Claire Curzan Set to Shine at Trials After Another Four-Win Pro Series in San Antonio

Claire Curzan -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Claire Curzan Set to Shine at Trials After Another Four-Win Pro Series in San Antonio

Less than one year ago, Claire Curzan arrived at her first Olympic Trials on an incredible hot streak. Curzan was already setting national high school records before the COVID-19 pandemic brought competitive swimming to a halt, but she returned in the fall of 2020 and began quickly crushing her lifetime-best marks. Had the 2020 Olympics gone as scheduled, Curzan may have had an outside chance at qualifying to represent the U.S., but she undoubtedly benefitted from the one-year delay.

At her first Olympic Trials, Curzan finished second to fellow teenager Torri Huske in the 100 butterfly, touching out Kate Douglass by 0.13 while veteran Kelsi Dahlia ended up fourth. However, Curzan could not equal her best form at Trials, and after entering as a contender in the 100 backstroke and the sprint freestyles, she ended up not qualifying for another final the rest of the meet.

In Tokyo, Curzan finished 10th in the 100 fly semifinals, more than a second off her best time. She ended up grabbing a silver medal later on after swimming on the U.S. women’s 400 medley relay in prelims. Her Olympic debut was not perfect, but the setback turned out to be very temporary.

At the Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi, Curzan captured six medals, including individual bronzes in the 50 fly and 100 fly, and she was part of two gold-medal-winning U.S. relays. The winter short course yards season saw her lower the American record in the 100 fly (since broken) and set a national high school record in the 100 back. She is admittedly not fond of the 200 fly, but at a Sectionals meet in March, she swam a 1:50.85 that was just six hundredths slower than the winning time in that event at the NCAA Championships.

And through the year’s two stops on the TYR Pro Swim Series, she has been phenomenal, picking up four wins at each. Her season-best times include a 56.89 in the 100 fly, 24.43 in the 50 free, 53.68 in the 100 free, 58.73 in the 100 back and 2:07.31 in the 200 back. With just three weeks to go before the U.S. International Team Trials, Curzan ranks first in the country in all five events.

With those times, Curzan is still slightly off her lifetime bests from last spring in the sprint freestyles and about seven tenths off in the 100 fly, but it’s worth noting that she recorded all of those times while racing at local meets at her home pool in Cary, N.C., a completely different environment than against national-level competition at a Pro Series meet.

For instance, in her 100 free victory in San Antonio Saturday evening, Curzan touched four tenths ahead of a field that included Erika Brown and Natalie Hinds, both members of the U.S. women’s bronze-medal-winning 400 free relay in Tokyo. The fourth-place swimmer in that race was Katie Ledecky, merely the top female swimmer of this generation.

The more-laid-back format of this year’s Trials sets up well for Curzan to try to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the Budapest World Championships in multiple events. Over the five day meet, she could race one or two events per day, with the 50s of stroke included, and she will not have to worry about semifinals at this meet. Curzan’s schedule could include:

  • Tuesday, April 26: 100 freestyle
  • Wednesday, April 27: 200 backstroke, 50 butterfly
  • Thursday, April 28: 100 butterfly, 50 backstroke
  • Friday, April 29: 100 backstroke
  • Saturday, April 30: 50 freestyle

If Curzan and coach Bruce Marchionda opt to stick with one event per day, the guess is that the 50 and 200 back would be the first to drop off the program. But the schedule should line up for Curzan to throw her hat in the ring for the 100 back, widely considered the most competitive event in the United States. Curzan dropped the event at last year’s Olympic Trials because the prelims would take place the morning of the 100 fly final.

In the 100 back, Regan Smith and Rhyan White finished third and fourth, respectively, at the Olympics, and the Trials field will also feature 100-yard back American-record holder Katharine Berkoff, 2019 World Championships bronze medalist Olivia Smoliga and former world-record holder Kathleen Baker. But this weekend in San Antonio, Curzan beat a field including White and Smoliga by more than a second.

In the sprint freestyle events, Curzan would need to drop more time to be competitive internationally, but her swims are certainly promising in events that were among the weakest for Team USA last summer. Simone Manuel had an off year in 2021 and has not competed since the Tokyo Olympics while Abbey Weitzeil was the top U.S. finisher in both the 50 and 100 free in Tokyo, finishing eighth in both events. The American women fell to third in the 400 free relay, more than three seconds behind gold medalist Australia.

The 100 fly, meanwhile, sets up as an incredibly intriguing showdown for Trials. Remember that 100 fly American record Curzan set in February? Her mark of 49.24 lasted just over a month before Douglass (49.04) and Huske (49.17) beat it while finishing 1-2 at the NCAA Championships. All three will take impressive form into the long course showdown in Greensboro, while Dahlia is still lurking after she set the world record in the short course meters 100 fly in December.

This upcoming long course championship season presents a big opportunity for Curzan, who will not turn 18 until the end of June. Curzan entered last summer also riding some high expectation after an incredible April and May, but her Olympic experience and her recent success in big meets as far apart as Abu Dhabi and San Antonio should set her up for more success this time around.

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