2017 Worlds Preview: A New Champion In Men’s 50 Free

2017 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

You can find links to all of our event-by-event previews and a compilation of our predicted medal-winners here.

With both 2015 World Champion Florent Manaudou and 2016 Olympic Champ Anthony Ervin out of the 2017 Championships in Budapest, the men’s 50 free becomes one of the most wide open events on the schedule. Manaudou dominated his way to the world title in Kazan, and was favored to do so again in Rio before Ervin upset him by one one-hundredth.

In that Olympic final there was a clear margin between the bronze medal and 4th place – about two tenths of a second – so it would make logical sense that the bronze medalist would be the favorite here, but it’s just not the case.

Nathan Adrian has never been quite able to hit the nail on the head in both the 50 and 100 freestyle simultaneously. In 2012, he won 100m Olympic gold and missed the team in the 50. In 2015 he killed the 50, breaking the super-suited American Record and winning silver at Worlds, but finished back in 7th in the 100. Last summer in Rio was his best showing in the two, winning bronze in both, but was a bit off his best times.

This year he has put a renewed focus on his 100, particularly the back half. With that, he’s lost a bit of his 50 speed, at least up until this point. Last year he broke 22 seconds four times before the Olympic Trials. This year the final at World Trials was his first time doing so, squeaking onto the team by two one-hundredths over fellow veteran Cullen Jones in 21.87.

His 100 appears to be rounding into form for Budapest, and he may well be the favorite to win that event, which would be his first ever individual LC World title. While I do feel he’ll find some more early speed in the 100 at Worlds (he opened up Trials in 23.27), will he find enough to contend for a medal in the 50? It’s going to be tough. He can definitely final, but will need to be about four tenths better than he was at the end of June in order to place in the top three.

The other American, rising Florida senior Caeleb Dressel, will finally have his long awaited major international debut in this event. After winning the NCAA title in his freshman year, Dressel stunned the swimming community when he lowered Adrian’s American Record numerous times in his sophomore season, bringing it all the way down from 18.66 to 18.20. Now the owner of the ten fastest yards swims in history, Dressel is poised for a big swim internationally.

At 2015 Nationals he went 21.53, a time that would’ve stood up for bronze in Kazan. Then at the 2016 Olympic Trials he missed the team in the event placing 4th, a big surprise considering how his season had gone. That swim came at the tail-end of a long, emotionally draining meet, and he learned from that and delivered big time at World Trials this year. He won the 50 by over three tenths, tying his best time, and also qualified for Worlds individually in the 100 free, 50 fly and 100 fly.

He’s going to have a hefty schedule, and the 50 free does come towards the end of the meet, but he shouldn’t have a problem delivering. He’s shown time and time again his ability to deliver swim after swim in high pressure meets such as NCAAs, and though the 50 free and 100 fly do coincide, the 50 free comes first in all three rounds. We’ll see how he handles the schedule as the meet goes on, but don’t be surprised to see him win gold and break the American Record of 21.37.

Though Dressel may be the first name that pops into your head when you think of the 50 free this year, Great Britain’s Ben Proud is the one leading the world rankings in 2017. Proud was 4th at the Olympics last summer, and went a best of 21.54 in the semis, but knocked over two tenths off that to win British Nationals this year in 21.32. That swim made him the 10th fastest performer in history, and tied him for the 2nd fastest man since the beginning of 2010. Will he be able to go lower in Budapest? His fastest swims in both 2015 and 2016 came at the biggest meet of the year, so there’s a good chance he does. If he doesn’t, he could still win, considering he’s over a tenth ahead of #2 Vladimir Morozov.

Morozov had a tough year in 2016, missing the Olympic final in both sprint freestyle events amid a doping scandal. Early this year he told us his focus would be centered more around the 50, after years of focusing on the 100 not yielding the desired results. It seems to be working, as he broke his own Russian Record at their Trials in April in 21.44, which now has him 2nd in the world to Proud. He also recently posted on Instagram a video of him doing a practice 50 in 21.84, showing he’s on good form. After silver in Barcelona and 4th in Kazan, this could be his year for gold.

Behind those three we’ve got Aussie Cameron McEvoy, who missed the Rio final after going a lifetime best 21.44 in-season. Rio seemed to be more of an outlier than a trend for McEvoy and some of the other Australians who disappointed there. He’s done a ton of in-season racing this year in preparation, and should be back on the top of his game come Budapest. He’s 4th in the world with his 21.55 from Australian Nationals.

Then you’ve got the Brazilians, Bruno Fratus and Cesar Cielo. Fratus had great success in 2014 and ’15, winning the Pan Pac title and taking bronze at the World Championships. However, he was unable to deliver an Olympic medal on his home soil, and hasn’t been under 21.7 in two years.

The same is the case for Cielo, who crushingly missed the Olympic team and subsequently took a break from the sport. He had a solid return, finishing 2nd to Fratus at the Maria Lenk Trophy in 21.79 on three months of training. The world record holder and three-time World champ is by no means out of the medal picture, but he hasn’t really done anything out of the ordinary since 2013.

