Roadmaps 2.0 – Mapping International Swim Stars: Men’s 50 Free

In our new series, Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars, we will explore how modern-day Olympians climbed their way to the top, starting from as early as 8 years old all the way to their elite level today. In Roadmaps 2.0, we are expanding to international swim stars.

When swimming the 50 free, you face a really tough question: how fast can you swim? Some Olympians can train years for their moment, but must fight among hundreds of others doing the same thing. Over the years in this event, there have been many men who have held the short-lived title of “fastest in the pool”, but who has what it takes to hold the title at Tokyo 2021?

American sprint stud Caeleb Dressel comes at the top of the candidates list with his 21.04 textile event world record, followed by British star Ben Proud (21.11), South American star Bruno Fratus, and Russian powerhouse Vlad Morozov (21.27). Italian Andrea Vergani (21.37) joins in the race alongside Greek counterpart Kristian Gkolomeev (21.44), Poland’s Pawel Juraszek (21.45), and versatile American Michael Andrew (21.46).

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Men’s 50 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Country Time Meet
1 Caeleb Dressel USA 21.04 2019 World Championships
2 Ben Proud GBR 21.11 2018 European Championships
3 Bruno Fratus BRA 21.27 2017 World Championships
3 Vlad Morozov RUS 21.27 2019 FINA World Cup – Singapore
5 Andrea Vergani ITA 21.37 2018 European Championships
6 Kristian Gkolomeev GRE 21.44 2018 European Championships
7 Pawel Juraszek POL 21.45 2018 Polish Championships
8 Michael Andrew USA 21.46 2018 Pan Pacific Championships

Who Broke the 21-Barrier First?

The US boasts a pretty quick all-time 13-14 age group rankings list, taking 24.57 just to enter the top 100 times in the 50-meter free. Americans Michael Andrew and Caeleb Dressel also boast sub-24 times when in that age group. Vlad Morozov, who was training in the US by high school, hit 24.95 in that same age group. Andrew and Dressel are also the two fastest US 15-16 performers in the 50-meter free, both under 22.40. Morozov would have ranked 3rd with his 22.44 age group best while Brit Ben Proud would have just made the middle of the pack at 23.40. Meanwhile, Greek Kristian Gkolomeev and Italian Andrea Vergani had just broken 25 seconds once they were 16.

Only five 17-18 American men have broken 22 seconds in the 50 free, including Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew. Ben Proud, Vlad Morozov, and Kristian Gkolomeev flirted with the 22-point barrier at 18 while Andrea Vergani just broke 23 seconds. At the same age, Poland’s Pawel Juraszek had finally reached sub-25. However, once the rest of the group reached sub-22, they did more than just “break” the barrier. At age 18, Dressel demolished his 50 free best from 22.22 to 21.53 in a single year. Once Andrew nailed 21.75 at 18, he shaved down all the way to 21.46 at 19 years old. Morozov followed the same time progression as Andrew from ages 19-20. Meanwhile, Proud and Brazilian Bruno Fratus also crushed 22 seconds at 19 years old. Vergani, Gkolomeev, and Juraszek reached 21-point once they were in their early 20s.

At the 2016 Olympics, it took 21.49 to earn a medal in the final. Michael Andrew‘s current lifetime best of 21.46 would have sealed him Olympic bronze at 19 years old. Only Anthony Ervin (19) has earned an Olympic 50 free medal as a teen. The only other swimmer of this group to reach that elite mark was Caeleb Dressel when he reached his ballistic 21.15 swim at 20 years old. The remainder of the group did not swim under 21.49 until their 20s.

Men’s 50 FR LCM: Milestone Ages

Name 22.99 21.99 21.49
Michael Andrew 15 18 19
Caeleb Dressel 16 18 20
Ben Proud 17 19 22
Andrea Vergani 18 21 22
Vlad Morozov 16 19 23
Pawel Juraszek 20 22 23
Bruno Fratus N/A 19 24
Kristian Gkolomeev 18 21 25

What’s The Golden Standard?

The elite racing standard in the men’s 50 free has remained relatively constant since the late 2000s’ super-suit era. Since 2008, the 2009 Rome World Championships remains the fastest 50 free event final, taking 21.65 to qualify into the final from semifinals, 21.49 to place 6th in the final, and 21.25 to at least earn a medal. After super-suits were banned in 2010, the next fastest final was four years later at the 2013 World Championships, which just came off the 2012 Olympics.

However, there is a potential that the standard could be taken down in the coming year or so. The last two world championship event finals currently rank 4th and 5th all-time since 2008. From this, predictable marks for the Tokyo 2021 event would be 21.75 to qualify to the final, 21.65 to place 6th in the final, and 21.49 to medal. Just a reminder, the entire top 8 is under the 21.49 standard, yet only three men swam under that medal standard at the 2019 World Championships.

