Virginia's Gretchen Walsh warms up for Olympics by setting 50-yard freestyle record at NCAA championships

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 11: Gretchen Walsh
 prepares for the Women's 100 Meter Freestyle finals on Day 2 of the TYR Pro Swim Series Knoxville at Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center on January 11, 2024 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)
Gretchen Walsh is dominating NCAA Swimming & Diving championships. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images) (Alex Slitz via Getty Images)

University of Virginia junior Gretchen Walsh reminded everyone why she's an Olympic favorite with a dominant performance at the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving championships Thursday.

After breaking her own collegiate, American and US Open record with a time of 20.41 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle prelims in the morning, Walsh followed up with an even faster time of 20.37 seconds in the finals for the win.

It was her fourth time breaking the record this season, since she made history twice at the ACC conference championships last month.

Walsh's speed made up for her reaction times to start both races at the Jack Bauerle Pool in Athens, Georgia. She improved on her .76-second reaction time from prelims with a .75 in finals, and she was still the only competitor who took more than .70 seconds to get out of the blocks. She also improved between races at the flip, recording a 9.88 in the finals after her 9.99 in the prelims.

The performance came after Walsh set a record Wednesday, swimming the first leg of Virginia's 200-yard medley in 22.10 seconds, the fastest relay split ever recorded in the event.

Jasmine Nocentini, Carly Novelline and Maxine Parker turned in their legs to finish with a 1:31.58 for the championship title. It was nearly two seconds faster than every competitor that day. They almost broke UVA's program record in the event but they were seven-hundredths of a second shy.

Walsh sisters power UVA's swimming dynasty

Virginia is in contention for its fourth consecutive national team title, thanks to the Walsh sisters. Minutes separated Gretchen's win in the 50-yard free from her older sister Alex's victory in the 200-yard individual medley.

Alex, a senior at Virginia and an Olympic gold medalist, won her third national tile in the event with a 1:49.20. It was the second fastest time in the program's history.

Hours later, Alex and Gretchen combined to push the Cavaliers to the title in the 200-yard free relay.

This has been the norm for the Walsh sisters since Alex committed to Virginia in January 2019. Gretchen followed in her footsteps a year later, and they both boast plenty of accolades and all-time records on their All-American rΓ©sumΓ©s.

Alex earned her Olympic medal at the Tokyo Games in 2021, taking home silver after the 200-meter individual medley. Gretchen earned gold in the 100 medley relay at 2023 World Aquatics Championships and she is now poised to earn an Olympic medal of her own in Paris this summer. Both siblings are projected to qualify for the United States Olympic team, which is led by Cavaliers head coach Todd DeSorbo.

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