2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Returners V. Newbies In The Women’s 50 Free

See all of our U.S. Olympic Trials previews & picks here.


Women’s 50 free

  • World Record: Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) – 23.67 (2017)
  • American Record: Simone Manuel – 23.97 (2017)
  • US Open Record: Simone Manuel (USA) – 24.10 (2018)
  • World Junior Record: Claire Curzan (USA) – 24.17 (2021)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Pernille Blume (DEN) – 24.07
  • 2016 US Olympic Trials Champion: Abbey Weitzeil – 24.28
  • Wave I Cut: 25.99
  • Wave II Cut: 25.65

It’s no secret that anything can happen in the 50 freestyle. At the elite level, the field is often separated by mere hundredths of a second. We saw this occur at the most recent US Olympic Trials meet when top seed heading into the event Madison Keneddy was left off the Olympic squad by 0.15 seconds, hitting a 24.48 to Simone Manuel‘s 24.33 for second place and Abbey Weitzeil‘s 24.28 for first.

It takes the perfect combination of a lightning-speed reaction time, a powerful underwater, and an immediately high turnover to get one’s hand on the wall first in the 50 freestyle and that’s exactly what we can expect from the field at the 2021 US Olympic Swimming Trials. All 8 women featured in the A final of the 50 free will be no strangers to this concept and in a race that lasts less than half a minute, it truly will be anybody’s race.

Considering how quick and unpredictable the 50 freestyle is, it’s hard to make accurate predictions, but that won’t stop us from trying. Our official picks for top 2 finishers at Trials in the women’s 50 freestyle come down to one swimmer with years of experience and a solid history to back her up, and one swimmer who is relatively new to the scene but has the momentum to get her to the top: Simone Manuel and Claire Curzan.

It’s really hard to bet against Simone Manuel in sprint events no matter what meet she’s racing in. Manuel began her international career back in 2013 by contributing to the USA’s gold medal performance in the 4×100 freestyle relay at 2013 World Championships. Since then she has consistently shown up for the US on the world stage, winning countless 50 freestyle medals including gold at 2019 Worlds, silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2018 Pan Pacs, and bronze at 2017 Worlds. Manuel is the national record holder in the event with a 23.97 and the only American woman to have ever cracked 24 seconds.

We mentioned earlier that Simone Manuel first raced internationally for the US back in 2013. On the day she helped the US to gold in the 4×100 freestyle relay, our second pick for this event had not yet turned 10 years old. Claire Curzan will be one of the youngest competitors at the 2021 US Olympic Trials at age 16. While she has been on the radar for a number of years, the junior has had an exceptional 2020-2021 season, including her recent world junior record-breaking 24.17 50 freestyle.

Curzan’s 24.17 personal and season-best means that she has lowered her fastest-ever swim by over a second this year, improving upon her 25.33 which she swam in March 2020. Hitting a 24.17 (a time that would have placed 6th at the 2016 Olympic Games) just 1 month before Trials makes Curzan absolutely lethal in the event. Assuming she can replicate the precision and speed she delivered just last month she will be a favorite to place in the top 2 in Omaha as well as a serious contender to reach the podium in Tokyo.

While we are talking about fast-improving juniors, we need to mention another high school sprinter, Torri Huske. Huske, who like Curzan is maybe best known for her 100 butterfly, has also made waves in the women’s 50 freestyle this year, having entered the season with a PB of 25.40 from December 2019 and lowering it to a 24.44 which makes her the second-fastest American woman for 2020-2021.

Huske and Curzan were arguably better known for their butterfly conquests for quite some time, placing 1st and 3rd, respectively in both the 50 and 100 butterfly at the 2019 World Junior Swimming Championships. They will still be threats in the 100 fly at the upcoming Olympic Trials but may make more of a statement in the 50 free.

While Huske and Curzan took care of the sprint butterflies at 2019 Worlds, Gretchen Walsh took control of the 50 freestyle and won gold with a 24.71. That gold medal performance came after her silver medal finish at US Nationals that year where she hit a 24.85 to Erika Brown‘s winning 24.71. Since then Walsh has remained in the conversation and set a new PB of 24.65 in the event in November 2020. Walsh’s last few swim before Trials of 25.30 and 25.35 in May were a bit above what it will take to make it onto the team but keep her in the running considering that she was likely un-tapered and un-rested.

Abbey Weitzeil will return as defending champion in the 50 freestyle at US Olympic Trials, having won the most recent one in 2016 to qualify for her first US Olympic team. At Rio 2016, Weitzeil advanced to the semi-finals in 5th place with a 24.48 but then landed just outside of 8th place in the semis with a 24.67 and didn’t advance to the final. Weitzeil successfully qualified to represent the US in the event at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships but didn’t make it past the semi-finals at either of those meets either.

Weitzeil will come into 2021 Trials with the top-level experience that many of her competitors won’t have had and she will try to use that to her advantage. Along with the past racing experience, Weitzeil has posted some solid swims so far this season including 6 sub-25 swims including a season-best of 24.57 at the Mission Viejo stop of the 2021 Pro Swim Series.

