2023 World Champs Preview: Wide Open Field in Men’s 50 Fly With Past Medalists Missing


By the Numbers – Men’s 50 Butterfly

With the entire 50-meter butterfly podium from last year’s World Championships missing from this year’s edition in Fukuoka, Japan, the field is wide open and a number of swimmers could nab the gold here.

Photo Fabio Cetti

At the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, the podium consisted of Caeleb Dressel, Nicholas Santos, and Michael Andrew. Dressel wound up leaving the meet early due to personal reasons, took months off, and has only recently returned to competition, placing 3rd at U.S. Trials and not making the 2023 team. Santos retired after winning gold at the 2022 Short Course World Champs and Andrew did not make the U.S. team due to roster constraints.

The same lack of returning medalists rings true when looking at the 2019 World Champs. Dressel and Santos won the gold and bronze, respectively, and the silver medalist Oleg Kostin is ineligible to compete due to the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

In fact, you have to go back six years to 2017 to find a World Championships medalist entered in this year’s 50 fly. At those championships in Budapest, Great Britain’s Ben Proud won the gold and Ukraine’s Andriy Govorov took bronze.

Thomas, the Backstroke Engine

Second in the world rankings, but first among competing swimmers, is 100-back world record holder Thomas Ceccon. Perhaps better known for his backstroke prowess and his speed in both the freestyle and medley relays, the Italian’s season-best time of in the 50 fly of 22.84 hails from a 1st place finish at the Sette Colli Trophy a few weeks ago. Ceccon’s personal best of 22.79 stands as the national record and was set in the semi-finals of the 50 fly at the 2022 Worlds. His time in the finals was a little slower, 22.86,  and placed him 5th when the dust settled. The .07 difference may have been a result of luck or possibly because two events before he set the Italian national record in the 100 back (52.12). He later obliterated that time in the finals, where he swam 51.60 and set a new world record.

Ceccon’s 50 fly season best of 22.84 stands faster than his time from the finals last year, 22.86, and is faster than his European gold-winning time of 22.89, meaning he has positioned himself very well to be near the top of the field.

I Love Fifties

Hoping to return to the final of the 50 fly are a quartet of swimmers best known for their 50 speed.

(photo: Mike Lewis)

The aforementioned Ben Proud will look to improve upon what could only be considered a disappointing 7th-place finish in the final last summer. His time of 23.08 was equal to the time he swam in prelims and was more than .3 slower than his semifinal time (22.76), which would have won silver in the final.

The 2017 gold medalist in this event has a season best of 23.37, a time that does not crack the top 25 rankings and could be cause for concern. He posted that time at the British Swimming Championships, placing 2nd in the final. However, knowing that his nation’s selection criteria does not take into account non-Olympic events, Proud may not have put all of his efforts into the 50 fly, especially considering that he swam 21.71 in the 50 free, a time that ranked him 6th in the world (he has since swum 21.68, which still ranks 6th)

The 2017 bronze medalist and current world record holder, Andriy Govorov, also has a penchant for the 50s. Perhaps due to the obstacles, both mental and physical in dealing with the Russian invasion of his country, Govorov has not been in great form of late. He finished 14th (23.31) at the 2022 Worlds, 6th (23.18) at the 2022 European Championships, and 29th (22.92) at the SCM World Champs. His season best of 23.40, like Proud’s, sits outside of the top 25, and he failed to make the A-final recently at the Sette Colli Trophy.

50 Fly WR Szabo Szebasztian

Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Placing 2nd in that A-final at Sette Colli (23.13) was Hungary’s Szebasztian Szabo. The world record holder in this event in the short course pool, Szabo finished 5th in this final at last year’s Worlds. Like Proud and Ceccon, his semifinal time of 22.91 was slower than the 23.01 he put up in the final. Currently ranked 5th in the world with a time of 22.93, Szabo is just off his personal best of 22.90 and stands in good position to final again.

