2021 SC Worlds Picks & Previews: Mens’ 50, 100, and 200 Freestyles


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Men’s 50 Free

Tokyo Olympic Finalists Participating:

Most of the heavy hitters, including the three medalists from the Tokyo Olympics, are absent from this 50 free.

That leaves as the top contenders a trio of swimmers who have raced a lot this season, and one who hasn’t raced at all.

Michael Andrew, the 2016 World Champion in the 100 IM, is famed for his race-pace training and a racing schedule that is higher in frequency, both in number of meets and in number of races at a meet, than almost anyone elite swimmer in the world.

And so his absence from any formal competition since the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ended in early August has been conspicuous. It’s hard to know what to make of him and where to project his performances, other than via some training posts on social media.

Andrew has a monster schedule, with 6 individual events in 6 days (all of which have prelims, semi-finals, and finals), plus as many as 5 relays. This 50 free comes relatively-early, though, on days 2 and 3, so he shouldn’t be too worked over by then.

The other three finalists from Tokyo, Ben ProudLorenzo Zazzeri, and Thom de Boer, on the other hand, have all had fantastic falls.

Proud has broken the British Record in the 50 free twice in the last month while swimming for Energy Standard in the ISL, and his form seems to keep improving through that busy racing schedule. Lorenzo Zazzeri built off a breakout Olympic Games to take individual silver in the 50 free at the European Short Course Championships. Thom de Boer swam really well in the skins format that the ISL uses, though his individual races weren’t at the same level (20.84 is his season best).

Aside from those Olympic finalists are the European Champion from earlier this year, Szebasztian Szabo of Hungary, and Vlad Morozov of Russia. While the two have similar season-best times (Szabo 20.72, Morozov 20.81), Szabo has been the more consistent of the two. He is the European SC Champion, and has been 21.2-or-better in 8 different races this season. Morozov, meanwhile, has been as slow as 22.85 in the 50 free, and as fast as 20.81. That’s a wild swing.

Top 3 Picks:

  1. Ben Proud, Great Britain (SB: 20.40)
  2. Michael Andrew, USA (SB: N/A)
  3. Szebasztian Szabo, Hungary (SB: 20.72)

Men’s 100 Free

Tokyo Olympic Finalists Participating:

Among the best long course swimmers in the world, this field is much better than the 50 is. Aside from the #1 vs. #2 Olympic rematch between Kyle Chalmers and Caeleb Dressel, that the universe seems destined to not let us have, most of the top names are here.

That includes the ‘future,’ the young swimmers David Popovici of Romania and Hwang Sun-Woo of South Korea.

Neither swimmer has shown quite the same quality in short course as they have in long course so far. The 17-year old Popovici was 10th at Euros in November in 47.21, though the 18-year old Hwang was better going 46.46 at the Doha stop of the World Cup.

Kolesnikov, meanwhile, who won a pair of Olympic medals in Tokyo in the 100 back (silver) and 100 free (bronze) has continued his momentum into the short course season. 6 of the 8 best times in his career in short course meters have come since October 29.

That includes a 45.58 in early November.

On paper, it seems like anybody who wants to take gold in this race is going to have to beat Kolesnikov and a 45.58. So far, the only ones who have been capable of that this season are the absent Dressel and Chalmers.

Miressi is another swimmer who, like Kolesnikov, has been consistently fast and who has gone best times this fall. In fact, he did his best times at the same meet as Kolesnikov, the European SC Championships.

His ‘puncher’s chance’ here is that he didn’t have to swim in the ISL final because Aqua Centurions didn’t advance, unlike Kolesnikov’s Energy Standard club. That gives him an extra week to build up to SC Worlds.

France’s Maxime Grousset has not raced much this fall, and when he has, he hasn’t been near his top form. This week at the French Championships, when he should be presumably beginning his taper, he was just 22.0 in the 50 free, which is eight-tenths slower than his best time. He is the top seed for Sunday afternoon’s 100 free final after a 49.6 in prelims (updated: and 48.4 in finals) at that French Championship in long course.

The two American entries, Zach Apple and Ryan Held, are both interesting propositions. Held only swam the 100 free once during the ISL season, swimming 47.70, and is on a new training regimen under Bob Bowman at Arizona State. Apple, who was so good in previous ISL seasons, was not as good this fall, where his best time so far has been 46.83.

In the American training system, could this mean they’re reserving a full taper off a big peak for SC Worlds? Maybe. But this is another case, although less publicized than swimmers like Beata Nelson or Coleman Stewart, where the US selection system might have cost them a medal: Justin Ress swam 45.70 at the end of the ISL Playoff round in November. That’s the second-best time this season compared to participating World Championship swimmers behind only Kolesnikov.

