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.
Since 2013, Swede Sarah Sjostrom, Aussie Cate Campbell, Dutch Ranomi Kromowidjojo, American Simone Manuel, and Aussie Bronte Campbell have been tearing up the international women’s 50 free scene. Over the years, the group would be expanded with Danish Pernille Blume, Chinese Liu Xiang, and Russian Maria Kameneva. However, only six of these eight women have won the Olympic or World 50 free title in their career. Who has found the most success in this event, both past and recent? Who shows the most promise towards the 2021 Olympics? Read on to answer these questions and more about this sprint octuplet.
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Women’s 50 FR LCM
|1||Sarah Sjostrom||SWE||23.67||2017 World Championships|
|2||Pernille Blume||DEN||23.75||2018 European Championships|
|3||Cate Campbell||AUS||23.78||2018 Commonwealth Games|
|4||Ranomi Kromowidjojo||NED||23.85||2017 World Championships|
|5||Simone Manuel||USA||23.97||2017 World Championships|
|6||Liu Xiang||CHN||24.03||2020 Champions Series – Beijing|
|7||Bronte Campbell||AUS||24.17||2019 AUS World Championship Trials|
|8||Maria Kameneva||RUS||24.21||2018 European Championships|
When Did They Hit 24?
The first swimmer to break 25 seconds in the 50-meter free was Cate Campbell, who swam 24.48 at the 2008 Japan Open at 15 years old. She later followed that performance up with a 24.17 at the 2008 Olympics, good enough for bronze at age 16. That time is roughly a half-second faster than the current US 15-16 NAG, swam by Gretchen Walsh (24.71) in August 2019. Simone Manuel and Maria Kameneva were the only other swimmers of this group to reach 24-point in the 15-16 age group. Manuel also currently reigns as the US 17-18 NAG holder at 24.56, who is just one of five 18&U American women who have broken 25 seconds.
The next crucial competitive barrier for this group to is 24.39, which is what it would take to enter the top 25 performers list. C. Campbell has been apart of the list since 2008 after reaching 24.17. The next youngest swimmer to reach the mark was Kameneva, who swam her lifetime best of 24.21 at 19 years old. Manuel, Sarah Sjostrom, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, and Bronte Campbell all reached the mark one year later at 20. Liu Xiang, who is more known for her 50 back expertise, was 21 when she reached 24.39 while Pernille Blume went from 24.47 to 24.07 when she was 22 years old.
Women’s 50 FR LCM: Milestone Ages
What About 23-Point?
Ten women in history have broken 24 seconds, including Sarah Sjostrom, Pernille Blume, Cate Campbell, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, and Simone Manuel. However, Sjostrom was the only swimmer of this group to win a major international 50 free title with a swim under 24 seconds. She accomplished this at the 2017 World Championships, which was the fastest women’s 50 free final since 2008. While it only took 24.58 to place 6th into the final, the entire top three all swam under 24 seconds. Sjostrom won the title in 23.69, just 0.02 seconds off her semifinals world record. Kromowidjojo (23.85) and Manuel (23.97) both set personal bests and national records to place second and third, respectively.
The only other major 50 free final to feature a sub-24 winner was at the 2009 World Championships, where German Britta Steffen set her then-world record of 23.73 while C. Campbell broke 24 seconds for the first time to take bronze (23.99).
|Rank||Meet||Semis QT||Top 6||Medal|
So, which off these 8 swimmers looks the best to hold the 2021 Olympic title? Reflecting off the past table, it shows that time is not of utmost importance in the 50 free, but simply racing. Looking at the last four World championships, no woman has one this event twice. The next best indicator is consistency, scoping out who has the most medals from this event. The clear winner is Sarah Sjostrom, who hasn’t lost a medal in the 50 free at Worlds since 2015. Ranomi Kromowidjojo also has three medals in the 50 free, including her 2013 World title, yet placed 6th in 2019.
Interestingly, Cate Campbell has never won the 50 free at a long course World Championships. Despite this, she also has 2013 silver and 2019 bronze alongside her 2009 event bronze medal. Pernille Blume, who is the reigning Olympic champion, has also never won a World medal in this event. Her best finish was 4th, which she repeated in 2017 and 2019. Bronte Campbell was the surprise sprints winner in 2015, however, has not been able to replicate her 50 free title since.
While Simone Manuel is only at 23.97, she was the 2019 title winner, affirming the importance of racing in the 50 free. However, racing is certainly not the only factor that supplements the 50 free. Liu Xiang is the current world record-holder in the 50-meter back, which she set at the 2018 Asian Games. Yet recently, Xiang showed promise in the 50 free when she hit 24.03 at the Beijing stop of the 2020 FINA Champions Series, which can easily earn her a major 50 free medal. Maria Kameneva is the youngest swimmer of the group at 20 years old, however, shows much promise with her 4th-place finish at the 2018 European Championships and 5th-place finish at the most recent Worlds final.
|2019 Worlds||2017 Worlds||2015 Worlds||
Single Age Progression: International Women’s 50 FR LCM (Ages 11-26)
2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: US Women’s 50 FR LCM
|1||Simone Manuel||5||23.97||2017 World Championships|
|2||Abbey Weitzeil||16||24.47||2019 World Championships|
|3||Erika Brown||20||24.57||2020 Pro Swim Series – Knoxville|
|4||Gretchen Walsh||31||24.71||2019 World Junior Championships|
|5||Margo Geer||32||24.72||2018 Pro Swim Series – Indianapolis|
|6||Maxine Parker||35||24.75||2019 World Junior Championships|
|7||Lia Neal||36||24.77||2017 Summer U.S. Nationals|
|8||Kelsi Dahlia||38||24.79||2017 Summer U.S. Nationals|
Single Age Progression: US Women’s 50 FR LCM (Ages 9-26)
Single Age Progression: US Women’s 50 FR SCY (Ages 8-23)
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