Ryan Held is a 2016 Olympic champion in the 400 free relay and 6x short course world champion.
Held is a sprint freestyle and butterfly specialist from Springfield, Illinois. He qualified for his first Olympic Games at the 2016 U.S Olympic Trials in a close-fought 100 meter freestyle.
Held attended Sacred Heart-Griffin High School where he was a multiple-time state champion and record breaker. In his senior year, 2014, he was named Illinois State Swimmer of the Year.
North Carolina State University
Held took his sprinting talents to North Carolina State University, where he joined a team of successful sprinters.
As a freshman, Held was a big part of the Wolfpack’s relay success. He was a member of the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays that took the ACC Championship titles. At the NCAA Championships, he was a member of the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays that placed second to earn All-American honors. He was also named a second team All-American in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle.
At the 2016 NCAA Championships, Held helped NC State to its first-ever relay national title. The Wolfpack won the 400-yard freestyle relay and added silvers in the 200 and 800 relays. In his individual events, Held finished fourth in the 100 freestyle, 7th in the 50, and 9th in the 200.
At the 2017 NCAA Championships, Held earned seven out of seven All-American First Team honors while picking up a medal of each color.
Held and his Wolfpack teammates weren’t able to defend their national title in the 400-yard freestyle relay, finishing 7th. They did, however, race to victory in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Held got NC State out in front early with a leadoff split of 1:31.37. The rest of the team managed to sustain the lead to take the gold in a new NCAA, U.S. and American record of 6:06.53.
Held won his first individual NCAA medal with a silver in the 50-yard freestyle. He touched in 18.60 seconds, behind Florida’s Caeleb Dressel. His final medal came in the 100-yard freestyle: a bronze in 41.21 behind Dressel and Missouri’s Michael Chadwick.
His other All-American swims came in the 100-yard butterfly, where he finished fourth in 44.92, and a fourth and sixth place finish in the 200-yard freestyle and medley relays.
Held got things started off hot at the 2018 NCAA Championships. On Day 1, NC State roared to a new U.S. Open record in the 800 free relay, with Held going second (1:31.09).
On Day 2, he was a busy man, first leading off NC State’s second-place 200 free relay (18.56), then touching second individually in the 50 free (18.64), and finally taking fly duty on the second-place 400 medley relay (43.88). On Day 3, Held only had the 100 fly, in which he finished fifth (44.88).
On the final day, Held swam the 100 free four times. First in the prelims of the individual 100 free, then in the prelims of the 400 free relay, where the Wolfpack broke an NCAA record by becoming the first team to go 2:44. In finals, Held finished second in the 100 free (41.08) and then led off the 400 free relay (41.05) that broke his own team’s new American and NCAA record (2:44.31).
Held earned his first international call-up at the 2016 Olympic Games in the 400-meter freestyle relay, narrowly missing out on the individual spot. In a close-fought finish at the Trials, Held was coming back on Florida’s Caleb Dressel but the touch didn’t go his way. Held finished three one-hundredths of a second behind second place. His third-place finish was enough to earn him a spot on the relay in Rio.
2016 Rio Olympics
Making his international debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage, Held helped Team USA to a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay. The Olympic rookie took over from the most successful Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, for the third leg. Phelps and Caeleb Dressel combined to give Held a one-second head start on France, who hit the halfway mark in second place. Held’s split of 47.73 maintained the lead for the USA and Nathan Adrian sealed the win.
As the US national anthem played with Held and his teammates on top of the podium, Held couldn’t hold back his emotions. Tears streamed down his face as his hard work and Olympic champion dream were realized.
2017 World University Games
Held competed at the 2017 World Championship Trials in Indianapolis, his highest finish a heartbreaking seventh place in the 100 free, just one spot out from making the World Championship team. That finish did, however, yield him a roster spot on the 2017 World University Games.
On the first night of competition, Held got the ball rolling with teammates Maxime Rooney, Justin Ress, and Justin Lynch to take gold in the 4x100m free relay, where Held split 48.25. On Day 5, Held kept the gold coming with a win in the individual 100m freestyle, touching at 48.36, securing the victory by only .02.
He finished his meet by anchoring a dominating 400 medley relay to victory, splitting 47.84 to make it a perfect meet, going 3-for-3 in gold medals.
2018 Short Course World Championships
At 2018 Summer Nationals, Held placed eighth in the 100 freestyle, just outside of qualifying for any major international long course meets for the summer of 2018/2019. However, he did end up on the roster for the 2018 Short Course Worlds team, where Held took full advantage of the opportunity given. Held’s first swim was leading off the men’s 4×100 free relay in prelims, where he broke an American record in the 100 free.