Rank Meet Finals QT Top 6 Medal
1 2009 Worlds 21.65 21.49 21.25
2 2013 Worlds 21.74 21.65 21.51
3 2008 Olympics 21.76 21.65 21.49
4 2017 Worlds 21.77 21.67 21.43
5 2019 Worlds 21.77 21.62 21.45
6 2016 Olympics 21.80 21.79 21.49

Who’s Ready for Tokyo?

All 8 swimmers in this Roadmaps group were at the 2019 Worlds final, making it a perfect test final for this group heading into the 2021 Olympics. When looking at the results, only Italy’s Andrea Vergani failed to qualify into the top 8 final, placing 34th in prelims (22.56). At the 2018 European Championships, Vergani made it to the event final with his national record swim of 21.37, yet only managed a bronze medal at 21.68. However, the meet served as Vergani’s major international debut.

At the final itself, three swimmers would come out with a medal and two would hit their personal best. Caeleb Dressel immediately commanded the lead off his breakout, literally almost winning the race from that moment. Vlad Morozov and Ben Proud had also hung onto Dressel underwater, giving them an early advantage. To Dressel’s other side was Bruno Fratus and Kristian Gkolomeev, who were the first two swimmers to pop up from the water. Interestingly, it would be Fratus and Gkolomeev who would tie for the silver medal. Morozov and Proud ended up walking out of the final without a medal. At the same time, Pawel Juraszek and Michael Andrew had a race of their own out of lanes 7 and 8. While both men came into the meet with nearly identical personal bests, it was Andrew who touched out Juraszek for 6th place.

This season, Vlad Morozov leads the world 50 free rankings with a 21.50, only one one-hundredth ahead of Caeleb Dressel. Bruno Fratus swam 21.59 back in December 2019 while Kristian Gkolomeev (21.86) and Michael Andrew (21.89) both have swum sub-22. Ben Proud, Andrea Vergani, and Pawel Juraszek have shown more focus in the short course event this past season. However, Proud (20.85) and Juraszek’s (20.97) short course season bests would roughly translate to sub-21.80 in the long course pool.

2019-2020 2018-2019 2017-2018
2016-2017
Vlad Morozov 21.50 21.27 21.45 21.44
Caeleb Dressel 21.51 21.04 21.67 21.15
Bruno Fratus 21.59 21.27 21.70 21.37
Kristian Gkolomeev 21.86 21.44 21.66 21.93
Michael Andrew 21.89 21.62 21.46 21.75
Ben Proud 22.04 21.48 21.11 21.32
Andrea Vergani 22.14 21.33 21.70 22.30
Pawel Juraszek N/A 21.67 21.45 21.68

Honorable Mention(s)

It would be unfair to only include 8 men in this Roadmaps, especially considering the 0.42-second gap among their 50 free times. Looking at all active swimmers who are within a tenth of 21.49 in this Olympic cycle, there is only one other candidate who has a legitimate shot at the title: 2012 Olympic champion Florent Manaudou of France. While he won the title 8 years ago, he also ripped a 21.59 at the 2020 Luxembourg Meet in January. That was only his second long course meet since July 2019, all coming after his 2-year hiatus. Below are quick 50 free stats on Manaudou.

  • Milestone Age Progression
    • Age 16: 23.92
    • Age 19: 22.69
    • Age 21: 21.34 (2012 Olympic title)
  • 2021 Olympic Cycle Rank: 10
  • 2019-2020 Season Best: 21.59, World No. 3

Single Age Progression: International Men’s 50 FR LCM (Ages 12-28)

Name Country 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Caeleb Dressel USA 25.60 24.82 23.50 23.45 22.39 22.22 21.53 21.76 21.15 21.67 21.04 21.51
Ben Proud GBR 23.40 22.65 22.01 21.76 21.88 21.54 21.32 21.11 21.48 22.04
Bruno Fratus BRA 21.80 21.76 21.87 21.61 21.45 21.41 21.37 21.70 21.27
Vlad Morozov RUS 24.95 24.45 22.44 23.00 22.13 21.72 21.47 21.65 21.56 21.44 21.45 21.27
Andrea Vergani ITA 29.63 29.66 25.97 25.05 24.50 23.74 22.96 22.56 22.30 21.70 21.33
Kristian Gkolomeev GRE 28.16 27.29 26.49 25.70 24.65 23.41 22.22 22.19 22.27 21.96 21.87 21.93 21.66 21.44 21.45
Pawel Juraszek POL 32.14 31.98 29.92 28.13 27.35 25.48 24.44 23.71 22.82 22.13 21.68 21.45 21.67
Michael Andrew USA 25.09 24.09 23.19 22.82 22.33 22.22 21.75 21.46 21.62