The last of the 50 specialists looking to return to the final is Trinidad and Tobago’s Dylan Carter. Carter is the highest-placed returner from last year’s final, where he finished 4th in a national record of 22.85. This season, Carter has a best time of 23.05 from the prelims of the AP International Swim Meet held in London this past May. In the finals, he swam a 23.21, and a few weeks later won gold at the CAC Games in 23.32.

The Americans

Without Dressel or Andrew in the field, the U.S. will be looking for new blood to represent the stars and stripes. Taking on that mantle are Dare Rose and Shaine Casas, who both entered the event despite not winning it at US trials. Rose placed 2nd at Trials in 23.20 but set a personal best of 23.16 during the prelims, a time that ranks amongst the top 15 in the world. Casas on the other hand did not swim the 50 at Trials and qualified for the 50 fly via his 23.31 split from a 100 fly he swam at the 2022 Summer Nationals. Casas’s season best is 23.46 from the Westmont Pro Swim Series.

While both have times in a similar range to those mentioned above, it would likely take best times from either of them to make the final. Santos’s 23.04 was 8th after the semis in 2022.

The Young and the Restless

With the field wide open due to the aforementioned absences there is a large crop of young sprinters looking to claim a spot on the podium.

Leading the pack with the 4th fastest time this season is Great Britain’s Jacob Peters. His time of 22.89 placed 1st at the British Swimming Championships, a meet where he also placed first in the 100 fly (51.16). Since that swim, however, Peters has posted times of 23.63, 23.95, and 23.72 at meets in Canet, Barcelona, and Rome. Peters will need to regain that speed from April if he is to try to stay ahead of his fellow youthful competition.

Photo Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

The junior world record holder, Portugal’s Diogo Ribeiro, currently sits just .03 behind Rose in the world rankings with a time of 23.19. Ribeiro had a breakout summer last year: He won gold at the Mediterranean Games in a time of 23.38, earned bronze at the European Championships in 23.07, and won gold at the World Junior Championships in a world junior record of 22.96.

After having a breakout double individual bronze medal effort at the 2022 Worlds and adding gold and bronze to his trophy case from the Commonwealth Games, Canada’s Josh Liendo set his sights upon the NCAA. In his first year with Florida, he won an individual title in the 100 free and 3 relay titles at the NCAA Championships. After that meet, a few weeks later he set new national LCM records in both the 50 fly (23.27) and 100 fly (50.36).

Breaking Through

Hoping to not be surpassed by that talented crop of youngsters are a group of swimmers just outside of real contention last summer, but due to several absences and improvements on their end may find themselves in advantageous positions.

Maxime Grousset courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Finishing 9th in the semifinals last year was France’s Maxime Grousset. The 2022 Worlds silver medalist in the 100 free and bronze medalist in the 50 free went on to the European Championships later that summer where he earned a silver in 50 fly (22.97) behind only Ceccon. At Short Course Worlds, he was part of the team that broke the 4×50 mixed freestyle Relay record, splitting 20.92. This year, he won the 50 fly at the French Nationals in 23.06, a meet where he also set a new French record of 50.61 in the 100 fly, all while sporting a mustache.

Finishing one spot behind Grousset in that semifinal was Nyls Korstanje in a time of 23.14. The Dutchman has a best time of 22.88 from the semifinals of the 2022 European Championships. While that time represented a national record and was the top time heading into the finals, he ultimately finished in 23.10, which was good for 4th. This season, Korstanje’s best is 23.36 from the Sette Colli Trophy, a time that will need to drop significantly if he desires to make the final.

Cameron McEvoy, courtesy of Swimming Australia/Delly Carr

While he beat out Grousset and Korstanje to make the finals of the 50 fly in 2022 (finishing 8th in 23.29), Singapore’s Teong Tzen Wei has had a rough time since. Despite winning the silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in 23.21, the time would not have made it out of the semi-finals at Worlds. This season at the SEA Games in May, he placed 2nd behind his compatriot Mikkel Lee Jun Jie in a time of 23.67.

