OMAHA, Neb. -- Katie Ledecky made her third Olympic team, and may well shatter records in Tokyo as she competes in four individual freestyle events.
Caeleb Dressel, with his left-hand sleeve tattoo and wry smile, finished first in every single race he swam. Ryan Lochte's Olympic career may be coming to a close after he failed to earn a Tokyo spot -- as may Nathan Adrian's, who made an incredible recovery after a 2019 testicular cancer diagnosis but ended up just shy of an Olympic team berth with a third-place finish in the 50-meter freestyle. And Simone Manuel was the comeback story of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, when she returned to win the 50-meter freestyle after failing to qualify in the 100.
Some swimmers retired and returned and made the Olympic team, and some, still as young as 15, will make their way to Tokyo in July. Here are five wonderful, quirky and inspiring moments from this week's trials:
History repeats itself
Ledecky finished the 800-meter freestyle in typical Ledecky style, well ahead of the entire pack -- so much so that when she finished, no one else was even visible in some of the shots on screen.
But the story of the day was from the second-place finisher: 15-year-old Katie Grimes. When Grimes removed her goggles to look up, she was utterly confused, peering at the board several times before she understood what was going on. Ledecky swam over to her, smiling widely, excited for the younger Katie's new journey.
See, nine years ago, Ledecky was in her exact situation: 15 years old and qualified for her first Olympics after the 800-meter freestyle race at the trials. Coincidence? Apparently!
In the news conference afterward, Ledecky described Grimes as "the future" and "the now" of the sport, while Grimes kept looking around saying, "Oh gosh," and, "This is crazy," before stating, "Maybe I can be just like Katie," and pointing to her role model.
Is "the next Dressel" the new mantra?
Dressel might be one of the coolest swimmers on the Olympic team. Not only did he win every race (he will compete in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle individual events in Tokyo), but his tattoos, his hairdo and his celebration at the end of every win has not gone unnoticed. Young boys in the stands wanted his autographs, posed for photographs with him -- and wanted to be the next Dressel.
Caeleb Dressel met his mini-me. 😂 pic.twitter.com/s4s6qh17QZ— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 20, 2021
The hug that was so much more than a hug
When Allison Schmitt, 31, qualified for the 200-meter freestyle, punching her ticket for her fourth Olympics, the first thing she did was get out of the pool and run over to the sidelines where Michael Phelps was waiting with open arms.
They hugged, for what felt like minutes, Schmitt sobbing into his arms and Phelps consoling her. It was more than just a hug. It was an acknowledgement of the importance of the moment, and the journey. Both Schmitt and Phelps have been vocal about their experiences with depression. Phelps has been by Schmitt's side throughout this journey, like a big brother who has watched over her protectively. Afterward, she spoke about what her fourth Olympics meant to her:
Ryan Lochte the dad
It almost felt like Lochte was an entirely different person than the one we'd seen in previous Olympics. It appeared he was enjoying every minute in the water, savoring every little wave and high-five.
After his last race, he was the last out of the water, hugging the 200-meter IM winner Michael Andrew, waving to the fans and savoring the moment. But the moment that stuck with fans was this: He then walked over to his family behind the pool and carried his daughter, Liv, in his arms, beaming and walking around with her, like he'd just won an Olympic medal.
Ryan Lochte finished in seventh-place in the 200 IM at the U.S. swimming trials Friday night.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 19, 2021
He will miss out on this year's Olympics, but his swimming resume speaks for itself:
🏅 4x Olympian
🏅 12x Olympic medalist
🏅 27x World Championships medalist pic.twitter.com/rvzAzVWCcX
"Swimming is my second job now. Once my son was born, I became a father and a husband. That's my number one thing," he said later at the news conference.
He also said that he wasn't done with swimming -- that he wanted to change swimming. Maybe that's Lochte's third act -- first, a swimmer, next, a father -- and then a game-changer.
The delightful dance of Sierra Schmidt
Before the 1,500-meter freestyle, Schmidt undid her coat, plugged in her white headphones and then began her routine, animatedly flailing her arms and her body. She giggled and swayed until the swimmers were asked to take their places, sending air kisses to fans along the way. Fans pointed, some laughing and some joining along to dance with her. Immediately, her dance went viral on social media.
Two days later, at the 800-meter freestyle final, she walked in and continued her routine, and this time more people noticed and clapped along. Nobody could hear her music, but the crowd loved every minute. Schmidt finished seventh in the 1,500 and eighth in the 800 and didn't qualify for Tokyo, but her dance moves will live on.