2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: The 50 Free Is Dressel’s Domain

2024 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

MEN’S 50 FREE — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record: 20.91 — Cesar Cielo (BRA), 2009
  • American Record: 21.04 — Caeleb Dressel, 2019 / 2021
  • U.S. Open Record: 21.04 — Caeleb Dressel (USA), 2021
  • World Junior Record: 21.75 — Michael Andrew (USA), 2017 / 2017
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Caeleb Dressel (USA), 21.07
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Caeleb Dressel, 21.04
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 22.79
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time: 21.96

Last season we saw eight American men go under the 22-second barrier in the 50 free, but there was one glaring name missing atop the heap.

Caeleb Dressel is still the defending Olympic champion and the fastest American in history by more than three tenths of a second, but his status as the favorite heading into the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials is up for debate.

IS DRESSEL STILL THE MAN TO BEAT?

Dressel made it look ridiculously easy en route to winning Olympic gold in the 50 free three years ago. He tied the American Record at the Olympic Trials, clocking 21.04 to finish a whopping 69 one-hundredths clear of the 3rd-place finisher. He then won the Olympic final over Florent Manaudou by a bigger margin (0.48) than he did over Michael Andrew (0.44) at the Trials.

Prior to those Trials when Dressel was on career-best form, his fastest in-season time was 21.82. In 2022, before going 21.29 at the International Team Trials, he was 21.86 in-season.

While working his way back from an extended hiatus last year, his fastest swim was 22.57 at the Atlanta Classic, ranking him 31st among Americans in 2022-23 after four straight as #1.

This season? On paper, he’s back. Dressel’s season-best in 2023-24 stands at 21.84, right on par with where he was the two previous years before his break from the sport.

Dressel was 21.99 in November, 21.84 in March and then 21.85 in April. All signs point to him ripping something under 21.5 and comfortably qualifying for the Olympic team in this event.

We’ll have a good gauge of where Dressel is by the time the 50 free kicks off on Thursday, with the 100 free being his first race on the schedule with the final on Wednesday night. However, even at his best he should have a tight race in the 100 free, while in the 50, it should be relatively clear-cut if he’s on.

ANDREW, ALEXY & ARIZONA (STATE)

Any talk about Michael Andrew and his lack of consistency doesn’t usually involve in the 50 free, as the 25-year-old has represented the United States in the event in five of the last six major international meets (including the 2018 Pan Pacs), winning silver at the 2022 World Championships and placing 4th at both the 2021 Olympics and 2024 Worlds.

At last year’s Nationals when he missed the Worlds team for the first time since 2017, Andrew was still on form in the sprints and took 3rd in the 50 free, finishing .01 shy of runner-up Jack Alexy.

Andrew has already been under 22 seconds eight times this season, and has as good a case as anyone to qualify for the Olympics in this event.

Alexy’s rapid rise to the top of the U.S. in the sprint freestyle events started at Nationals, but really took off at the World Championships in Fukuoka, following up his silver medal in the 100 free with another in the 50 free, setting a new lifetime best of 21.57.

Alexy has proven he can execute his optimal performance when all the chips are down. Outside of the Games, it doesn’t bigger than the U.S. Olympic Trials, so the pressure shouldn’t affect him.

Sitting atop the U.S. rankings in each of the past two seasons is Ryan Held, who set a lifetime best of 21.50 at last year’s National Championships.

He placed 5th at the World Championships (21.72) and has been back on form this season, ripping a time of 21.68 in April.

The 28-year-old leads a massive group of swimmers training out of Arizona State who will contest the men’s 50 free at Trials.

The other ASU product holding a top eight seed is Jonny Kulow, who was 5th at the 2023 Nationals in 21.87, ranking him #3 all-time in the boys’ 17-18 age group. After another impressive college season, making the ‘A’ final of the 50 free at NCAAs, Kulow has picked up right where he left off in long course, clocking 21.89 at the San Antonio Pro Swim to rank 6th in the nation.

2023-24 U.S. Rankings, Men’s 50 Freestyle (LCM)

  1. Ryan Held, 21.68 – 2024 PSS San Antonio
  2. Michael Andrew, 21.71 – 2024 World Championships
  3. Caeleb Dressel, 21.84 – 2024 PSS Westmont
  4. David Curtiss, 21.85 – 2023 Pan Am Games
  5. Jack Alexy, 21.86 – 2024 PSS Westmont
  6. Jonny Kulow, 21.89 – 2024 PSS San Antonio
  7. Quintin McCarty, 21.94 – 2023 U.S. Open
  8. Matt King, 21.99 – 2024 World Championships
  9. Brooks Curry, 22.03 – 2023 U.S. Open
  10. Hunter Armstrong, 22.12 – 2023 U.S. Open

ASU’s Jack Dolan (22.12), Jack Schuster (22.22) and Patrick Sammon (22.41) also hold top-24 seeds in the 50 free.

Dolan swam that time at the PSS stop in San Antonio, tying him for 10th this season in the nation.

THE OTHER 21S

The lone swimmer we’ve yet to mention who has broken 22 seconds in each of the last four seasons is David Curtiss, who got some experience in the 2021 Olympic Trials final and had a big international victory last October with a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in 21.85.

Curtiss’ fastest swim at a selection meet is 21.89, done en route to 6th place at the 2023 Nationals. His PB of 21.76 stems from a 2022 PSS meet. Having left NC State and moving to train with the TAC Titans, Curtiss’ ability to churn out 21s has not gone away, making him a likely member of the championship final in Indianapolis.

