SPA at Olympic Trials - Part IV


As we ramp up to the 2021 Olympic Trials, many thanks to Coach Joe Finke for taking the time to gather and report on the history of St. Petersburg Aquatics at the Olympic Trials. This is part four and is leading up to the final chapter which will be a report on our qualifiers for this year, their prospects,  and all of the information you need for watching what is considered one of the most exciting swim meets in the world.  Enjoy!

SPA at the Trials

Beginning in 1988, Saint Petersburg Aquatics has been represented at every version of the US Olympic Team Trials - Swimming. There have been nine Trials in that timeframe including the upcoming event in 2021. These are the athletes who swam for SPA or were still affiliated with SPA but were in college or were professionals at Trials. In this installment, we look at the last two Trials, 2012 and 2016. The Athletes 2012-2016 2012 – Omaha, Nebraska The overwhelming success of the 2008 Trials bought the event back to Omaha in 2012. The Trials had become the biggest event in the sport just behind the Olympic Games themselves. In 2012 the Olympic Games would be held in London, England. After his historic performance in Beijing, Michael Phelps returned attempting to make his fourth Olympic team. Also appearing on the men’s side were Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers, Cullen Jones, Nathan Adrian, and Anthony Ervin. For the women, Katie Ledecky made her first appearance. Other notable women competing were Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Elizabeth Beisel, Jessica Hardy, and Caitlin Leverenz. After seven SPA swimmers competed in 2008, SPA again brought seven swimmers with a SPA pedigree to the Trials in June including two of the youngest swimmers at the meet.

Summer Finke

Summer Finke was fifteen years old when she competed at the 2012 Trials. She was an accomplished age-group swimmer. In October 2009 as a 13-year-old, she was invited to the National Select Camp held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It became one of her goals to get an Olympic Trial cut before she tuned 14. As a thirteen-year-old Summer qualified for the 2010 U.S. Nationals in the 800m Freestyle. At that meet in California, she achieved her Trials cut in the 800m Freestyle. One month later she turned 14. Summer entered high school in 2011, attending and swimming for Countryside High School qualifying for the state finals as a freshman. Six months before Trials, swimming at the US Open at Atlanta, Summer injured her left shoulder and was unable to swim for three months. She returned to the pool in April 2012. Despite the injury, Summer was able to compete at Trials, finishing 39th in the 800m Freestyle out of 65 swimmers.

Kaitlin Frehling

Kaitlin Frehling returned to Omaha for her second Trials in 2012. Since her appearance at the 2008 Trials, Kaitlin had graduated from Seminole High School I 2010, completing her high school career as a five-time All-American with five State titles. Making the decision to swim in college, she entered the University of Florida where she swam for the next four years. At Trials, Kaitlin had expanded her events to include the 50M Freestyle, 100M Freestyle and the 100M Butterfly. In the 50M Freestyle, she placed 75th out of 154 swimmers with a time of 00:26.36. In the 100M Freestyle, Kaitlin finished in a time of 00:57.21 placing 75th again out of 131 swimmers. In her final event, the 100M Butterfly, Frehling placed 74th out of 162 swimmers in a time of 01:01.69. After Trials, Kaitlin returned to UF to finish her career. A two-time All American, she graduated in 2014 and hung up her competition suit. Currently she works for SPEEDO USA in California.

Melanie Margalis

Melanie Margalis returned for her second Trials in 2012. Since 2008 she had graduated from Countryside High School in 2010. Melanie had completed her high school career having been named the 2009-10 Pinellas County Female Athlete of the Year. She entered the University of Georgia in 2010. Her freshman year, Melanie was a member of the NCAA-winning 400 Y Free relay and finished 6th in the 200Y IM and 9th in the 400Y IM. Her sophomore year was just as successful, being named SEC Swimmer of the Week twice and competing in three individual events at the NCAA Championships. She finished 6th in the 200Y IM, 10th in the 400Y IM and 11th in the 200Y Breaststroke. In Omaha, Melanie would compete in four events. In the 100M Breaststroke she would finish 35th of 153 in 1:10.72, in the 200M Breaststroke - 26th of 123 in 2:31.97, in the 200M IM - DQ, and in the 400M IM she placed 34th of 126 in 4:51.83.