Trying to break through into the butterfly sprinting world is Australia’s Cameron McEvoy. The 23.08 he swam in prelims and the 23.07 at finals from the 2023 Australian World Championships Trials represented his first personal bests in over seven years. The three-time Olympic medalist currently ranks in the world’s top 15 in the 50 fly and with his equally impressive time drops in the 50 free, McEvoy could easily be in the mix for the medals.

Home hopes rest in Takeshi Kawamoto who swam 23.13 at the Japanese Trials Meets, a time that ranks him in the top 15 in the world and represents a new personal best and national record. Kawamoto has previously announced his intentions to retire after the 2024 Olympics.

Games of Finals

Based on the times this season and the lack of returning medalists, the eight spots in the final could realistically go to any number of swimmers in the top 25 of the world rankings. Of those listed above, Govorov, Casas, and Teong seem to be the three with the smallest chances of making the final. Govorov and Teong have had questionable form and Casas had an off Trials. On the flip side, while Peters posted the 4th-fastest time in the year in April, he has not come close to equaling that mark in subsequent swims. However it works out, it will be very interesting to see if Peters can replicate his form from April and if Casas can put together a fast-rested 50.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Swimmer Personal Best Season Best
1 Thomas Ceccon (ITA) 22.79 22.84
2 Ben Proud (GBR) 22.75 23.37
3 Maxime Grousset (FRA) 22.90 23.06
4 Dylan Carter (TTO) 22.85 23.05
5 Szebasztian Szabo (HUN) 22.90 22.93
6 Cameron McEvoy (AUS) 23.07 23.07
7 Diogo Ribeiro (POR) 22.92 23.19
8 Takeshi Kawamoto (JPN) 23.13 23.13

Dark Horse: Noe Ponti, Switzerland –  The bronze medalist in the 100 fly at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, Ponti enters the race ranked 19th in the world this season. His time of 23.24 hails from the Monaco stop of the Mare Nostrum Tour, where he finished 3rd to Ceccon and Andrew in the penultimate round of the 50 fly skins. A few weeks later at Sette Colli, he nearly equaled his season-best time (23.27), finishing 3rd again behind Ceccon and Szabo. Ponti holds a personal best of 23.04 from the prelims of the 2022 Worlds but finished a disappointing 13th in the semi-finals (23.29). 

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1 year ago

So TV shows this time, Mark?

1 year ago

Szabo sneaks on podium just out touching Grousset

Also, Govorov’s WR here is pretty underrated. Nobody touching that for the next 5 years imo

1 year ago

The 100 back semi is on the same day as 50 Butterfly final? If thats the case I think Carter wins gold,  Nyls Korstanje silver and Ribeiro Bronze.

Scuncan Dott v2
1 year ago

Ceccon, Szabo, Carter are my picks for the medals, with Grousset just missing out.

Scuncan Dott v2
1 year ago

I honestly think that Peters is the more likely GB swimmer to medal in the 50 Fly. Proud has been focusing on the 50 Free a lot more the last few years and I’m not worried about Peters swimming slow at the mare Nostrum series after his 22.89 at trials – he trains at Bath where they are notorious for being slow in-season.

Alison England
Reply to  Scuncan Dott v2
1 year ago

Good point. Surprising to not see him on the list of potential finalists.

1 year ago

🥉See explanation below
I think Ribiero is going have a great meet, and heard on a podcast recently that Proud hasn’t taken a stroke of fly in training since Worlds last year. If this is true, I lean Ribiero for bronze. If not, Proud is the clear bronze pick.

Reply to  Wow
1 year ago


Alison England
1 year ago

Ceccon Gold. Proud Bronze.

Reply to  Alison England
1 year ago

Not awarding Silver?

Alison England
Reply to  mds
1 year ago

Perhaps Jacob Peters.