Matt King, who like Curtiss, stopped competing in the NCAA (though he’s returning next season) and headed elsewhere to dial in on long course training, working with Coley Stickels at Texas Ford Aquatics.

King set a PB of 21.83 at the 2022 Summer Nationals and brought that mark down to 21.80 at last year’s selection meet, placing 4th. He got some international experience at the 2024 World Championships, placing 14th in 21.99.

Like Curtiss, we expect to see King in the final, but they’ll both need to drop a few tenths and get into the 21-mid range to have a chance at a roster spot.

Brooks Curry and Chris Guiliano, both 100 free specialists, are also both strong candidates for the final, with Curry hitting 21-point in 2022 and 2023 and Guiliano doing so for the first time last summer.

Guiliano is also coming off a big short course season that included dropping his 50 SCY time from 18.88 to 18.43.

NC State’s Quintin McCarty is coming off an impressive redshirt freshman year that included a big PB of 21.94 in long course, done at the U.S. Open at the end of November. Most recently, he went 22.25 at the NC WAVE Sprint meet in late April.

OTHER CONTENDERS

Drew Kibler, who was training at Arizona State up until recently when Bob Bowman moved to Texas, was in the ‘A’ final last year at Nationals, while Florida’s Adam Chaney won the consolation final in 22.04.

Chaney set a PB of 22.00 at the 2021 Olympic Trials, so he’s proven he can step up when it counts.

Hunter Armstrong is the other name to keep an eye on. He’ll be more focused on the 100 back and 100 free next week, but with the 50 free coming at the end of the program, he’s an ‘A’ final threat after clocking 22.12 at the U.S. Open and owning a best time of 22.00 from the 2022 Trials.

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

PLACE SWIMMER SEASON BEST
LIFETIME BEST
1 Caeleb Dressel 21.84 21.04
2 Jack Alexy 21.86 21.57
3 Michael Andrew 21.71 21.41
4 Ryan Held 21.68 21.50
5 Matt King 21.99 21.80
6 Jonny Kulow 21.89 21.87
7 David Curtiss 21.85 21.76
8 Brooks Curry 22.03 21.84

Dark Horse: August Lamb – Virginia’s Lamb owns a best time of 22.23 from March of 2021, but is coming off producing his fastest swim in three years earlier this month at the NCAP Elite Qualifier (22.31). Lamb earned a semi-finals berth at the 2021 Olympic Trials, and he’s rounding back into the type of form that can get him there again.

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Swimdad
1 month ago

Until he gets beaten in a high profile meet, Dressel will always be my pick. 21.8 despite a faulty block is ridiculous btw.

MA is my pick for sec. Gotta pick a pure sprinter for the pure sprint event.

Dylan
1 month ago

The Alexy and Dressel glazing continues…

postgrad swimmer
Reply to  Dylan
1 month ago

Reigning olympic champ deserves all the glaze

Steve Nolan
Reply to  postgrad swimmer
1 month ago

And Alexy won two silvers at Worlds, so. Also not that bad.

Andrew
1 month ago

David Curtiss is extremely washed

Sam
Reply to  Andrew
1 month ago

You’ve got to be pretty washed to be throwing shade at someone who is no doubt trying to do the best he can.

Nick B
1 month ago

Margin for error is so slim in this event. Making the team in the 50 will be difficult. I think Dressel & Alexy get there, but Alexy might get there first.

Lisa
Reply to  Nick B
1 month ago

Maybe but Dressel is probably has the best start and he is really good when it comes to getting to the wall first in a close race.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lisa
Nick B
Reply to  Lisa
1 month ago

I’m assuming Alexy has improved his start and breakout, which was a significant issue last year. If that is the case, Dressel could lose that race. I don’t see Dressel getting to his prior PB form or slightly slower.

We’ll see. It’s an interesting race.

Excalibur
Reply to  Nick B
1 month ago

I also sense Alexi + Dresses will get the spots but not in which order

Nick B
Reply to  Excalibur
1 month ago

I’ll make sure to watch that race. Although I’m picking those two, and I may have sounded confident in writing, my actual confidence level actually is not 100%. Just one little error……

Coach Sinner
1 month ago

Santo

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Those finals picks feel too “chalk” for me. Of those, I feel like King, Curtiss and Curry might be outside the top 8.

Diehard
1 month ago

I don’t have good David Curtiss vibes for doing much this week.

RealCrocker5040
Reply to  Diehard
1 month ago

He’s turned off since summer 2022 sadly

RealCrocker5040
1 month ago

American Men that have broken 22 FLAT START since Tokyo

Caeleb Dressel
Jack Alexy
Ryan Held
COACH PETER ANDREW
Matt King
Quintin McCarty
Chris Guiliano
Brooks Curry
Jonny Kulow
David Curtiss
(Santo doesn’t count because he’s trying to represent every country on the planet and cannot choose one)

Dolan and Armstrong have also been sneaking around the 22-low area so you never know

Depth in this event like the 100 is insane and we could see the entire A final go sub 22

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  RealCrocker5040
1 month ago

I honestly think depth gets used improperly. I consider us deep in the women’s 100/200 backstroke because we have so many medal contenders who will be left home. I don’t know if everyone in that group can seriously contend for a medal.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  RealSlimThomas
1 month ago

That depends on the criteria, such as the number of swimmers under the OQT in the final of the event.

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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