Robert Margalis

2012 marked Robert Margalis’ fourth and final Olympic Trials. Following the 2008 Trials, Robert continued to compete at an elite level. At the 2008 FINA Short Course World Championships he placed 8th in the 400M Free, 2nd in the 400M IM and was a member of the 800M Free Relay that placed 4th. The following year, 2009, Margalis swam at the U.S. Open, finishing 15th in the 200M Free, 12th in the 400M Free, 4th in the 200 IM, 2nd in the 400M IM, and competed on three relays – 6th 400M Free-R, 5th 800M Free-R, and 9th 400 Medley-R. In 2010 Robert was named to the 2010 U.S.A. Pan Pacific team. At Pan Pacs, he would swim the 200M IM placing 10th, and the 400M IM placing 9th. In the lead-up to Trials, 2011 found Robert on the medal stand at the Conoco-Phillips National Championships, winning the 400M IM. He also swam in the 200MBack (16th) and the 200M IM (14th). In 2012, Robert Margalis turned 30 years old. At Trials he would swim the 200M Butterfly finishing 16th out of 139, the 200M IM finishing 13th out of 118, and the 400M IM finishing 8th out of 113. After Trials Robert retired from competitive swimming and is now the Head Brewer at Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton, California. Every now and then he makes the trip to Florida with his family and usually stops by North Shore Pool to visit.

Megan Romano

After the 2008 Trials, Megan competed in the 2008 FINA Juniors Championships in Mexico where she won a bronze medal in the 100M Freestyle and gold in the 400M Freestyle Relay. Returning to Pinellas County and Northeast High School, Romano completed her high school career in 2009 by being named FLORIDA Female Swimmer of the Year. In her high school career, she competed in 6 individual high school championship events, winning all six. Following high school, Megan enrolled at the University of Georgia while maintaining her national presence in the sport. Her freshman year (2009-10) at Georgia she was named to the All-SEC First team and the All-Freshman SEC team. The next year Megan was Second Team All-SEC and was named to the 2011 U.S. World University Games (WUGs) Team. At WUGs she would finish 3rd in the 400M Freestyle, anchor the 2nd place 400M Freestyle Relay, and then anchor the gold-winning 800M Freestyle relay which broke the world record. Leading into the Olympic year, Romano won her first individual NCAA title (200Y Freestyle). She also had achieved five qualifying times for the Trials in the 50M, 100M,and 200M Freestyles as well as the 100M and 200M Backstroke events. At Trials Megan would swim four of those events. In the 50M Freestyle she placed 14th (0:25.62). In the 100M Freestyle Megan finished 10th (0:54.72). She reached the finals in the 100M Backstroke placing 8th (1:01.02). In the 200M Freestyle Romano came in 7th, missing the Olympic team by one place (6 swimmers are usually selected from the results of the 100M and 200M events for relays). Her time was 1:58.56.

Emma Spilman

A student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, Emma Spilman was 15years old at the time of Trials. Emma came to SPA from WFLA in May of 2011. She had been a Junior National qualifier and attended the USA Swimming Zone Select Camp while swimming for WFLA the year before. The first year with SPA, Emma qualified for her first Conoco-Phillips National Championships in the 200M Butterfly and the 400M IM. She followed that with qualifying for the SPEEDO Winter Nationals in December 2011. In June of 2012, a month before Trials, Emma achieved her Trials cut in the 200M Butterfly. In Omaha, she would place 81st out of 135swimmers with a time of 2:18.09. Emma graduated high school and entered the University of Florida where she swam for one semester her freshman year. She currently resides in the Tampa Bay area.

Tommy Wyher

Since his appearance at the 2008 Trials, Tommy Wyher graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2011. While at UNC, Tommy had become an ACC champion in the 100Y Backstroke and 100Y Butterfly events, a first team AllAmerican in the 100Y Butterfly, and been named the UNC Most Outstanding Swimmer in multiple years. Following graduation, Tommy continued swimming with the 2012 Olympic Trials as his goal. He had already qualified in three events, the 100M Freestyle, the 100M Backstroke, and the 100M Butterfly. In the 100M Freestyle, Tommy would place 162nd in a time of 0:52.62. In the 100M Backstroke he placed 21st out of 127 swimmers with a time of 0:55.87. The 100M Butterfly saw Tommy finish in 102nd with a 0:55.60. Tommy Wyher now works as a freelance writer and marketer in the Tampa Bay area.

