Spring Grove grad Hali Flickinger returns to Olympics after winning 200 fly at U.S. trials

Hali Flickinger reacts after the women's 200 butterfly during wave 2 of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials on Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Hali Flickinger is headed back to the Olympics.

The Spring Grove High School graduate put on a strong performance on Thursday night to win the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first-place finish assured Flickinger of a berth on the United States team that will compete in the Summer Games in Tokyo.

It will mark the second consecutive Olympics that Flickinger has made the U.S. team in the 200 fly. She finished seventh in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the event.

The former University of Georgia star, who now trains for the Sun Devil Swimming Club in Arizona, posted a winning time on Thursda of 2:05.85, which was a personal best and the second-fastest time in the world this year. It was also the fastest-ever time by a U.S. swimmer in an American pool. She entered the event as the top seed and the strong favorite. She used a fast closing 50 meters to pull away for the win.

Regan Smith finished second in the event in 2:06.99 with the fourth-fastest time in the world this year. She also qualified for the Olympics.

“I was just having so much fun,” Flickinger said after the race. “Regan and I race each other all the time in this event and it’s always just fun to be here with her. So, I was just having fun, enjoying just the race.”

Flickinger now trains under Bob Bowman, who was Michael Phelps’ longtime coach, starting at the Northern Baltimore Aquatic Club. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Flickinger gave credit to her coach after the race.

“We had a race plan in mind and all I wanted to do was execute it for him,” Flickinger said.

Flickinger believes that her move to training under Bowman in Arizona has been a key to her success.

“It's helped tremendously, and my swimming is really showing that," Flickinger said. “I love the group that I train with every single day, along with Bob. I'm really grateful.”

Before the race, Bowman said that Flickinger may be the best swimmer he’s ever coached as far as training in the pool.

“We’re trying to get her to unlock the mental side of it so that carries over more into the pool,” Bowman said. “Because I don’t really think we’ve seen what she’s capable of yet.”

Bowman has told Flickinger to “leave your brain at home.”

In all likelihood, Flickinger will also be on the U.S. Olympic team in the 400 individual medley. She finished second at the trials in that event on Sunday in a personal-best time of 4:33.96, the second-fastest time in the world this year, finishing just behind Emma Weyant, who won the race and the automatic Olympic roster spot.

Flickinger also swam in the 200 backstroke heats on Friday and had the 15th-fastest time in 2:12.02, but she did not swim in the 200 backstroke semifinals later that day. Earlier in the week, Flickinger also qualified for the 200 freestyle, but later scratched from that event after the preliminary round.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.