Mixed in with the established names are some relative unknowns at the top of the world rankings. Finland’s Ari-Pekka Liukkonen and Poland’s Pawel Juraszek both broke their respective national records to put them 5th and 6th respectively in the world rankings for 2017. They were 23rd and 35th in Rio, and the question becomes whether or not these swims were one-offs or if they can replicate them again with the lights on.

Liukkonen has now been under 22 seconds nine times, with six of them coming in 2017. That signals consistency, which indicates he’ll be a real player in Budapest. After his record-breaking 21.58 he said his biggest challenge would be the morning prelims at Worlds, so as long as he gets through those we can expect him to be a factor. Juraszek’s record-breaking swim was done in 21.68, his only time under 22 seconds. He’s a bit more of a wild card, but did tie his 2nd best ever (22.13) earlier this month at the French Open unrested.

In such a short race where everyone needs to execute perfectly, there are a host of swimmers with potential to crack the final. Some others include Short Course World Champion Jesse Puts of the Netherlands, 2016 Olympic finalist Andriy Govorov of the Ukraine, Italian Luca Dotto, ex-NCAA star Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece, and the Japanese tandem of Katsumi Nakamura and Shinri Shioura.

Another dangerous one is Russian Evgeny Sedov, who has shown nasty speed early in his career, dipping below 21 seconds in the short course pool six times. He went a PB of 21.74 in April, and looks to be due for a breakout in his first LC World Championship.

Lithuanian Simonas Bilis was in the Olympic final last year, but doesn’t have a sub-23 second swim on record this year. South African Brad Tandy tied for 6th in Rio, but we recently found out he won’t be competing.

TOP 8 PREDICTIONS

SWIMMER COUNTRY SEASON BEST PREDICTED TIME
1 Ben Proud Great Britain 21.32 21.2
2 Caeleb Dressel United States 21.53 21.3
3 Vladimir Morozov Russia 21.44 21.3
4 Evgeny Sedov Russia 21.74 21.4
5 Ari-Pekka Liukkonen Finland 21.58 21.6
6 Cameron McEvoy Australia 21.55 21.6
7 Nathan Adrian United States 21.89 21.7
8 Bruno Fratus Brazil 21.70 21.7

Darkhorse: Ali Khalafalla of Egypt, who swims for Indiana in the NCAA, went a PB of 22.12 at the Santa Clara Pro Swim in June. He projects to get under 22 seconds and advance past the prelims in Budapest after tying for 23rd in Rio.

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Sir Swimsalot
5 years ago

I, being an optimist, think Adrian is capable of a little bit more. Otherwise, these predictions seem spot on.

straightarm
5 years ago

Morozov
Proud
Dressel

straightarm
Reply to  straightarm
5 years ago

21.5
21.5
21.6

commonwombat
5 years ago

Am thinking that the top 3 on this listing are probably looking the prime candidates for the medals, order … open to speculation along with times.

Outside of that, I see the most likely interlopers to be either one of the Brazilians or maybe Adrian with the likes of Govorov & Dotto. McEvoy’s fast times in this event have all been in domestic competition; his intl record in this event nondescript.

Pvdh
Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

Wish he’d move to a 100/200 focus.

commonwombat
Reply to  Pvdh
5 years ago

That HAD been his “bearing” at least up to AUS Oly Trials where he did drop in the massive 50 PB. A core issue is that he’s never been consistent at 200 either; be it in individual swims or in relays (where he’s been just as liable to drop in a 1.48split off the gun as a 1.46).

There is absolutely zero doubting his capacity to swim an extraordinarily fast time; at least over 100m, but considerable question marks over his consistency. He is also nearing university graduation and he does seem to harbour some legitimate academic ambitions in the science field; therefore it would not surprise if he decided to end his competitive swimming career next April rather than… Read more »

Pvdh
Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

Wow. I did not know that was even a possibility. Would be a shame to lose such as talent but there is much more to life than swimming

commonwombat
Reply to  Pvdh
5 years ago

He’s now 23 and has already been to 2 Olympics, albeit one purely as a relay swimmer and he does harbour some serious professional ambitions outside of swimming. There comes a time when, if you are in such a position that you need to make the decision whether you’re leaving it too late (professional career-wise) by continuing to pursue a high level sporting career.

He MAY choose to continue through to Tokyo but there have been some whispers that his focus may not be what it had been previously. Looking at the wider picture of AUS Swimming; do NOT be surprised if there is a significant turn-over post CG next year including some very big names. Look especially at those… Read more »

IMs for days
Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

He has been underwhelming in Kazam and Rio, but don’t forget that he beat Adrian at 2014 Pan Pacs

Team USA
5 years ago

Caeleb Dressel: 20.90 WR

Quinn
Reply to  Team USA
5 years ago

Don’t get me wrong that’d be tight as hell but it’s just soooooo unlikely

Swimmer?
Reply to  Team USA
5 years ago

The world record is 21.19, don’t give me those suit crap times sub 21 is almost impossible textile.