___________________________________________________________________

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Men’s 50 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer World Rank Time Meet
1 Caeleb Dressel 1 21.04 2019 World Championships
2 Michael Andrew 8 21.46 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
3 Zach Apple 19 21.81 2019 Toyota U.S. Open
4 Nathan Adrian 23 21.83 2017 World Championships
5 Ryan Held 27 21.87 2019 Summer U.S. Nationals
6 Michael Chadwick 40 21.95 2019 Pan American Games
6 David Curtiss 40 21.95 2019 World Junior Championships
8 Bowe Becker 48 22.00 2019 Summer U.S. Nationals
8 Robert Howard 48 22.00 2019 Summer U.S. Nationals

Single Age Progression: US Men’s 50 FR LCM (Ages 8-26)

Name 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Caeleb Dressel 33.72 30.09 29.43 27.09 25.60 24.82 23.50 23.45 22.39 22.22 21.53 21.76 21.15 21.67 21.04 21.51
Michael Andrew 37.22 31.15 27.76 26.77 25.09 24.09 23.19 22.82 22.33 22.22 21.75 21.46 21.62
Zach Apple 25.13 25.12 23.04 22.69 22.00 22.06 21.81
Nathan Adrian 28.27 26.28 24.70 23.68 23.43 23.38 22.76 22.01 21.46 21.55 21.84 21.68 21.47 21.66 21.37
Ryan Held 35.16 34.31 32.01 26.28 24.50 23.98 23.67 22.85 22.37 22.51 22.16 22.14 21.87
Michael Chadwick 37.01 32.39 32.19 28.23 27.05 26.85 24.07 23.41 22.03 21.96 21.99 21.96 21.95
David Curtiss 31.73 30.89 27.95 26.81 25.37 24.08 23.51 22.64 21.95
Bowe Becker 32.57 28.25 25.69 25.49 24.99 23.59 22.31 22.23 22.88 22.67 22.00
Robert Howard 29.60 28.66 26.50 25.32 24.58 23.99 23.81 22.97 22.83 22.46 22.17 22.00

Single Age Progression: US Men’s 50 FR SCY (Ages 8-22)

Name 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Caeleb Dressel 31.74 28.09 26.41 24.57 23.65 22.61 21.15 20.32 19.82 18.94 18.67 18.20 18.23 17.63 18.98
Michael Andrew 29.04 26.11 24.46 22.93 21.85 20.87 19.76 19.89 19.24 19.31 18.88 19.68 19.14
Zach Apple 21.26 20.36 19.48 18.93 18.82 18.94
Nathan Adrian 25.02 22.95 21.65 20.65 20.57 20.04 19.57 18.94 18.71 18.99 18.66
Ryan Held 33.10 29.01 27.24 26.00 26.99 24.24 21.78 20.70 19.92 19.52 19.27 18.92 18.58 18.56
Michael Chadwick 34.74 30.32 27.41 25.54 24.74 23.72 23.66 21.03 20.06 19.27 19.04 18.97 19.31
David Curtiss 29.31 26.60 24.16 22.69 21.52 20.29 19.75 19.70 19.42
Bowe Becker 35.79 26.69 23.12 22.76 21.37 20.49 19.53 19.08 18.69 18.84
Robert Howard 35.98 32.67 30.91 26.50 25.13 23.54 22.10 20.61 20.61 20.57 19.83 19.52 19.00 18.74

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wokebanana
7 months ago

Andrew does seem like the obvious second place pick for the US… hope his 200im focus doesn’t backfire, although to be honest he’s got an equally good shot at both.

Togger
Reply to  wokebanana
7 months ago

Don’t think it’s any more incongruous than his 100 breast, he just swims a unique slate. Interesting choice for Andrew which event to focus on next year. If he focuses on the 100 breast, he’s very likely to make the team. However, he’s extremely unlikely to be the Olympic champion. If he focuses on the 50 (just because it’s a crapshoot) and/or the 200 IM (because he’s dropping quick and has clear areas of improvement), he could legitimately come and take the gold. However, there’s a risk he gets sucked back into the pack on the 100 breast along with Miller, Cordes, Wilson, Finnerty etc. whilst missing out in the 200 IM (doesn’t drop as hoped, US is just stacked… Read more »

Jack
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

“Inevitably take relay gold” The Americans are not the dominant powerhouses they used to be, GB won at Worlds, Russia were only just behind America. America are not definate winners of the medley relay at all, they didnt even win the mixed medley. 😂

Mr Piano
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

There is no inevitable relay gold. The US got a DQ in the 400 medley relay in 1998, 2007, 2013 at worlds, and they literally just got beaten by the UK last year lol. It will be an amazing race, that’s for sure. It will also be a close one.

