Paris 2024: US teen swimmer Heilman flies to Paris berth, trailing Phelps comparisons in wake

Thomas Heilman's rise through the age group ranks of US swimming has sparked comparisons to Michael Phelps, but the 17-year-old will "try not to think about it" as he heads to Paris for his first Olympics next month.

AFP , Thursday 20 Jun 2024,

Thomas Heilman
Thomas Heilman celebrates after the Men's 200 butterfly finals Wednesday, June 19, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. Photo: AP


"In terms of the Michael Phelps comparisons, it's always great to be in the same conversation as him, but I'm trying not to worry about that too much and trying to take things day by day," the teenager from Virginia said after winning the 200m butterfly at the US Olympic swimming trials in Indianapolis.

Heilman triumphed in 1min 54.50sec to become the youngest US male swimmer to book an Olympic swimming berth since 2000 -- when 15-year-old Phelps and 17-year-old Aaron Peirsol competed in Sydney.

He's part of a youth movement among the American men at this year's trials, where 18-year-old Luke Whitlock's runner-up finish in the 800m freestyle in a personal best of 7:45.19 should see him line up in Paris alongside Tokyo gold medallist and trials winner Bobby Finke.

Heilman, who has been setting national age group records since he was 10, is no stranger to international competition.

He has junior Pan Pacs under his belt and last year helped the United States win medley relay gold at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

When the comparisons to 23-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps pop up, Heilman said, his family and friends keep him grounded.

"Obviously it starts with my family, and then my teammates and coaches do a great job of not trying to make me up to be anything special like that for the most part," Heilman said.

"Then all my friends just make me feel normal around them. They don't treat me like I'm any different from them.

"I think everyone combined just helps me stay a 17-year-old kid and just doing day-to-day stuff like a normal teenager."

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