What does it mean to be fast when you’re a 10-year-old? For some, it means winning every single event you’re in. Others think it depends on when you break 1:00 for the first time in the 100 free. What about when you’re 14? Do you need to win your high school state meet or break 50 seconds in the 100 free to be seen as “good”?
Aspiring swimmers are subject to believe that you must have been swimming since infancy in order to achieve Olympic status. However, this is not necessarily true. Some of the best swimmers in the world did not smell chlorine until they were in high school. Other swimmers also hit devastating plateaus that required many years of work to finally hit their PBs.
In this 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. We will start will the top-8 fastest US men’s 100 freestylers for the 2017-2020 Olympic quad.
2017-2020 Olympic Quad: US Men’s 100 FR LCM
|1||Caeleb Dressel||46.96||2019 World Championships|
|2||Ryan Held||47.39||2019 Summer US Nationals|
|3||Maxime Rooney||47.61||2019 Summer US Nationals|
|4||Zach Apple||47.69||2019 Toyota US Open|
|5||Nathan Adrian||47.85||2017 World Championships|
|6||Blake Pieroni||47.87||2019 World Championships|
|7||Tate Jackson||47.88||2019 Summer US Nationals|
|8||Dean Farris||48.07||2019 Summer US Nationals|
Leading the way is sprint American-record holder Caeleb Dressel (46.96), the only swimmer in the world to break 47 seconds since 2009. The second-fastest American this Olympic quad is 2016 Olympian Ryan Held, who stormed 2019 U.S. Nationals with his U.S. Open record (47.39). Breaking out at the same meet was #3 American Maxime Rooney (47.61), becoming the 7th fastest American in event history.
Zach Apple (47.69) and Blake Pieroni (47.87) were 2019 Worlds team members while NCAA studs Tate Jackson (47.88) and Dean Farris (48.07) are still searching for their Worlds/Olympics berth. After battling cancer and turning 31, Nathan Adrian is still in the game with his #5 time of 47.85.
Age Group Beginnings
By 8 years old, Caeleb Dressel, Maxime Rooney, Blake Pieroni, Dean Farris, and Nathan Adrian were already swimming the 100 free in both short and long pools. Ryan Held and Tate Jackson, on another note, did not hit the pool until they were in early middle school (11-12). Zach Apple primarily competed in track during his high school years, competing in summer league/HS meets on the side until fully committing to the swimming at 16.
Milestone Question: What age did you break a minute in the 100-yard free?
For Dressel, Rooney, and Farris, they were just 10 years old when they broke the barrier in the SCY pool. Pieroni, Adrian, Jackson, and Held were all in early middle school (ages 11-12) when they broke the 1:00. Transitioning to the LCM pool, Dressel saw no worries, as his first sub-1:00 LCM 100 free was at 11 years old. Rooney slowly kept at Dressel’s pace as well while Pieroni, Adrian, Farris, and Jackson had roughly a year or so before breaking 1:00 LCM.
Apple’s late start to USA Swimming competition did not hold him back one bit, despite popular belief. His first 100 free LCM time was 59.54 while his first 100-yard free was 50.38. According to his bio, Apple spent his middle/high school years playing other sports such as basketball and track.
|Men’s 100 FR: Ages at Sub-1:00|
|Name||SCY Age||LCM Age|
The Game Changer: Breaking 50 Seconds
For the young teen, breaking 50 seconds practically paves your path to becoming a sprint specialist. Maxime Rooney‘s first SCY sub-50 performance was at 12 years old, just a year ahead of Caeleb Dressel and Nathan Adrian‘s first sub-50 swim at 13. All the remaining top 8 swimmers, including Zach Apple, were all under 50 seconds by the time they were high school underclassmen.
Dressel accelerated to breaking 50 seconds at 16 years old in the LCM pool, one year ahead of Rooney (17). The remaining swimmers all did not hit sub-50 swims LCM until college, starting with Blake Pieroni at 18. Ryan Held, who began at the YMCA level, hit 49.81 when he was 20 years old. Tate Jackson was also 20 when he broke 50 seconds, roughly two years after joining Texas.
|Men’s 100 FR: Ages at Sub-50|
|Name||SCY Age||LCM Age|
Age Group Endgame: The NCAA
Regardless of their paths, all 8 US swimmers moved on to compete at the NCAA Division I level, all collecting numerous All-American finishes. Caeleb Dressel (Florida) and his age group successes carried over into the NCAA, breaking the infamous 40-second barrier in the 100-yard free. Dean Farris (Harvard) and Ryan Held (NC State) quietly trained throughout their collegiate years yet ended as the #2 and #3 fastest Americans in the 100-yard free. Farris broke out at the 2019 NCAA meet with his 200 free AR, 100 back title, and then breaking 41 seconds for another NCAA title. Meanwhile, Held took second at the 2018 NCAA meet behind Dressel.
Blake Pieroni (Indiana) went on to make history as the first man to break 1:30 in the 200-yard free. While initially not successful at their former programs, Zach Apple (Indiana) and Maxime Rooney (Florida) found hope with senior year transfers that put them back on track. Tate Jackson (Texas) swam a 41.06 lifetime best during his senior year at mid-season, however, wound up not placing individually at 2019 NCAAs. He was, however, a stellar sprint relay asset for the Longhorns that earned him numerous All-American titles.
One of the brightest sprint talents in the US during the late 2000s/early 2010s was Nathan Adrian (Cal), who swam collegiately from 2007-2011. His American record of 41.08 stood for many years until a young Caeleb Dressel went to take down many of his sprint SCY records. Adrian, however, ended his NCAA career with five individual sprint titles.
Men’s 100 FR SCY: Lifetime Bests
The Elite Experience- Earning the Olympic Rings
Nathan Adrian went on to earn his Olympic rings in 2008 and 2012, taking over Jason Lezak’s spot as the clutch relay anchor. In 2016 came along age group star Caeleb Dressel and YMCA swimmer Ryan Held, who joined Adrian and Michael Phelps on the gold medal 400 free relay. Dressel has now become one of the fastest sprinters, ever. Held has now carved himself a name in elite American sprinting forever.
Blake Pieroni placed 6th in the 2016 Trials final, ultimately changing his life forever. After his debut Olympics, Pieroni went on to win the 2018 U.S National title in the 100 free, beating out Olympic champion Adrian. Zach Apple quickly broke out onto the elite international scene after his transfer from Auburn to Indiana, swimming one of the fastest relay 100 free splits in US history.
Maxime Rooney, who was a bright age group swimmer, did experience plateau when he hit his college years. However, the 21-year-old has broken out onto the scene after his 2019 U.S Nationals performance. Tate Jackson and Dean Farris, while on the cusp of making the Olympic squad, have picked up valuable experience at the 2019 World University Games.
Men’s 100 FR LCM: Progression By Age Group Stage
|Name||AG Best||HS Best||NCAA Best||Pro Best|
Single Age Progression: 100 FR LCM (Ages 8-24)
Single Age Progression: 100 FR SCY (Ages 8-24)