2023 World Champs Previews: A Dearth of Champions Ushers New Blood in the Men’s 100 Fly

2023 World Aquatics Championships

By The Numbers:

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Key Absences

Following the surprisingly close finish in the men’s 100 butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, the rematch between Caeleb Dressel and Kristof Milak at the 2022 World Championships–on Milak’s home turf in Budapest no less–was one of the most anticipated races of the meet. Dressel helped the USA to victory in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay and captured individual gold in the 50 fly, and then left the meet for undisclosed medical reasons following the prelims of the 100 freestyle, where he was the two-time defending world champion, as well as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion. Milak would go on to win the 100 fly in Budapest in a blistering 50.14, falling 0.46 short of his best from the Tokyo Games while still finishing 0.80 ahead of runner-up Naoki Mizunuma from Japan.

With their performances in Tokyo, Dressel (49.45) and Milak (49.68) are the two fastest performers of all time, respectively. Neither man, however, will swim at Worlds in Japan this summer. Dressel didn’t qualify for the US World Championships team, whereas Milak, despite swimming very well at the Hungarian National Championships, withdrew from Worlds to focus on his mental health.

Dressel was the World Champion in 2017 (49.86) and 2019 (49.66), as well as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Champion (49.45), while Milak was the 2022 World Champion (50.14). South African Chad le Clos won the LCM world title in 2013 and 2015, though with le Clos’ recent abdication from the World Championships, the field will be without a defending champion for the first time since 2001 when Australia’s Michael Klim, the 1998 World Champion missed the podium, while 2000 Olympic champion Lars Frolander claimed gold.

Team USA’s Michael Andrew, who placed 4th at Worlds last summer and filled in for Dressel on the men’s 400 medley relay, will not swim the 100 fly in Japan this summer either. Andrew captured gold in the 50 fly at US International Team Trials, but was not selected for the team in favor of relay-only swimmers. Andrew did not swim the 100 fly at US Trials–the winner of the 100 fly, Dare Rose, will instead get to swim the 50 fly at Worlds for the United States. Nonetheless, Andrew missed the podium by just 0.14 last summer, and finished the season tied for sixth in the world as far as season-best times go.

Major Medal Contenders

Canadian Josh Liendo enters the 2023 World Championships as the top seed with a 50.36 from Canadian Trials, making him the 5th-fastest performer all-time in the event. Last summer, Liendo captured bronze in the 100 fly with a 50.97, just 0.03 behind Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma. Liendo also placed 3rd in the 100 freestyle at Worlds in 2022. Liendo had an incredible freshman season at the University of Florida, capturing an individual title in the 100 freestyle to become the 2nd-fastest yards performer all-time in the event (40.26), behind only fellow Gator Caeleb Dressel, and also posted the fastest 100-yard butterfly relay split ever with a 42.91.

Naoki Mizunuma courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Reigning world silver medalist Naoki Mizunuma of Japan enters the competition with the 4th-fastest lifetime best (50.80). Mizunuma was slightly outdone by fellow countryman Katsuhiro Matsumoto at the 2023 Japan Swim, Japan’s Worlds Qualifier, where Matsumoto posted a 50.96 to Mizunuma’s 51.35. With a home crowd behind them, either–or both–men could get on the podium in Fukuoka, and Mizunuma’s Japanese Record from last summer (50.81) is certainly in danger.

France’s Maxime Grousset blasted a 50.61 in June at the French Elite Championships, erasing Mehdy Metella‘s 2019 French Record. Grousset climbed to 12th all-time with the swim and ranks as the 2nd-fastest in the world this year going into Worlds. Grousset will be a vital part of France’s relays in Fukuoka as well, which could allow for Leon Marchand to swim breaststroke on the medley relay–at both the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Championships (LCM), Marchand swam fly on the men’s 4 x 100 medley relay.

Team USA’s Dare Rose posted a 50.74 at US International Team Trials, rocketing up to 3rd in the world this year, becoming the 6th-fastest American all-time. Rose has been on the cusp of making a long course international team since last spring when he placed 4th in the 100 fly with a 51.40, which remained his best time until capturing gold in Indianapolis in June. Given that he’s already shaved 0.66 from his former lifetime best, any further improvements would be extraordinary. If Rose equals his time from US Trials, he is almost guaranteed a spot on the podium in Fukuoka.

