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Chesterton's Blake Pieroni qualifies for Tokyo Olympics as part of US relay
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SWIMMING | OLYMPIC TRIALS

Chesterton's Blake Pieroni qualifies for Tokyo Olympics as part of US relay

Blake Pieroni earned his opportunity to sign the Taiko on Thursday night.

The Japanese drum is a symbol, signifying qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Chesterton grad placed third in the finals of the 100-meter freestyle in 48.16 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. With that top-four finish, he automatically qualifies for the 400 freestyle relay team.

Matching gold medals could become a reality for Pieroni.

He placed sixth in the 100 freestyle trials in 2016, finishing in 48.78. He clocked 49.07 in the semifinals and 49.39 in the prelims. Later that year, Pieroni won a gold medal as part of the American 400 freestyle relay team in the Rio Olympics.

He helped the Trojans win state titles in 2013 and 2014.

Crown Point grad Aly Tetzloff didn't advance to the semifinals of the 100 freestyle. Tetzloff is also scheduled to swim Saturday in the 50 freestyle prelims. She won the 2014 IHSAA title in the 100-yard butterfly.

Also locally, TF South grad Adam Kessler is scheduled to compete in the shot put Friday at the U.S. Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon. At Drake, he placed 17th in the shot put in the NCAA outdoor championships.

Also in swimming, Caeleb Dressel locked up his spot for Tokyo, where he's expected to be one of the biggest stars in the Olympic pool.

But Simone Manuel got left behind.

In the biggest surprise yet at the trials, the defending Olympic women's champion in the 100 freestyle failed to advance from the semifinals.

Manuel, who tied for the gold at the Rio Olympics to become the first Black female ever to win an individual swimming event, finished fourth in the first semifinal heat at 54.17 seconds.

She just missed a spot in Friday night's final when five swimmers went faster in the second semifinal heat, with Erika Brown taking the eighth spot in 54.15 — two-hundredths faster than Manuel.

There were no such concerns for Dressel, who romped to victory in the men's 100 free in 47.39.

He finally got a chance to shine on Day 5 of the trials after a long week of waiting. When Dressel saw a “1” beside his name, he hopped on the lane rope, splashed the water and pumped his arms to whip up the crowd.

“It's a huge weight off my shoulders," Dressel said. “I'm excited to get the job done and move forward.”

In the wake of Michael Phelps' retirement, Dressel has emerged as the next big thing in men's swimming. After winning two golds medals at the 2016 Rio Games, he really shined at the last two world championships.

In 2017, Dressel captured seven gold medals in Budapest — joining Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win that many races at a major international meet.

Dressel followed up with six golds and two silvers at the 2019 championships in Gwangju, becoming only the second swimmer to take as many as eight medals after Phelps.

A giant picture of Dressel adorns the outside of the downtown Omaha arena where the trials are being held.

“All the fluff that comes with it, your name on the building, is cool,” he said. “But it adds a little bit different pressure to it.”

While Dressel isn't expected to swim enough events in Tokyo to challenge Phelps' record of eight golds from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he could be in the mix for as many seven medals if he's included on all the relays.

Dressel isn't thinking that far ahead. He's still got two more individual events at the trials, and he's heavily favored in both.

“You can't win five, six or seven medals if you don't qualify for the events,” he said. “I'm focused on qualifying right now.”

In the women's 100 free semifinals, Natalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga were the top qualifiers in 53.55. Allison Schmitt, who already made the team in the 200 free, advanced to the final with the sixth-best time (54.08).

Manuel's failure to make it to the 100 free final means she won't be in the mix for the relays, either. She still has a chance to qualify for the team in the 50 free — an event she took silver in as part of a four-medal haul at Rio.

In the men's 200 breaststroke, Nic Fink made the Olympics for the first time at age 27, winning with a time of 2:07.55 in a 1-2 finish with club teammate Andrew Wilson.

Fink failed to finish in the top two at either the 2012 or 2016 trials, and he had another heartbreak with a third-place showing in the 100 breast this year.

Now, finally, he's got his long-sought spot on the Olympic team.

“It’s something I can’t really describe,” Fink said. “Relief is only the beginning of what I’m feeling right now. It’s a long journey to come here. I’ve had so much support and help. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and to come back after getting third in the 100."

Wilson, who swims with Fink on the Athens Bulldog Swim Club in Georgia, earned a likely second individual event at the Tokyo Games with a runner-up finish in 2:08.32. Wilson also finished second in the 100 breast.

“It’s really fun to see it pay off for Andrew and I,” Fink said.

Kevin Cordes, who made the 2016 Olympic team in both breaststroke events, came up short this time. He was a distant fourth, nearly 2 seconds behind Wilson.

“It’s tough to see him not make it,” Fink said.

The U.S. team added another first-time Olympian when Bobby Finke of Clearwater, Florida won the men's 800 freestyle, an event that will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

He covered 16 laps in 7:48.22, holding off runner-up Michael Brinegar (7:49.94). Ross Dant just missed an Olympic spot, finishing a mere 72-hundredths behind Brinegar in a thrilling finish.

-- The Associated Press contributed to the story

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Sports Copy Editor

Jim is a copy editor for The Times who works out of Valparaiso.He received the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s Media Award in 1997. He can be reached at 219-548-4356 or jim.hunsley@nwi.com.

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