2016 – Omaha, Nebraska

For the third time in a row, the Trials returned to Omaha in 2016, building on the success of the prior two Trials. The 2016 Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It marked the first time the Games would be held in South America. Notable swimmers at the 2016 Trials on the men’s side were Michael Phelps (5th Trials), Ryan Lochte (4th Trials) as well as Anthony Ervin, Nathan Adrian, Caleb Dressel, and Ryann Murphy. For the women, the competitors included Katie Ledecky, Elizabeth Beisel, Simone Manuel, Missy Franklin, Lilly King and Abbey Weitzell. Eight swimmers with SPA in their pedigree competed at the 2016 Trials:

Calvin Bryant

Calvin Bryant began his USA Swimming competitive career with SPA in 2005 at the age of 9. He swam sprint events (50’s and 100’s) in the beginning. Calvin didn’t swim an event over 200 yards until 2010 when he swam the 500-yard freestyle in high school. From that point he began swimming more distance events. Graduating from Osceola High School in 2014, Calvin entered Florida State University as their top distance swimmer. He achieved Trial cuts in the 400M Freestyle and 1500M Freestyle. Just before Trials in 2016, Florida State fired their head coach, Frank Bradley, which was a major disruption for all the FSU swimmers leading up to the meet. At Trials, Calvin placed 88th out of 103 in the 400M Freestyle with a time of 4:01.26. In the 1500M Freestyle he placed 77th out of 97 swimming the metric ‘mile’ in 16:00.57. Following Trials, Calvin returned to FSU to finish his collegiate career and degree.

Autumn Finke

Autumn Finke began her swimming career in 2003 as an 8-year-old with the Dunedin Aquatics Club. She continued at the Clearwater Aquatics Team before coming to SPA as an 11-year-old in 2006. A distance and backstroke swimmer, Autumn was a fixture at age-group championship meets including Southern Zone Age Group Championships representing Florida Swimming. In 2012, Autumn Finke had missed the Trial cut in the 800m Freestyle by less than 0.5 seconds three separate times. She did qualify for and swam at the 2012 U.S. Open that year. In 2013 she graduated from Countryside High School. She entered the University of Florida in the fall of 2013. UF Head Coach Gregg Troy once described her freestyle technique as the best he had ever seen. Autumn achieved her Trial cut in the 800M Freestyle at the Southern Zone Southern Sectionals in 2015. At Trials, she would place 24th out of 80 swimmers with a time of 8:47.23. Returning the UF after Trials, Autumn completed her collegiate career in 2017 having swum at SECs and NCAAs three consecutive years. She finished 2nd in the 1650Y Freestyle at her last SECs despite a nagging shoulder injury. Today you might find Autumn at North Shore Pool working with young children in the SPA Swim School.

Robert Finke

Robert (Bobby) Finke was 16 years old when he competed at the 2016 Trials. The youngest of the Finke children, he began swimming with Clearwater Aquatic Team in 2005 but never swam a meet with that team. Robert moved to a new team, CUDA, that same year with his sisters. After his sisters moved on to SPA, Bobby remained with CUDA for several months before joining them at SPA in 2006. Bobby was a noted age-group swimmer having won 10&Under high point award at the 2010 Long Course Florida Swimming Junior Olympics, the meet now known as FLAGs. In 2014 he won the award again for 14-year-old boys. Later that year he entered Countryside High School and won his first state high school title as a member of the 400 Freestyle relay. 2015 was a busy year for Bobby, becoming the 5K Open Water Junior National Champion, achieving his first Trials cut in the 1500 Freestyle, and attending the National Select Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. In Omaha, Bobby swam in three events. In the 400 Freestyle he finished 75th out of 103 with a time of 4:00.04. In the 400 Individual Medley, Bobby was 52nd in 4:29.15 out of 92 swimmers. It was the last weekend where Bobby broke out in the 1500 Freestyle, finishing 6th in prelims and then 7th in finals with a time of 15:18.40.

Summer Finke

Summer Finke returned to Omaha for her second Trials in 2016. Since 2012 she had graduated from Countryside High School where she had been named Most Valuable Swimmer all four years and was a three-time USA Swimming Scholastic AllAmerican. In 2015 Summer was named to the USA Swimming Junior National Team. In the fall of 2015, she entered Florida State University. Unfortunately, as with Calvin Bryant, Summer lost her college coach just before Trials. At Trials she swam the 400M Freestyle finishing 75th out of 101 swimmers with a time of 4:20.96. She also swam the 800M Freestyle finishing 32nd in 8:48.95 out of 80 swimmers. After Trials, Summer would transfer from FSU eventually to North Carolina State University where she continued swimming. She graduated in 2019 with a year of eligibility left in her college career. Injuries and medical issues led her to forego that final year, retiring from competitive swimming. She entered University of Florida as a graduate student in 2019 while also working as team manager for the men’s team for a year. Summer received her Master’s degree in Sports Management/Athlete Development in April 2021.

