WATCH: Tom Shields Swims Winter Nats 50 Free All Fly, Goes 20.10


Tom Shields took the “free” in freestyle very literally at U.S. Winter Nationals, swimming the entire race butterfly and putting up what is believed to be the fastest flat-start 50 yard fly in history.

Shields went 20.10, beating two swimmers (swimming freestyle) in the heat and placing 6th nationally. The time is also the fastest on record according to USA Swimming’s database. The problem, of course, is that USA Swimming’s database doesn’t include the first 50 splits from 100 flys, which are sometimes among the fastest 50s in history. (In fact, the fastest 50 breast we know of was the 23.58 put up by Kevin Cordes on the opening split of his 100 breast at 2014 NCAAs).

Here’s the best list we could pull together of the top 5 50 fly splits or times in history from a flat start. The fastest relay split in history is a 19.36 from Texas’s NCAA and Olympic champ Joe Schooling last season.

  1. Tom Shields (2016 Winter Nats) – 20.10
  2. Joseph Schooling (2016 NCAAs) – 20.46*
  3. Austin Staab (2009 NCAAs) – 20.56*
  4. Tripp Cooper (2014 NCAAs) – 20.68*
  5. Andrew Seliskar (2015 NCSA Jrs) – 20.69

*Indicates 1st 50 split of a 100.

The full event recap, from our live recap by Lauren Neidigh:


  1. Bowen Becker, Minnesota, 19.67
  2. Jacob Molacek, Greater Omaha Aquatics, 19.69
  3. Sam Lorentz, Indiana, 19.70

Minnesota’s Bowen Becker broke the Hoosier streak in the men’s events, winning the 50 free in 19.67. Just 3 hundredths separated the top 3 places, with Jacob Molacek taking 2nd in 19.69. Indiana’s Sam Lorentz barely missed out on keeping the Hoosiers’ streak alive, taking 3rd in 19.70.

15-year-old Jack Dolan from Rockwood Swim Club broke 20 seconds for the first time tonight. Before today, his best time was a 20.53. In tonight’s race, he blew that away with a 19.86 to finish 5th. That makes him the 4th fastest 15-16 swimmer of all time, and he sits just .04 behind Caeleb Dressel in those rankings.

After taking the top seed in prelims, Tom Shields decided to mix it up by swimming butterfly in the final tonight. Shields narrowly missed breaking 20 seconds to finish 6th in 20.10.

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His reaction time was .8 so he should have broke 20 and also his open turn really slowed him down. I think he should have flipped and tried to win the the race

Steve Nolan

He was more trying to work on stuff for SC Worlds, so a flip turn would’ve just messed with that.

I agree though, he could’ve won w/ a flip turn. (Even w/ the bad start.)


He always has a relatively poor reaction time (he was 0.74 and 0.75 in semifinals and finals of the100 fly at the Olympic Trials), but was first at the breakout.


That start was indeed lousy. Almost as bad as the starts for all the male competitors in the 1988 Olympic finals in the 100 back

Member Berry

Oh I member that start!


it’s crazy to think how fast these flyers could go if they didn’t have to put their hands on the wall (think about Worrell from last year, too!) maybe that’s the next rule change? – backstrokers don’t have to touch the wall on their turns anymore….

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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