Noe Ponti of Switzerland, the 2020 Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 fly, only placed 8th in the 100 fly at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, though he demonstrated the form he showed in Tokyo less than a month later at the European Championships in Rome, where he won silver in the 100 fly in a 50.87, falling just 0.13 shy of his Swiss Record from 2021.

The Rising Stars

22-year-old Tomer Frankel posted a new Israeli Record in the 100 fly in June at the Israeli Championships, putting up a 51.14 to take 0.65 off of fellow countryman Gal Cohen Groumi‘s national mark from the 2022 World Championships which had stood at 51.79 where Groumi placed 15th–Frankel, meanwhile, placed 16th in 51.83. Frankel has been on a hot streak in 2023: just two days prior to lowering the Israeli Record in the 100 fly, Frankel reset the National Record in the 100 freestyle with a 48.18. In March at the NCAA Championships representing the Indiana Hoosiers, Frankel placed 3rd in the 100-yard fly in 44.04, and helped IU to a runner-up finish in the 400 medley relay where he blasted a 43.70 fly split. Groumi will also represent Israel in the 100 fly in Fukuoka. Though Frankel has slightly outperformed Groumi throughout 2023, both men have the ability to shake things up in Fukuoka and put Israel in the conversation for a medal.

16-year-old Thomas Heilman has been one of the most sensational young swimmers to watch over the last four years, first making a name for himself when he broke Chas Morton’s legendary 11-12 National Age Group Record in the 100-yard butterfly. Heilman’s NAG Records are almost too many to mention, though his two most recent came at the 2023 US International Team Trials where he posted a 51.19 in the 100 fly and a 1:54.54 in the 200 fly. The former came as his second in one day, while the latter had belonged to Michael Phelps, which when set in 2001 was also a World Record. Heilman is currently set to enter the World Championships as the seventh seed overall. Whether Heilman lowers his new NAG Record again or not, if he can just make the A final, that will be a major accomplishment for such a young athlete. That said, given Heilman’s trajectory, it’s entirely reasonable that he could dip under the 51-second barrier and find himself in medal contention. The World Junior Record stands at 50.64, set by Kristof Milak in 2017. Heilman, as young as he is, has a great chance of taking this record down between now and February 2025.

Portugal’s Diogo Ribeiro and Canadian Ilya Kharun will enter the meet with the exact same time: 51.45. While Ribeiro veers more towards 50s and 100s, Kharun can also swim a world-class 200 fly and holds a personal best time of 1:54.49, the Canadian Record. Either man is a decent bet for a lane in the championship final, with both having recently ascended the world rankings so fiercely.

The Veterans

The two oldest men in the field will be Great Britain’s James Guy at 28 years old, and Italy’s Piero Codia, who turned 34 in April. Both men have personal bests of 50.6, though neither has been particularly close to that mark from a flat-start since 2019. Guy has consistently proven a clutch relay swimmer, though he may be outdone by the young talent in Fukuoka. Codia, meanwhile, enters with a 51.65, a time which is only slightly faster than the 51.73 he swam at Worlds in 2022 to place 14th.

Australia’s Matthew Temple blasted a 50.45 in June 2021, though he was about a half-second off that mark in Tokyo, tying for 5th with Jakub Majerski of Poland. Temple and Majerski deepen the field in terms of men who have been under 51 seconds in their careers, which is what it will likely take to get on the podium this summer. Temple’s season-best stands at 51.35, while Majerski’s is 51.49.

Other 51-lows

Going 50-point in the 100 fly LCM is a magical barrier, so anytime some dips under 51.5, it’s tempting to imagine them shaving off those final tenths of a second to get sub-51. Most years, at least one 51-second performer makes the podium, though that trend was bucked, potentially for good, in 2017.

