2023 U.S. Trials Previews: Does The Dressel Dominance Continue In Men’s 50 Free?



  • World Record: 20.91, Cesar Cielo (BRA) – 2009 Brazilian Championships
  • American Record: 21.04, Caeleb Dressel – 2019 World Championships / 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials
  • U.S. Open Record:  21.04, Caeleb Dressel – 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials
  • 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Winner: Caeleb Dressel, 21.29
  • World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut: 22.12

The men’s 50 freestyle has been dominated domestically over the last five years by Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew, and it will take a breakthrough swim for someone to snap their stranglehold on the event if both turn up in top form in Indianapolis.


After Dressel broke out on the international stage in the 50 free in 2017, winning the world title in what was the fastest textile swim in history at the time (21.15), Andrew burst onto the scene in 2018, topping Dressel at both U.S. Nationals and the Pan Pacific Championships to win gold.

They’ve been atop the heap since then, not only in the U.S., but they’ve also been among the world’s best, with Dressel winning the world title in 2019 and Olympic gold in 2021, while Andrew was sixth at the 2019 World Championships and fourth at the Tokyo Olympics.

Last year, Dressel won U.S. Trials in 21.29—a time no other American has ever been faster than—and Andrew touched second in 21.45, nearly four-tenths clear of the rest of the field.

At Worlds, after Dressel withdrew from the competition, Andrew established a new personal best time of 21.41 to win silver, giving him five career swims sub-21.5.

The 24-year-old Andrew is also the fastest American this season in 21.74, faster than the PB of everyone in the field outside of Dressel and Ryan Held, making him a clear pick for the top two.

The same goes for Dressel, should he be on form.

The two-time world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist owns a season-best of 22.57 from the Atlanta Classic in May, but with a staggering 29 sub-22 swims in his career, it’s difficult to see him not getting his hand on the wall in one of the top two positions.


Just as Dressel and Andrew took over from the previous regime of Nathan AdrianCullen Jones and Anthony Ervin throughout the last decade, the cast of characters nipping at the heels of the top guys has also undergone some change, they’ve just flown a little bit under the radar given the dominance of the two stars.

David Curtiss is a pure 50 freestyler who first broke 22 seconds at the age of 17, ripping a time of 21.95 at the 2019 World Juniors, and he’s now been under the marker 10 times throughout his career, peaking with a 21.76 at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim last year.

That came after he tied for fifth at U.S. Trials in 22.00 just over one month prior, where he and all the other NCAA athletes didn’t have much prep time prior to the selection meet coming off the collegiate season. This time around, there are two additional months to hone in on long course, and Curtiss is someone who has been able to really dial in his 50 in the big pool.

He’s coming off a solid sophomore year at NC State that included an 18.2 relay split and four sub-19 swims in the SCY 50 free, and more importantly, has already broken 22 in long course twice this season (21.92 in December, 21.97 in January).

Along with Curtiss, two other college-aged swimmers who have started to crank out multiple 21-second swims are Brooks Curry and Matt King.

Curry followed up his Olympic experience in 2021 (400 free relay) by qualifying to represent the U.S. individually on the world stage last summer in the 100 free, placing fifth in the World Championship final.

In the 50 free, the LSU star was third at the 2022 Trials in a personal best time of 21.84 (breaking 22 for the first in the prelims at 21.91), and he’s already matched that this season, clocking 21.84 at the Tristan Vessel Invitational just two weeks ago.

King broke out at last summer’s national championships, cracking 22 seconds for the first time in the 50 free prelims (21.95) before getting down to 21.83 in the final.

After sitting out of the second half of the collegiate season and taking an extended break from training due to a family matter, King has had no trouble returning to top form this season, putting up a 21.97 swim in early June.

Now training at Texas Ford Aquatics, King is all-in on long course for the time being—he’s considering taking an Olympic redshirt next season in the NCAA—and after he hit a best time two weeks out of Nationals last year (22.36) and then dropped half a second, we should expect he’ll set another PB in Indy with a 21-mid swim within reach. The question then becomes if that’s enough to usurp Dressel or Andrew.


Ryan Held‘s bread and butter has predominantly been in the 100 free throughout his career, but he’s capable of some blazing-fast 50s.

Held went a PB of 21.62 in April 2021, though he wasn’t able to back it up at the Olympic Trials, and had the second-fastest swim of his life in last year’s Trials final, placing fourth in 21.85.

The training at Arizona State seems to be working for the NC State grad, as he was 22.10 earlier this month at the Sun Devil Open and appears poised to be back in the 21s this week.