Ex Bolles & Longhorn swimming alum
5 years ago

Dressel’s on fire and I know coach Troy, he will be ready to fly (pun intended) – swimmer of the meet.

I also think Adrian is going to be more competitive then ever, I just don’t know if he can beat Proud/Morozov if they’re poised well. In the hundred I think he will be a medal contender for sure.

1) Dressel 21.1
2-3) Proud/Morozov, 21.3
4) Adrian 21.4

crooked donald
5 years ago

Not on the Proud train. His British trials time was in absolutely clean water — he won by nearly a second. To think he’s going to improve 0.2-0.4 sec from Rio to a tight final is, well, like saying Schooling’s going to break the 100 fly world record. He’ll be in the mix, for sure.

Dee
Reply to  crooked donald
5 years ago

I really dont get this ‘clean water’ argument. It’s a 50, unless you have a horrible (like… Worse than Tony), your water will be pretty clean. The difference is tension.

On the clean water, I’ll make a bet with you now: Proud comes up at 15m ahead of the field by his shoulders. Only Dressel can match it, and I actually think Proud has a better start.

crooked donald
Reply to  Dee
5 years ago

That made me watch the Rio video again. Amazing that Ervin, right next to Proud, outswam him by nearly a body length over the last 35 meters. Lateral waves from the swimmers on either side catch your body. The wake created by your churning arms and widest part of your body (shoulders) creates a wave that hits the neighboring swimmer (usually at the thighs are lower). In a tight bunch, as in a Worlds final, there are lots of lateral waves. If he’s really ahead (he was 3rd or 4th at 10 meters — Tandy was way out in front — but at least second st 15 meters), he won’t experience that much of it, but it won’t be like… Read more »

Dee
Reply to  crooked donald
5 years ago

His start was always great, but after Rio he changed coach and moved abroad to train with Energy Standard. His RT was always good, but they seem to have got a lot more out of his streamline.

crooked donald
Reply to  Dee
5 years ago

Yeah, he was incredible from 10 to 15 meters —- much more momentum than anyone else in the field. People should be copying that.

ellie
Reply to  crooked donald
5 years ago

Abandon your clean water theory man. 90% top swimmers from countries other than US are untouchable by their countrymen. With your theory, they all have clean water and should add time in big meets. That’s not what usually happens.

crooked donald
Reply to  ellie
5 years ago

Six of the eight guys in the Rio final went slower than in the semifinal. Ervin, who never has clean water because of his start, and Tandy (by .01 sec) were the only guys to go faster when the field wasn’t as bunched. The final was a 0.39 sec spread from 1-7 — that’s a tight bunch. The two semifinals were 0.67 and 0.53 sec spreads from 1-7. Not surprisingly, the Manaudou had the fastest time of the meet in the least bunched group (the 0.67 spread), and Adrian went faster in that heat too. There’s some data. Where’s yours?

Dee
Reply to  crooked donald
5 years ago

Mate: You’re trying to tell us they go quicker in races where they’re out alone, while accepting most set PBs at the Olympics/Worlds, in far more stacked fields than at their national champs. Slow finals aren’t a 50s thing – It happens all the time. Athletes are tense. It is a sensation some have never experienced, and all rarely experiemce. It is nothing to do with “clean water”, it only become as issue when you are quite a way down, so far it rarely occurs in 50s.

crooked donald
Reply to  Dee
5 years ago

The argument was about Proud’s “breakout” swim of 21.3 when he beat his home field by a second and how he’s not going to repeat that at Worlds. If a 1 second lead in a 50 isn’t clean water, I don’t know what is and neither do you. He will not repeat that with 7 other 200 pounders thrashing away next to him within a 0.4 sec spread.

crooked donald
Reply to  Dee
5 years ago

See below. When you are guaranteed to win your national Trials — Bilas, Tandy, Manaudou, Fratus, etc — with less than your best time, you don’t taper to the max and you sure aren’t motivated to the max. Of course they swim faster at Olympics/Worlds even with the bunched field. It’s like the difference between being one of the best U.S. swimmers but in a poor college conference swimming at a conference meet and then going to NCAAs.
And what’s your data in the men’s 50 free that “most set PBs at the Olympics/Worlds”? Out of the 16 semifinalists and 8 finalists at Rio, hardly anyone set a PB. You’re just flat out wrong.

ellie
Reply to  crooked donald
5 years ago

I don’t know how the comparison between semi and final contributes to your clean water theory. You think they had much cleaner water in semi? Seven out of eight swimmers had been faster in Olympics than they were at home trials man.

crooked donald
Reply to  ellie
5 years ago

Of course, and it follows your other argument, man, that others outside the U.S. most win by a lot on their home turf. They don’t have to fully taper at their trials, and did at Rio. That’s why they were faster.

crooked donald
Reply to  ellie
5 years ago

And again, where’s your data?

ellie
5 years ago

I think Fratus will be at least faster than Adrian. Govorov will make the final.

phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

21.19 Dressel for the win

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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