Great Britain’s Jacob Peters (51.16), Austrian Simon Bucher (51.20), and China’s Wang Changhao (51.45) are all easily in contention for a semifinal swim, and could ascend to the championship final if, in the case of Peters and Bucher, they at least equal their lifetime best, and for Changhao, drop a few tenths. Dutchman Nyls Korstanje has also put up a 51.49 this season, which, based on the results from 2022, should get him into the semis, though he, like Changhao, will need to improve upon that time by at least a few tenths to get into the championship final.

SwimSwam’s Top-8 Predictions

Rank Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Josh Liendo CAN 50.36 50.36
2 Dare Rose USA 50.74 50.74
3 Noe Ponti SUI 51.28 50.74
4 Maxime Grousset FRA 50.61 50.61
5 Naoki Mizunuma JPN 51.35 50.81
6 Tomer Frankel ISR 51.14 51.14
7 Thomas Heilman USA 51.19 51.19
8 Jacob Peters GBR 51.16 51.16

Dark Horse: Hubert Kos, Hungary Kos was 51.33 at the European Championships last summer, just missing the podium and finishing in 4th. Without Milak, Kos is Hungary’s best chance at a medal in the 100 fly in Japan this summer. Kos had a stellar NCAA season swimming for Bob Bowman at Arizona State, though he focused mostly on IM and backstroke in the yards pool. Kos may not be the most talked about Sun Devil competing in Tokyo, but could leave the competition with at least one appearance in a championship final. Kos’ season best stands at 52.15 from the Sun Devil Open in early June, outside of the top-25 performers in the world for 2023.

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4 months ago

Can you explain the Ponti pick? Slower PB and much slower season best than Grousset. I don’t expect picks just to be made off times but there’s no explanation of the pick at all and it doesn’t really make sense lol.

4 months ago

Today my father asked me to clean his car for him, and so I spent the whole morning doing it. 
After sometime, I went back inside, and my father asked me how was the car looking.
“Dressel” I just replied.
He just smiled and nodded. He knew that it was washed.

Reply to  Tom
4 months ago

I don’t think he’s washed, but I had a laugh

4 months ago

Bit of a hot take but I think it’s going to take a sub 51 to make finals and possibly sub 51.5 to make semis.

Reply to  PFA
4 months ago

And I think Liendo’s going 46.

Reply to  Noah
4 months ago

In the 100 fly?

Dangerous kickboard
Reply to  PFA
4 months ago

I think that this is a very good point because Liendo will create such a huge draft that the whole heat goes sub 51.

Thamos Hailmen
4 months ago

Yo, swimswam is sleeping on grousset. This dude is a medal contender in the 100 fly , 100 free and 50 fly. He always improve on his PB in every international competition

4 months ago

Wow, it seems like it’s been awhile since a Canadian man was projected to win a WC event. Good luck Josh!

4 months ago

I see Liendo adding from seed and finishing 3rd behind Grousset and Ponti. Grousset looked great at French trials and has been very consistent internationally over the past few years, I think he’s gonna have a great meet. 50.3 is a phenomal time but I just don’t believe in Liendo yet. He’s gotta get down to 50.low a few more times, and he isn’t always consistent at holding seed.

PS. Ik this isn’t relevant anymore but some of the commenters picking Liendo over Milak blew my mind

Reply to  Swammer
4 months ago

On your PS: his 50.36 from Canadian trials was rather impressive. But yeah, I agree lol.

4 months ago

Grousset is a gold contenter and at least a probable medalist.

He had absolutely no competition at French trials and still went faster than the americans who had to taper and race as fast as they could to make the team

Reply to  CasualSwimmer
4 months ago

Oh yea only the Americans are tapered. Nobody else is ever tapered. You’re out of your mind if you don’t think Grousset was fully rested and tapered at trials.

4 months ago

Liendo will win this, UF will keep dominance in 100 fly whether its Liendo, Dressel, or both (and hopefully in Paris it will be). My prediction is…

Liendo 49.94 (I really want him to break 50)
Rose 50.4
Grousset 50.5

I was torn for Rose and Grousset, I can see it going both ways but I do think they both get on the podium rather than Ponti mainly because of times they’ve put up this season.

Really hope Heilman does well, he’s amazing and I hope he stuns us again in Fukuoka.

Liendo for the win. Go Gators.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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