Melanie Margalis

Following Trials in 2012, Melanie Margalis returned to the University of Georgia for her junior year where she won her first SEC title (200Y IM) and was a member of the NCAA Women’s National Champion team. That summer she was named to the U.S. World University Games team, swimming on the 88M Freestyle Relay (gold) and the 200M IM (bronze). She then finished her collegiate career the following year as team captain and competing in her fourth NCAA championship meet. Melanie’s national/international career continued its upward trajectory. In 2014 she won her first national title in the 200M IM and finished 3rd in the 400M IM and 200M Breaststroke. She was named to the 2014 U.S. Pan Pacific team as a result. She went on to compete at the 2014 World Short Course Championships and for good measure, was named to the 2015 U.S. World Championship team competing in Kazan, Russia. Going into Trials in 2016, Melanie had achieved cuts in the 200M Freestyle, 100M Breaststroke, 200M Breaststroke, and 200M IM. In the 100M Breaststroke she would finish 7th out of prelims but chose not to swim finals. In the 200 Breaststroke, Melanie would finish 5th in 2:26.92. In the 200M Freestyle, typically the top 6 swimmers are named to the Olympic team for relay purposes. Melanie finished 5th, making her first Olympic team. The crowning moment though came in the 200M IM when Melanie finished 2nd, making the Olympic team in am individual event. She is SPA’s second Olympian.

Peyton Palsha

Peyton Palsha was a “life-long” SPA swimmer having swum for the club her entire club career. She made her Trials debut in 2016 as a 16-year-old. At the time she was a rising senior at St. Petersburg High School. And yes, she is named after Peyton Manning. Peyton began swimming at 6 months of age. She grew into an accomplished age group swimmer, consistently placing high at the Florida age group championship meets and being selected for the Southern Zone age group team representing Florida Swimming. Peyton had continued her successful swimming when she entered high school, swimming in finals at state championship meets each of her three years leading to Trials. Peyton achieved her Trials cut in the 400M Freestyle at the Atlanta Classic meet in May of 2016 and her cut in the 800M Freestyle at the CVST meet in June of 2016. In Omaha she would finish 58th out of 101 swimmers with a time of 4:18.29. In the 800M Freestyle, Peyton placed 40th out of 80 swimmers with a time of 8:50.85.

Megan Romano

Megan Romano returned in 2016 for what would be her last Olympic Trials. After the 2012 Trials, Megan competed at the 2012 U.S. Open winning four events and the overall high point award. She returned to the University of Georgia for her senior year capping off her collegiate career as a member of the 2013 NCAA National Champion women’s team. Also in 2013, she competed in the World University Games bringing home 1 gold, 2 silver, and 3 bronze medals. Weeks later she competed for the U.S. at the FINA World Championships bringing home 2 gold medals as a part of the 400M Freestyle and 400 Medley relays. Following her successes, Megan turned professional, signing with TYR and doing camps, clinics and appearances across the country. Leading into 2016 Megan had changed her training locations trying to find that perfect fit, eventually winding up in south Florida. In Omaha, Megan competed in the 100M Freestyle (69th) and the 200M Freestyle (23rd). She then hung up her goggles and is now involved in real estate in south Florida.

Grant Sanders

Grant Sanders did his age group swimming with the Clearwater Aquatic Team. He spent his high school years at East Lake High School where in 2014 he won the state championship in the 200Y IM. He was the team captain his senior year and a high school All American. In January 2015, Grant’s senior year, tragedy struck when he lost his younger brother, Vance. Grant graduated from East Lake in 2015 and enrolled at the University of Arizona. Grant returned to Clearwater following his freshman year at Arizona, intending to take a year off from school. He joined SPA and began training for the Trials. Grant had competed at the 2015 Nationals where he achieved three Trials cuts, the 200M IM, the 400M IM, and the 200M Freestyle. In Omaha Grant finished 40th out of 91 in the 200M IM, 51st out of 93 in the 400M IM, and 70th out of 105 in the 200M Freestyle.