Miller Grabs Lane for Finals with Strong Swim in 400 IM Prelims

ATLANTA – Chelsie Miller is no longer among the honorably mentioned. With a season-best 4:07.60 in Friday’s 400-yard individual medley preliminaries, the Kansas senior earned a lane in the evening session’s final heat as the eighth and final qualifier. Miller is a two-time All-America honorable mention earner in the 400 IM after placing 15th in 2014 and 13th in 2015, but is guaranteed to be a top-eight finisher when the racing commences at McAuley Aquatic Center at 5 p.m. on ESPN3.
The wait from Miller’s win in heat four, the middle of seven heats, until the final qualifications were announced seemed almost as long as the four-year wait for the Houston, Texas native – the culmination of a surprising and thrilling morning.
“It was purely agonizing,” Kansas head coach Clark Campbell said. “The IM is such a diverse event, the strengths and weaknesses (of strokes) are different for all the athletes – you don’t know until they get their hands on the wall. We were really trying to guess (after she won her heat). The last three heats took 15 minutes, but it was the longest 15 minutes of our life. She was still in the game, still in the top-eight, then it seemed like the last four minutes took 40 minutes.”
Miller’s morning started with a surprise from three teammates – Yulya Kuchkarova, Pia Pavlic, and Sammie Schurig – who drove 14 hours from Lawrence to Atlanta to greet and cheer for their teammate. KU’s official travel party has been limited to its two swimming coaches, along with Miller’s family the last two years and the added cheering section didn’t go unnoticed.
“It started off so great when we saw Pia, Sammie and Yulduz walking up the driveway and surprised us all,” Campbell said. “Chelsie was beside herself – so thrilled, so happy. It meant so much to her. I credit those three, it really fired her up and gave her a lot of energy.
“She went out there and performed, really swam an outstanding race. She set it up well in the first half, but put the hammer down on the breaststroke. It was her fastest preliminary swim ever in the 400 IM and she usually does best when the lights are the brightest.”
In heat four, Virginia sophomore Jen Marrkand went out fast from lane one and led the field at the 200-yard mark, but during the breaststroke Miller noticed the outside smoke leader and reeled her in. Miller then distanced herself from the field with a strong finish in freestyle to drop more than a second and a half from her seed time of 4:09.28, swum at the Big 12 Championship.
Miller finished 42nd in the 200 IM Thursday night, electing not to swim the 500-yard freestyle at this year meet as part of a larger strategy to perform at her best during Friday’s races.
“This pool has some nuances – there are no gutters, they use Olympic touch pads like FINA events – it’s all a little bit different,” Campbell said. “Yesterday, we saw that she was not accelerating into the walls on backstroke during the preliminary race in the morning. She went back in the afternoon and worked on it last night and implemented it today to a T. Doing the IM and setting up all four strokes, from a physiological standpoint, she came in with a little bit more energy. That energy boost plus learning how the strokes are set up gave her a lot of confidence.”
Miller, who owns five school records including the 400 IM, swam a 4:05.67 at the 2015 Big 12 Championships and will eye swimming that and faster in Friday’s finale. The evening session begins with the 400 IM consolation finals, which for the first time in three years, Miller will be absent from, followed immediately by the finals race. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.