So Who Gets to Swim the Stroke 50s At Worlds?


Now that we’re able to project that all US swimmers who qualify for Worlds will be able to make the team without bumping into roster size restrictions, it’s time to answer everyone’s next-favorite question — who will get to swim the stroke 50s?

Unlike the “Olympic Events,” where the top two finishers automatically swim those events at Worlds, the USA’s qualifying procedure for the stroke 50s is a bit more complicated. And that’s caused some consternation among swim fans this week, especially with some of the crazy fast times we’ve seen from 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd place finishers in a few of the stroke 50s.

Ready? Here we go.

You can sift through the full criteria here, but based on our understanding, the “simple” version is this:

  1. Whoever wins the stoke 50 gets to swim the event at Worlds, assuming there’s enough room on the roster to take the stroke 50 winners. This year, there is, so that’s not an issue.
  2. The winner of the corresponding 100 stroke gets the second spot. Now this sounds pretty straightforward, but in three of six cases this week, the 50 stroke winner also won the 100. And even if someone different did win the 100, they could choose to decline the spot. So…who gets the second spot in either one of those situations, you ask?
  3. The spot would go to the person already on the team with the fastest time in that stroke 50 since March 1, 2020; however they must have a FINA ‘A’ cut in the event. Remember, this does not necessarily reflect the finish order of this event at Trials.
  4. There is no way for someone to qualify for the Worlds team on the basis of finishing 2nd in a stroke 50.

Clear as mud, right? Let’s try it with a handy dandy little chart.

50 Winner 100 Winner Next-Fastest On Team Note
50 Back Katharine Berkoff Regan Smith Rhyan White 27.45 at Trials
50 Breast Lilly King Lilly King N/A
No one else on team with A cut.
50 Fly Claire Curzan Torri Huske Natalie Hinds 26.07 at Trials
50 Back Hunter Armstrong Hunter Armstrong Justin Ress 23.92 at Trials
50 Breast Michael Andrew Nic Fink N/A
No one else on team with A cut.
50 Fly Caeleb Dressel Caeleb Dressel Michael Andrew 22.87 at Trials

Projected Entries

  • Women’s 50 Back: Berkoff, Smith – Berkoff won the 50, and Smith won the 100.
  • Women’s 50 Breast: King – it looks like she may the only entrant, as no one else on the team has a FINA ‘A’ cut in the event. It’s not clear if there’s any way for anyone already on the team to time trial the event and earn the second spot.
  • Women’s 50 Fly: Curzan, Huske – Curzan won the 50, and Huske won the 100.
  • Men’s 50 Back: Armstrong, Ress – Armstrong won the 50 and the 100. Ress is already on the team as part of the 400 free relay, and he has the next-fastest 50 back time.
  • Men’s 50 Breast: Andrew, Fink – Andrew won the 50, and Fink won the 100. If Fink were to hypothetically decline the spot, there is no one else on the team who currently has an ‘A’ cut in the event.
  • Men’s 50 Fly: Dressel, Andrew – Dressel won the 50 and the 100. Andrew is already on the team in multiple events, and he has the next-fastest 50 fly time.

Remember, Andrew and Ress don’t get the 2nd spots in their stroke 50s because they finished 2nd at Trials, but because they have the fastest times in those events since March 1st, 2020 and also have FINA ‘A’ cuts. It just so happened that they achieved those times with 2nd-place finishes at Trials.

Likewise, should one of the women’s 50 back or 50 fly qualifiers decline their spot, the spots should be offered to Rhyan White (back) or Natalie Hinds (fly). Again, they would be offered those spots because of the times they’ve swum, not (directly) because of where they finished at Trials.

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8 months ago

With all of the double winners in 100 especially on womens side, what are they going to do for prelim swimmers in 400 medley relays to secure spots for this multi event swimmers

Reply to  David
8 months ago

At a guess they use Rhyan White for the backstroke leg. One of the other 4×1 free swimmers takes the free leg, maybe Kate Douglass on the fly leg depending on her schedule.