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Mr Piano
7 months ago

this time , they will have a 46 point on the anchor …..

Togger
Reply to  Mr Piano
7 months ago

I’m British, so I’d love to think that. But, despite the Worlds I just think the Americans will win it, like they always have at Olympics. Murphy will be on form, Dressel will be ballistic, they’ll have 47 point anchor. I can’t see anyone getting past them, sadly.

Jeff
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

I think us Brits and the Americans are more well matched than you think. Murphy and Dressel are their strengths and I think Peaty and Scott can make up for that. I think the big question is who will be weaker – the US’s breast and free leg or GB’s back and fly leg.

Joe
Reply to  Jeff
7 months ago

US free is not weak, didn’t Ryan Held go a 47.3 flat start? I don’t see Scott repeating that 46.1 sadly.

Togger
Reply to  Jeff
7 months ago

Possibly, I just don’t see Murphy repeating that 52.9 (he actually went slower than Grevers in the heat)

If Murphy’s 52.2 (feels likely), we’d need Scott to drop another insane leg and Peaty to go 56 mid. It’s not impossible, but I don’t think it’s likely.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Mr Piano
7 months ago

The U.S. were also disqualified in the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle at 2018 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.

torchbearer
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

I think the last Worlds showed that (maybe with the exception of the womens 4x100MED) there are no inevitable relay golds for anyone…there were so many tight races.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  torchbearer
7 months ago

The U.S. will need Huske and/or Curzan to drop, at a minimum, a 56.50 second performance in the women’s 100m butterfly at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials to remain competitive in the women’s 4 x 100m medley relay.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

Michael Andrew did not even qualify for the semifinals of the men’s 100m breaststroke at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships. Michael Andrew is more hype than substance.

Pvdh
Reply to  wokebanana
7 months ago

Nah 50 is his best easily imo. Multiple rounds of 2IM will take its toll on him

Togger
Reply to  Pvdh
7 months ago

I agree, but if I were him I’d just be a bit nervous about that stacked 100 field. Most of them at the moment, other than Dressel, are more 100/200 guys, but it only takes one to hit the weights a bit more, focus on their start and suddenly pip Andrew to that second slot.

Colt Simonelli
Reply to  wokebanana
7 months ago

It’s definitely possible for him to medal in the 100 Breast, but I find it unlikely. Peaty’s obviously going to win gold, and Shymanovich, Wilby, Yan, Koseki, and a few other guys are faster than him right now.

Admin
Reply to  Colt Simonelli
7 months ago

If MA opts not to swim the 100 breast, I wonder if we could see another Regan Smith situation where he doesn’t swim the individual but still races the medley, if he’s swimming well.

I think the U.S. probably only employs that strategy in two scenarios: 1) where the #2 guy is swimming so poorly that it risks the team’s ability to final, or 2) if the “replacement” is swimming so well to earn the finals spot (which is what we saw with Regan). They probably don’t do it to just shave a couple of tenths off the prelims time.

Colt Simonelli
Reply to  Braden Keith
7 months ago

It’s possible, but MA hasn’t historically been great in relays.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Braden Keith
7 months ago

Regan Smith was screwed out of the women’s 100m backstroke due to USA Swimming outdated policy of the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships determing the national team for the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships.

Joe
7 months ago

Always find it weird how, with the obvious exceptions of Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel, 50/100 freestyle swimmers always seem to be quicker outside of Worlds/Olympics. Not sure you could find another event where only 2/8 of the top times were set at Worlds.

Anyone have any ideas why?

wokebanana
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

My guess is because the 50’s and 100’s come after several relays, towards the end of a long WC or Olympic competition. Sprint speed is definitely most impacted by multiple races as compared to other strokes or longer distances.

Togger
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

It’s interestingly also the opposite of track. 100, 200 and 400 records are regularly set at major meets. Middle distance it’s very rare (Rudisha’s incredible 800 a rare example). 5k and 10k it’s pretty much unheard of.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Togger
7 months ago

Katie Ledecky has set and reset multiple world records (800 FR, 1500 FR) at major international tournaments (Pan Pacific Championships, World Championships, Summer Olympics).

COOLDOWN
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

Perhaps the waves/turbulence of all the swimmers thrashing the water (more than they do in non-sprints) too.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

You could add in Dressel’s OT’s 50 free to that scenario. He pretty much bombed in the 50 but had a great 100.

JimSwim22
7 months ago

I got my fingers crossed for Nathan to take the silver in Tokyo.

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro has had a huge passion for swimming since his first dive in the pool, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing, but still uses the sport as his go-to cardio. SwimSwam has become an outlet for him to continue showing his …

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