Manuel, Curzan, Huske, Walsh, and Weitzeil will all be fighting for the top 2 spots but there still remains a large group of women behind them who can’t be counted out. That group includes the 9 other women who have swum under 25 seconds since the Olympic Trials qualifying period which ran from November 28, 2018 – May 30, 2021 (8 if we remove Margo Geer who recently retired from the sport).

Kate Douglass and Erika Brown are 2 swimmers that rose to prominence recently within the NCAA. Douglass recently became the newest NCAA champion in the event at the 2021 Championships where she swam a 21.13 to take gold for Virginia. Brown on the other hand took silver in the event back in 2019 with a 21.23. Douglass and Brown’s short course yards excellence has translated well into long course prowess with Douglass holding a 24.54 from May 2021 and Brown a 24.57 back in January 2020. As they go up against a mix of vets and up-and-coming juniors, Douglass and Brown have certainly proven their abilities to hold their in the 50 free and could both be looking at an Olympic berth in 2021.

Our final pick for the list is someone who is not a lock for the event considering her focus on the backstroke events. Should Olivia Smoliga decide to enter the 50 freestyle, however, it wouldn’t be out of the question for her to make it into the A final. Without any recent world-class 50 freestyle performances, Smoliga’s case comes from her recent 58.31 100 backstroke showing that she has the speed and her PB in the 50 free of 24.70 showing that she has the potential.

Considering the factor of unpredictability in the 50 free, we could see any number of women break into the top 8 here, necessitating some honourable mention picks for Catie DeLoof, Maxine Parker, Mallory Comerford, and Madison Kennedy who have been under 25 before, though not since 2019.

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Simone Manuel 23.97 24.70
2 Claire Curzan 24.17 24.17
3 Torri Huske 24.44 24.44
4 Abbey Weitzeil 24.28 24.57
5 Gretchen Walsh 24.65 24.65
6 Kate Douglass 24.54 24.54
7 Erika Brown 24.57 24.87
8 Olivia Smoliga 24.70 25.55

Dark Horse: Linnea Mack has had a banner 2020-2021 season thus far and has lowered her PBs in the 50 free (25.16), 100 free (53.78), 100 back (1:00.96), and 100 fly (58.48). While the back and fly times are solid, the freestyle swims made her one of the most recent names to watch in the women’s sprints at the upcoming Olympic Trials. Mack’s most impressive PB this season has been the 100 free where she went from a 54.87 PB from 2019 all the way down to that 53.78 in May 2021. If she can match or surpass that level of improvement in the 50 free, improving more upon her recent 25.16 PB Mack could be looking at an A final in the event later this month.

Wave I Standout: Camille Spink – For this preview, we have the benefit of being able to look at early results from Wave I of Olympic Trials including Camille Spink‘s 100 freestyle victory of 55.63 which was the only sub-56 swim in the field and a decent drop from her 56.01 entry time. While she was entered 6th originally in the 50, Spink has a bit more work to do in the 50 as 26th seed but if she can keep up the speed, Spink could be en route to adding a second event at Wave II.

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2 years ago

Douglass should be in third, not sixth.

2 years ago

5 more days and the fun begins

NC Fan
2 years ago

Comment section is sleeping on Torri who I’m putting in the top 2 with Weitzel barely out touching Manuel and Curzan. Really interested to see Claire perform at the senior level outside of North Carolina and the protective TAC envelope. She and Huske tied in the 50 head to head this Spring at TAC before Curzan’s 15M DQ a couple weeks before Claire’s solo record swim. Who knows how youth will respond, but head-to-head competition is very different from essentially time trialing or racing the boys.

Pacific Whirl
2 years ago

The champion will be Curzan. Given Douglass’s short course yards performance in recent reasons she is gonna be the second spot.

manoj ghimire
2 years ago

CurZan1st and Battle for 2nd spot manuel have better chance

2 years ago

… who have been under 25 before, though not since 2019.

2021 TYR Pro Swim Series – Richmond, VA
16 Jan 2021
Catie DeLoof – 24.80

2 years ago

Douglass – 24.54
Walsh – 24.65

Douglass rates ahead of Walsh. End of story.

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 years ago

It won’t be that slow lmao

Reply to  Hswimmer
2 years ago

I was comparing personal best times.

As for comparing times during the month of May:

Women’s 50 meter freestyle
Douglass – 24.54
Walsh – 25.30

Women’s 100 meter freestyle
Douglass – 54.30
Walsh – 55.09

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 years ago

May means nothing

Silent Observer
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 years ago

Speaking as someone who is a major taper swimmer. (Much like a Haas)

Times done before a rest/taper can mean next to nothing. No matter how close to the “big meet” it might have been.

So Walsh putting up 55 point swims is not indicative to her readiness or her speed potential.

2 years ago

Curzan, Manuel and Weitzeil will all be around 24.1 or 24.2. This race will come down to hundredths separating the top 3. I’m going with Manuel and Curzan too, they seem like pretty safe bets.
How much of a clutch swim can Manuel pull off? She will have to taper for this meet. She has been a bit off this season, but only about a tenth off where she was in season 2017 or 2018 (but 3 off where she was in 2019).
Curzan and Weitzeil are well established in this event, and they have been having really good seasons. The spots go to whoever peaks at this meet.