Russia’s Vladislav Grinev, Netherlands’ Jesse Puts, Italy’s Lorenzo Zazzeri, and Great Britain’s Tom Dean are also contenders. If there is a darkhorse in this field, it might be Canada’s Josh Liendo, who was faster than the Canadian Record in an unofficial time trial swim this weekend.

Top 3 Picks:

  1. Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia (SB: 45.58)
  2. Alessandro Miressi, Italy (SB: 45.84)
  3. Hwang Sun-Woo, South Korea (SB: 46.46)

Men’s 200 Free

Tokyo Olympic Finalists Participating:

This is the most loaded field of the three short men’s freestyle races. The only swimmer absent from the Olympic final is Russia’s Martin Malyutin.

But we have to address that the current world leader in the event didn’t even swim this race at the Olympics: South African teenager Matthew Sates. Sates swam 1:40.65 to break the World Junior Record at the FINA Swimming World Cup in Germany in October.

The World #3, Aleksandr Shchegolev, didn’t either.

That leaves this as a wide-open race for the medals in this 200 free.

Aside from those two, Olympic silver medalist Duncan Scott is a curious case here. While he was very good in the ISL playoffs, and especially in last week’s finale, he didn’t swim much of the 200 free. That’s because his London Roar teammates Kyle Chalmers (not racing at this meet) and Tom Dean (is racing at this meet) occupied those spots, freeing Scott to use his versatility in other races like the 200 IM.

But after 1:51 in the 200 IM in Eindhoven, we have to believe that Scott is on form for a big time in the 200 free, at least as fast as the 1:40.25 that he swam during last year’s ISL season.

Tom Dean, his London and Great Britain teammate, swam the race a few times during the ISL season, but was really not on form. His best time was 1:43.25, and he has generally not been as good short course as long course. Of the two Brits, Scott is the pick to medal.

Rapsys (1:41.7), Scheffer (1:42.0), and Popovici (1:42.1) have all been similar times this season, but right now it doesn’t look like they’ve got the gas to compete with the likes of Sates and Scott in this race. Hwang Sun-Woo, who swam 1:41.1 at the Qatar World Cup, might, though.

The only American entry in the race is Kieran Smith. His standing will largely depend on how much of a mid-season taper his coach Anthony Nesty is willing to use on a non-NCAA meet. He’s got the short course chops, and is one of the fastest-ever in the 200 yard freestyle, but as international swimmers get better-and-better in short course meters, the skill and timing difference from yards to meters seems to matter more and more (like we saw, for example, in Ryan Hoffer’s ISL debut).

Updated: Smith, however, is a unique case among Americans, as his club team growing up, the Ridgefield Aquatic Club, trains primarily out of the 25 meter poll at Barlow Mountain Elementary School.

As for gold, it’s the gap between Scott, coming off ISL, and Sates, who is not. Sates seems to be heavily-motivated by prize money, and there’s a lot of it up for grabs at Short Course Worlds, but he also probably learned after the World Cup that he can’t keep it all if he plans to still go to Georgia in the spring.

I’ll give the nod to Scott, because I think he’s got a big 200 loaded up that we didn’t get to see in the ISL.

Top 3 Picks:

  1. Duncan Scott, Great Britain (SB: 1:41.72)
  2. Matthew Sates, South Africa (SB: 1:40.65)
  3. Hwang Sun-Woo, South Korea (SB: 1:41.17)

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Ol' Longhorn
11 months ago

It’ll be interesting to see whether MA’s new squeeze has any impact on his performance. She may be 4’2″ (well, she looks like it next to him), but she’s a fitness nut who might actually help him with dryland training. 

Scotty P
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
11 months ago

Tina is Jacked AF surprised she hasn’t already started.

11 months ago

MA has been doing the work. I’ve seen him at the pool. He did what most USA Olympians did in the past prior to ISL. Take a break from competition.

11 months ago

shouldnt Sares be packing his bags to move to Georgia?

11 months ago

Aside from the #1 vs. #2 Olympic rematch between Kyle Chalmers and Caeleb Dressel, that the universe seems destined to not let us have 😂😂

Last edited 11 months ago by Swammer
11 months ago

Does anyone know of Michael Andrew has been vaccinated yet????

Reply to  Ummmm
11 months ago

I think you know the answer to that

11 months ago

Will be rooting for Popovici

Scotty P
11 months ago

Proud takes the 50 free.

11 months ago

Impossible….there aren’t six 50s to compete in……

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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