Justin Ress is a real speedster—the 50 back world champion has been flirting with the upper echelon of the U.S. freestyle sprinting scene throughout his career, though he’s generally recognized for his backstroke accomplishments.

Ress executed a big-time drop to qualify for the American 400 free relay at last summer’s World Championships, and had the second-fastest swim of his career in the 50, 22.01, to place second to King at U.S. Nationals.

At the 2022 Trials he scratched the 50 free final after qualifying in eighth, so it’s fair to surmise that the event is fourth on his priority list behind the 50 back, 100 back and 100 free, but he’s still a threat. Ress has been under 22 seconds once, clocking 21.91 at the Olympic Trials two years ago.


There’s a wide array of swimmers right on the cusp of the 22-second barrier who will have a good chance of breaking through in Indianapolis.

Hunter Armstrong (22.00) and Jack Alexy (22.13) were finalists last year and set personal bests in the final, and Alexy has reset his PB down to 22.09 this season.

On top of that, Alexy’s coming off a standout NCAA campaign at Cal, including bringing his 50 time in the short course pool down from 19.2 to 18.7, and is a popular pick by many to make the Worlds team in the 400 free relay.

Armstrong is also a favorite to qualify in the sprint backstroke events (and perhaps the relay as well), but his 22-flat from last year puts him in the mix here even if it isn’t a primary focus.

Adam Chaney was fifth at the 2021 Olympic Trials in 22.08, but missed the ‘A’ final last year and placed 12th (22.68). He is coming off setting a PB of 18.71 this past season in yards, which also made him the fastest American in the NCAA in 2022-23.

Chaney’s University of Florida teammate Macguire McDuff is another breakout candidate after a big NCAA season, having hit a best time of 22.42 in May after taking 13th last year.

ASU’s Jack Dolan went a best of 22.14 at Summer Nationals last year and has been 22.4 this year, and his training mate Jonny Kulow has been on fire all year and blasted a PB of 22.27 at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim just one month ago.

University of Virginia sprinters Connor Boyle and Jack Aikins, up-and-coming youngsters Diggory Dillingham and Kaii Winkler, and 200 free specialist Drew Kibler are some others who have been in the 22.1 to 22.4 range and will be seeking an ‘A’ final berth.


1 Caeleb Dressel 22.57 21.04
2 Michael Andrew 21.74 21.41
3 Brooks Curry 21.84 21.84
4 Matt King 21.97 21.83
5 Jack Alexy 22.09 22.09
6 Ryan Held 22.10 21.62
7 David Curtiss 21.92 21.76
8 Jonny Kulow 22.27 22.27

Dark Horse: Jack Armstrong – The NCAA Division II runner-up in this event in March, Armstrong is coming off setting a lifetime best of 22.36 in May, and having committed to represent the U.S. at the World University Games, he can swim perhaps a bit more freely than others without Worlds selection on his mind.

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5 months ago

Winkler ain’t swimming. Pulled out

5 months ago

….. should he be on form. That is the question.

The aforementioned question makes the pick ’em contest alot tougher.

Last edited 5 months ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
5 months ago

This is the only event where MA is consistent enough to say he is the favourite (only because Dressel isnt at his best but still).

5 months ago

4-7 should be Held-Curtiss-King-Alexy

Popo(veni vidi)vici
5 months ago

Will be interesting to see how fast prelims will be to earn a spot in that A-final

WV Swammer
5 months ago

I think this is one event where Dressel will be closest to form:

  1. Andrew – 21.48
  2. Dressel – 21.66
  3. Curry – 21.73
  4. Held – 21.87
  5. King – 21.90
  6. Curtiss – 21.94
  7. Alexy- 21.99
  8. Chaney – 22.10
Reply to  WV Swammer
5 months ago

That seems fast to me. I don’t see 7 guys under 22sec in the final. Andrew wins in 21.5. 2nd place is 21.7 or 21.8 tbd

Reply to  WV Swammer
5 months ago

7 sub-22 swims. That would be fun to watch.

5 months ago

Caeleb has a 21.4 in him and wins trials

5 months ago

Michael Andrew will take it this time. He’s in form.

Reply to  Hank
5 months ago

I agree he will take it, but I would argue it is because Dressel is “out of form”.

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
5 months ago

He has been developing a new straightarm stroke. I see on their IG that it is fast and improving. If he is even as fast as Mare Nostrum it may be enough here as I don’t see 2 other guys going under 21.8

Reply to  Hank
5 months ago

I could definitely see 2 other guys going under 21.8.

I ultimately agree that I think Andrew is the favorite and will make the team, but there are so many guys knocking on that 21.8 door right now, it could get very crowded.

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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