Cal Swim: Biggest Day Yet at the U.S. Trials for Golden Bears - Murphy, Mefford and Weitzeil

Cal now has five individuals qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
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Day 6 at the U.S. Olympic swim trials was the best one yet for Cal:

— As expected, 2016 Rio triple-gold medalist Ryan Murphy easily won the 200-meter backstroke to complete his Omaha sweep of the two races in his specialty.

— Bryce Mefford, who just completed his senior season with the Bears, snagged the second Olympic berth in the 200 back, chopping nearly two seconds off his lifetime best.

Abbey Weitzeil smiles after 100 freestyle victory

Abbey Weitzeil enjoys her victory in the 100 freestyle,

— Cal alum Abbey Weitzeil will make a return to the Games after winning the women’s 100 freestyle at the trials for the second straight time.

— Kathleen Baker, dealing with an ill-timed foot injury, kept alive her hopes of a return trip to the Games by qualifying for Saturday’s final in the 200 backstroke along with Isabelle Stadden, who just completed her freshman season in Berkeley.

— And Tom Shields, 29, positioned himself to challenge for a spot in the 100 butterly — where he won a silver medal at Rio in 2016 — by finishing with the day’s second-best qualifying time in the semifinals. Trenton Julian of the Bears also advanced after finishing fifth.

To sum up, that’s three Olympic qualifiers, boosting the Bears’ total so far to five individuals (in six events): Murphy (100 and 200 back), Weitzeil (100 free), Mefford (200 back), Andrew Seliskar (800 free relay) and Katie McLaughlin (800 free relay).

Murphy, 25, has been the big story for the Bears so far, and he was impressive in the 200 final, winning in a season-best of 1 minute, 54.20 seconds — second-fastest in the world so far this season.

Asked where he is at right now compared to five years ago before going to Rio, Murphy said, “I think I’m certainly better at training. The details area a little sloppy right now but that’s nice. I know exactly where I can improve over these next five weeks to be a little bit better in Tokyo.

“I’m obviously ecstatic to make another team in both races but I don’t think the times are necessarily reflective of where I’ve been in practice.”

In other words, the defending gold medalist believes will be ready to take on Russia's Evgeny Rylov, who has the world’s fastest time for the 200 back in 2021 at 1:53.23.

Mefford checked in second in race, swimming 1:54.79, a personal best by 1 3/4 seconds and the No. 5 time in the world this year.

Weitzeil, seventh in the 100 free at Rio in 2016, led from start to finish in the final Friday night to touch in 53.53. “It means everything,” the 25-year-old said of securing her second Olympic team berth.

Kathleen Baker

Kathleen Baker has one more shot at a repeat Olympic bid.

Baker is one of the world’s top female swimmers, but the 24-year-old broke a bone in her foot during a casual walk on the beach last month and is down to her final event in hopes of returning to the Olympics

After washing out earlier in the week in the semifinals of the 100 back and 200 individual medley, she stormed into the final of the 200 back. After placing just 11th in the morning heats, she shaved three seconds off her time and qualified fourth into the Saturday final with a time of 2:08.58.

“I don’t put it past her to make the team.” NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said.

Stadden gave Cal two women in the 200 back final when she qualified seventh at 2:09.20.

Shields did not look good earlier in the week in the 200 butterfly semifinals, but he has a chance in the 100 fly after swimming 51.720 to finish second behind Caeleb Dressel, whose time of 49.76 is the third-fastest in history.

Just as impressive, Julian was fifth in 51.70 and into the final, returning to the water barely 15 minutes after he placed eighth in the 200 IM final (2:04.49). 

Seliskar was sixth in the 200 IM at 1:58.35.

Cover photo of Bryce Mefford, left, and Ryan Murphy celebrating by Rob Schumacher, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo