Miller Wraps Swimming Career, Walker Turns in Fast 200 Fly
OMAHA – Chelsie Miller has had a rough week at CenturyLink Center and Wednesday was no exception. But just after 10:25 a.m., following a seventh-place finish in her 200-meter butterfly heat, she climbed out of the pool and walked off the deck smiling. Kansas’ All-American was done swimming. She didn’t even bother warming down.
As one brilliant career came to a close, another was taking its next steps forward. Miller swam a 2:20.63 to finish 91st, the last of her three swims at the US Olympic Trials and the last of thousands of swims that saw her win a high school district championship, earn Big 12 Swimmer of the Year and NCAA First Team All-America honors, while re-writing the Kansas record books and raising the profile of the program along the way.
In the same preliminary event Wednesday morning, Jayhawk sophomore-to-be Libby Walker nearly won her heat as she swam a 2:14.61 and tied for the 31st-fastest time among 95 elite competitors. 2012 Olympian and event favorite Cammile Adams posted the fastest time in prelims and was the only swimmer under 2:09 at 2:08.29. The cutoff for top-16 and a berth in the semifinals was 2:12.54, just a little more than two seconds faster than Walker’s time.
“That was definitely the best swim of the week for us,” Kansas head coach Clark Campbell said of Walker’s 200 fly. “She was right there on her lifetime best time and under the Olympic Trial standard. Chelsie has set the bar for Libby, now it’s Libby’s turn, and the next generation of swimmers.
“We’ve been very excited with how much she’s improved this year – we just know she’s got a tremendously bright future as a Jayhawk.”
Walker was a late addition to the 400-meter individual medley competition with a last chance qualifying time a week before Olympic Trials and used Sunday’s opening race to adjust for Tuesday, her main event. The Columbia, Missouri native looked comfortable from the outset, touching the wall after 50 meters in fourth in 30.23. Walker steadily improved to third (1:04.51) by the midpoint of the race and was the leader final turn (1:38.94). She was out-touched by the heat winner, who finished in 2:14.51, just one tenth of a second ahead of Walker.
“It felt pretty good – the first 100 was good, I took it out well,” Walker said. “I like to usually build the third 50 and then bring it home as best I can. I raced it the way I like to race and I usually have a pretty good time if I do it that way. I’m pretty happy with it.”
Still among the best in the NCAA ranks, Miller’s second trip to the Olympic Trials may have been more of a curtain call after she placed in the top eight at the 2016 NCAA Championships – her third NCAA meet as a Jayhawk. She finished in the top half of the 400 IM field Sunday before finishing 100th in the 200 IM competition Tuesday. While the results weren’t ideal, Miller enjoyed her final meet.
“It definitely wasn’t the meet I wanted, the times I wanted, but looking back I’ve had a great career,” Miller said. “Having this much fun with Libby and Clark this week, enjoying my parents being here and the whole experience of Olympic Trials was a great way to end my career. It wasn’t the meet I wanted, but I’m ok.”
One of four graduated captains, Miller sees potential in Walker, KU’s returnees and incoming freshmen – including Jenny Nusbaum and Haley Downey, who were competing at Olympic Trials.
“I’m super excited to see where Libby takes the program and how well she does the next three years,” Miller said. “We have two incoming freshmen here and I think the program is going to keep going up from here, I’m excited to see it. I was so happy to share this moment with Libby, she her grow and take the program next year. We’ll see but I think it’s in good hands.”
Downey, who hails from Bartlesville, Oklahoma and signed with Kansas in the fall, was scheduled to make her Olympic Trials debut Thursday in the 200-meter breaststroke preliminaries. That session will begin at 10 a.m. and can be seen live at NBCSports.com/live. She’s the last of five swimmers with Kansas connections to compete in the prestigious event.
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