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


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.


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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M Palota

I agree with the order but I think the times are optimistic.

Proud: 21.4-ish
Dressel: 21.4-ish
Morozov: 21.5-ish.

Faster times in the semis, I think. Cleaner water and less nerves.


Dressel will need to pass the semis double. He might have a problem on passing both events if tired or taking it easy.


watch his NCAA endurance …. the guy has got it


But did ne need to go all out on prelims and semis on 2 events to qualify? (Real question). Going a 21,7 21,8 / 51,5 might not be enough..


Saw 50 free/100 fly was not a double on NCAA, which double happened? Also.. there wasn´t semis on NCAA..


The doubles happened with relays. Not individual events.


Night 1 of NCAAs is a triple (2 relays and the individual 50)… 6 swims on the day. Day 2 and Day 3 are 2 finals swims apiece, 4 total swims each day. Even if the individual morning swims are only 90% (and let’s face it, he’s going all-out in the 50, anyway) that’s a lot more racing packed together than anyone does at Worlds. It’s true that LC is a little different, but a 21 year-old guy in great shape should be able to come back from a 50 and have another fast swim the same night.


Long course endurance is much different from short course if you are not a swimmer.

crooked donald

He did four 100 frees of 41.0 or better (including relays) on day 4 of the meet. Pretty sure he can handle LCM.


Well, if his NCAAs are anything to go by, doubles don’t take a toll on him. Swimming under Gregg Troy means he can take the heavy workload.

crooked donald

It was all the sprint breastroke.


Let’s just take a moment to marvel at Manaudou’s performance last worlds in this event. Despite all the talent in this field I am pretty sure no one can beat 21.19. A 21.3 might be all that’s needed to do the job

M Palota

Massive swim. One of the most dominant performances in Kazan.

crooked donald

Or a 21.4. Good enough in Rio.


where is Manaudou this year?


Following his dream as a team handball player I think

lucky luke

He switched to handball, training (not playing, even if it is the aim) with a pro 2nd division French team. Maybe he will come back to swimming, maybe not. (but imo he will)


We can never count out Adrian – maybe he has his best yet to deliver in the 50 free . I put him within the 4 that will battle around 21.4ish


I just don’t think he has the raw speed this year. His trials time is what he usually does in season. Plus he’s opening in the 23-23.2 range in the 100. Don’t think he’s a contender this year.

crooked donald

Agree. He pretty much has said over the years that he either has 50 speed or 100 speed. This year he’s focusing on the 100; last two years he focused more on getting 50 speed. He’s just not as naturally fast —- off the blocks, breakout, top end speed — as some of the others.


Adrian is opening slower in the 100 this year because in Rio the fastest people in the 100 free all came back on the field men and woman. The race is changing and he is showing his ability adapt.


He was also 3 tenths slower in the 50 and slower through the season in the event

crooked donald

The only argument against that is that he has always had great back-half splits on the relays even going out fast.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James formerly competed for the Laurentian Voyageurs in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in February of 2018, placing 11th at the OUA Championships in the 200 IM, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in May. He …

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