8 months ago

Why do they make it so complicated? I do not understand why they treat 50 strokes like the red-headed step child.

8 months ago

Robert you provided a good breakdown but it seems rushed as there are errors and omissions. If Fink were to decline the spot? Seems like you didn’t finish the sentence.
Why mention Andrew’s back when writing about the fly?

8 months ago

If you get the second spot in a 50 by way of winning the corresponding 100, do you also have to have an A cut in the 50?

Reply to  Jimmy
8 months ago

Yes. USA Swimming can’t override FINA’s rules.

Paul Thomas
8 months ago

It would be truly baffling if USA Swimming has someone (Lazor) who is both a. already qualified for the team, and b. has the FINA cutoff, yet prohibits them from swimming a race.

Like I get not wanting to give a team slot (even a last-priority slot) to someone who only qualifies for a stroke 50– sending swimmers to a meet costs money, it’s the same reason a lot of countries won’t send someone who doesn’t project to final– but once they’re already there anyway, why not let them have at it?

Reply to  Paul Thomas
8 months ago

I don’t think Lazor has the A cut in the 50 breast, if she does it would be offered to her because nobody else in the team has it

Reply to  Robert Gibbs
8 months ago

According to the rulebook (did not read through the selection form), opening 50 splits counts as long as it is an official finish done at the 50 turn (ie.for a 50 back split to count from the 100 back, they would have to do a finish on their back before continuing the race).

8 months ago

Interesting question:
Justin Reds qualified for the 50 back by courtesy of his 6th place 100 free, making him an individual swimmer and not a relay-only swimmer.
Now that he’s not a relay-only swimmer, team USA isn’t obligated to use him on the relay anymore, right?
So if, say, Kieran Smith goes sub 48 at the training camp in a time trial(style Manuel in Tokyo or Phelps in Rio) and is used on the relay leaving Ress out of both prelims and finals, Ress would actually be swimming the 50 back but not the 100 free relay, even though the 100 free relay is the REASON he made the 50 back.
Paradox, eh?

Reply to  Bud
8 months ago

Yes kind of a funny little loophole in the rules, but that seems to be correct.

Though, I think they still might use Ress in prelims in that scenario. Without Russia, you basically have to avoid 49-second splits and with the 6 weeks until Worlds, Ress should be able to avoid a 49 second split.

Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Depends on how USA Swimming list people on the entry to FINA, but they could list him as a 50 backstroker and not designate him for the relay and then make the choice at the meet.

Steve Nolan
8 months ago

It’s weird the criteria eventually gets to who’s fastest over the last two years before who finishes highest in the final at trials, right? I feel like the US’s criteria for almost everything else goes by order of finish in the final.

That the winner of the 100 is basically the priority selection for that second spot seems crazy, too. How there’s not a way to pre-empt that with the highest place finisher in the 50 final that’s on the team would seemingly make sense. Such a weird way to pick a swimmer in an event, like the winner of the 200 automatically getting the second spot in a 100.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Nolan
Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 months ago

The 50-100 relationship is different from the 100-200 relationship.
50,100 are both pure sprints and share a lot of elite swimmers nationally and world wide, while the 200 is a totally different story.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
8 months ago

I think the takeaway is that USA Swimming what’s to minimize the reward and incentive for training for non-Olympic events.

They’d rather someone like Ress train hard to finish 4th in the 100 back and push the other guys in the Olympic events than train hard to finish 2nd in the 50 back.

Sherry Smit
8 months ago

If Lilly declined her spot in the 50, but used her 100 win to qualify for the team in the 50, would Kaitlyn be able to swim the race since she is the second fastest qualifier. Ik I could be missing the point but I’m just thinking far into this

Reply to  Sherry Smit
8 months ago

quote from article above
“4. There is no way for someone to qualify for the Worlds team on the basis of finishing 2nd in a stroke 50.”

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