December of 2019.

Men’s 800 Free Timed Finals

  • PSS Record: 7:49.96, Michael McBroom (USA), 2014
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 8:12.99
  1. Zane Grothe, BCH, 7:59.05
  2. Kieran Smith, UN-FL, 7:59.27
  3. Will Gallant, MVN, 8:04.80

After biding their time early, Zane Grothe and Kieran Smith battled stroke-for-stroke over the closing meters of the men’s 800 free, with Grothe’s acceleration at the end earning him the victory in a time of 7:59.05. Smith was just a shade back in 7:59.27.

Both swimmers had substantial negative splits in the event, with Grothe splitting 4:02.58/3:56.47 and Smith turning fourth at the 400 in 4:03.02 before rocketing home in 3:56.25.

For Grothe, the second-fastest American performer of all-time, this swim is faster than both of his Pro Swim performances in early 2020, having gone 8:03.21 at the Knoxville stop in January and then 8:01.74 at the Des Moines meet in March.

Smith, who is currently in his junior season at the University of Florida, breaks the 8:00 barrier for the first time here, having been 8:00.05, 8:00.20 and 8:01.46 over his last three showings.

The two swimmers are certainly familiar with each other’s work, as Smith broke Grothe’s American Record in the 500 free (SCY) during the 2020 SEC Championships.

Third place went to Mission Viejo’s Will Gallant, the early leader, who flipped in 4:00.89 at the halfway mark before hanging onto third in a final time of 8:04.80. The 19-year-old holds a best of 8:02.15 from November’s U.S. Open.

University of Texas freshman David Johnston, who made headlines in October when he set a new 17-18 NAG in the 1000 free, went out with Gallant early and hung tough to break 8:10 for the first time, registering an 8:07.49 for fourth.

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