Katharine Berkoff made quite a splash Monday at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Missoula Hellgate grad and former Missoula Aquatic Club member qualified for Tuesday night's final in the women's 100-meter backstroke by finishing third overall in Monday night's semifinals.
Berkoff became the sixth-fastest American of all-time with her mark of 58.62. The personal best also ranks among the top times in the world this year.
Former world record holder Regan Smith finished with the top semifinal time at 57.92. Olivia Smoliga was second at 58.50. The top two finishers in Tuesday's final will earn spots on the U.S. Olympic team.
The 19-year-old Smith broke Kathleen Baker's U.S. record of 58.00, marking her fastest race since breaking the world record at the World Championships in 2019 in 57.57. That record was broken recently by Kaylee McKeown at the Australian Olympic Trials in 57.45.
On Monday morning, Berkoff finished in a tie for second overall in the 100 backstroke prelims with a mark of 58.88.
Berkoff finished ahead of Smoliga in the morning prelims and Smith had the top overall morning time at 58.35.
As a sophomore member of the North Carolina State team, Berkoff won three national titles and earned seven All-American honors in March.
Ever since she was in grammar school, she has dreamed of following in her father's footsteps and swimming in the Olympics. Dave Berkoff of Missoula was a backstroke specialist who earned gold medals in two relays and both silver and bronze in the 100 back.
After Tuesday, Berkoff has a few days off before competing in the 200 backstroke prelims on Friday. She has been stronger in the 100 back over the course of her career.
Ethan Harder of Billings raced in the men's 100 backstroke prelims Monday. He failed to reach the semifinals, placing 51st with a time of 56.22. The Texas Longhorn will compete in the 200 butterfly prelims Tuesday.
Notes: To learn more about the U.S. Team Trials or to watch via streaming, log on to www.swimswam.com.
Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.