He didn’t stop there, his swim earning him a spot on six more relay finals, including the 4×100 free (gold), mixed 4×50 free (gold), 4×50 free (gold), 4×200 free (4th), 4×50 medley (silver), and 4×100 medley (gold).
2019 Move to Bloomington, Subsequent move to Tuscaloosa
In early 2019, Held announced he was moving to Bloomington to train under Coley Stickels, as well as join friends Cody Miller and Blake Pieroni. However, when Stickels was announced as the new head coach at the University of Alabama in May, Held decided to follow his new coach to Tuscaloosa.
ISL – LA Current
On June 18, 2019, Ryan Held was announced as a member of the LA Current ISL team, headed by GM Lenny Krayzelburg.
2021 Olympic Trials
After an arduous training setup during the pandemic with Coley Stickels and Ali Khalafala, Held finally made it to his 2nd Olympic Trials, intent on qualifying for his 2nd Games. In the final of the 100 free on day 5, he placed 6th with a 48.46, well off his best but seemingly enough to book him a spot in Omaha.
However, as the meet unfolded, it was revealed that USA Swimming has a 12-Relay Only swimmer limit on the Olympic team, and Held was #13. As the meet concluded, that didn’t change and Held was ultimately left off the team.
2021 Move to Arizona State
After the Olympic Trials and taking time out of the pool, Held announced he’d be moving to Phoenix (originally for his fiance’s job) and training at Arizona State with Herbie Behm. Held discusses his reaction to narrowly missing the Olympic team and how the initial move to Arizona was for him in this podcast.
2021 Short Course World Championships
Once again, after missing a major long course team, Held was selected for the proceeding short course world championships. And once again, the sprint ace took full advantage.
In Abu Dhabi, Held earned 6 medals, including his first individual ones, 2 silvers in both the 50 and 100 free. He also earned gold in the 4×200 free and 4×50 medley relays, silver in the 4×100 medley relay, and bronze in the 4×100 free relay.
2022 World Championships
Similar to the 2018 SC World Champs when he got numerous opportunities as a relay-only swimmer, Held qualified for Team USA by placing 3rd in the 100 free at Trials and made the most of his opportunity.
On day 1 in Budapest, swam on the prelims of the 400 free relay, splitting 47.1 and earning a finals spot. In the final, swimming again in the 2nd spot, he split 46.99 (the first sub-47 split of his career) and helped USA dominate the heat en route to gold.
After Caeleb Dressel pulled out of the meet on Day 4, Held was called up to the mixed 400 free relay on day 7, where he led-off in 47.93 to help USA win silver.
On the final day of the meet, Held was called upon again to anchor the 400 medley relay, where he split 47.36 en route to another silver for USA.
2023 U.S. International Team Trials (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Held led the way through the 100 free prelims, throwing down a 47.63 in the penultimate heat. That was good for fifth in the world so far that year. It’s also faster than he went at the prior year’s World Championships and less than three-tenths from his shared U.S. Open and Championship record. In the finals, he added to go 48.08 and placed 5th in the final, just .1 seconds off an individual spot in Fukuoka.
Held was able to secure an individual spot in the 50 free. In the prelims, he posted a swift 21.65 before blazing a new personal best of 21.50 in the final to win. The swim makes him the #6 American ever and #2 globally for the season. Held also took on some stroke 50s. In the 50 back, he took 4th with a 24.66. In the 50 fly, he posted a 23.41 in prelims before adding and placing 6th in the finals.
2023 World Aquatics Championships (Fukuoka, Japan)
Held opened his meet with the 400 free relay final where he led off the US team. Held was quick off the blocks and 1st to the turn in 22.19 but faded towards the finish to a 48.16. The rest of the team helped the US to a bronze.
In his sole individual event, the 50 free, Held was in solid form. He advanced through prelims with a comfortable 21.91 that tied him 9th. In semis, he went the exact same 21.91 and again tied for 9th but Josh Liendo declined his spot in the finals so Held faced Vladyslav Bukhov in a swim-off for the final. In the swim-off, Held was out quickly and seemed to be well clear of Bukhov by the 15-meter mark but Bukhov clawed his way back and the two came to the wall together. In the end, it was held with a 21.68 who made the final. In the final, Held placed 5th in 21.72. His best time from 2023 trials would have won silver.