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
|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
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|
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.
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)
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Men’s 50 FR LCM
|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)
Single Age Progression: US Men’s 50 FR SCY (Ages 8-22)
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