2023 Worlds Previews: Proud Has Hot Hand In The 50 FR as Resurgent Stars Aim at Medals


By Sophie Kaufman on SwimSwam


2023 World Championships

  • July 23 – 30, 2023 (pool swimming)
  • Fukuoka, Japan
  • Marine Messe Fukuoka
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central

By The Numbers — Men’s 50 Freestyle

  • World Record: César Cielo, Brazil — 20.91 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Michael Andrew, United States — 21.75 (2017)
  • Championship Record: Caeleb Dressel, United States — 21.04 (2019)
  • 2022 World Champion: Ben Proud, Great Britain — 21.32

The Reigning Champion

Ben Proud, courtesy of Giorgio Scala e Andrea Staccioli / DBM

While we’ll undoubtedly feel the absence of Caeleb Dressel in Fukuoka, we’ve actually already gotten a look at what a 50 freestyle championship final looks like without him. By the time of the 50 freestyle in Budapest, Dressel had already left the World Championships.

Without Dressel in the field, it was Ben Proud who took gold, which kicked off an incredible summer for the him. The then 27-year-old Brit went 3-for-3 at major international meets in 2022, winning gold at Worlds, the Commonwealth Games, and European Championships.

Last summer, his fastest time was a 21.32, which he went at Worlds. However, Proud has been as fast as 21.11. He logged that mark in 2018 and it makes him the second fastest performer in a textile suit. Proud followed up his long-course success with a silver medal at 2022 Short Course Worlds, finishing second to Jordan Crooks. This season, Proud’s fastest time is 21.68, which he swam at Sette Colli.

Proud is one of the best pure sprinters in the world, and his focus on the 50 freestyle and butterfly means that he likely won’t have racked up as many swims as his other competitors. That consideration plus the hot streak he’s been on makes it very likely that he will defend his gold medal in Fukuoka.

The Comeback King

Cameron McEvoy, courtesy of Swimming Australia/Delly Carr

It isn’t Proud who sits atop the psych sheets, though. That honor belongs to Australian Cameron McEvoy. The three-time Olympian shocked the swim world by rocking a 21.27 at Australian Trials–his first best time in seven years. The swim moved him into #10 on the all-time top performers list, and blew past his previous best of 21.44. It’s also the fastest in the world since the Tokyo Olympics.

After those Games, McEvoy took a year away from the sport. The 29-year-old didn’t race at all in 2022, and recently opened up about how rock climbing–a hobby he picked up during his time away from the pool–has played a major part in his comeback.

He’s not just back at the level he was–he’s better. “Within four weeks of being here (at Queensland Academy of Sport, where he trains), my time from a dive to 15 meters reduced by .4 seconds, which is wild in terms of an overall time for 50 meters let alone 15 meters,” McEvoy said.

If he wins a medal at Worlds, he’ll be first Australian man to do so since Michael Klim in 1998. McEvoy’s been quiet since the 2021, but he’s roared back onto the scene in a big way. Now, the question is what he has left in store for the big stage.

Dynamic Duos

Several countries are heading into Worlds with a solid chance of landing both their representatives in the final.

The Americans have a fresh look in the 50 free, as neither Dressel nor Michael Andrew–the 2022 qualifiers–will represent the United States. Instead, it’s veteran Ryan Held and newcomer Jack Alexy who take the race on.

Held comes into Worlds with the second-fastest time of the season. He won U.S. Trials with a personal best of 21.50, bettering his time by .12 seconds. He’s raced the 50 free at SC Worlds, but typically takes on the 100 free and a variety of relays at major international meets. Even though he doesn’t have much experience in this event at the international level, Held has shown himself capable of handling pressure on the big stage. His U.S. Trials swim also made it impossible to overlook him as a factor in this race. If the known stars of this race show up, Held will have to be right at if not better than his best for a medal.

While Held is taking on a new event at the international level, this is Alexy’s first senior international meet. The Cal bear had a massive breakout in yards during the NCAA season, while translated to U.S. Trials as he burst onto the scene by making the U.S. team in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. Alexy’s 21.63 from U.S. Trials was a personal best. He’ll also need to drop if he wants to final. And, after his showing in Indianapolis, what does he have left for Fukuoka?

The two Frenchmen Florent Manaudou and Maxime Grousset are sitting 3rd and 8th on world rankings this season. After failing two advance out of semifinals, Tokyo silver medalist Manaudou threw down a 21.56 at the French Elite Championships. Not only is that faster than he went in the lead up to 2022 Worlds, its faster than he went at the actual competition, and would have earned him bronze.

He’s clearly on better form this year and will be aiming to be back in the thick of the final. After his 50 free at the French Championships, he said that he “wanted to be 21.5 in France and 21.3 at Worlds.” Though he was just off his spring goal, there’s still a solid chance he hits his Fukuoka goal.

It was Grousset who earned the bronze medal last year. He won a swim-off for the last lane in the final against Bruno Fratus and then grabbed bronze from lane 8 (21.57). This season, he’s been 21.78. At the French Elite Championships, he particularly impressed with his 100 free (47.62) and 100 fly (50.61), earning a French record in the latter. Time will tell if those are the events he’s focusing on this season, but he’s also shown he’s capable of earning a spot on the podium here.

We already talked about Proud, but Great Britain have a solid 1-2 in him and Lewis BurrasThe Brits were the only ones to get two swimmers into the final, with Proud winning and Burras ultimately finishing seventh. Burras has been quiet so far this season–his fastest time is 21.91 from British Championships. However, he’s worth keeping an eye on, as he owns a personal best of 21.68 set at 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Surging Stars

On the opposite side of the spectrum from McEvoy’s resurgence, there are several young swimmers looking to establish themselves as serious contenders in this event.

One of those young stars is Josh Liendo, who’s coming off an electric freshman campaign in yards at the University of Florida. Even with a short turn around time from men’s NCAAs to Canadian Trials, Liendo still logged three lifetime bests at the meet in the 200 free, 50 fly, and 100 fly.

He won bronze in the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly at 2022 Worlds, and added a fifth-place finish in the 50 freestyle. In the final, he swam 21.61 for a new Canadian record.

His new training environment has clearly paid dividends for him already, and it will be interesting to see what he brings from his first season in yards into the long-course pool. After a season of training at “Freestyle University” and another year of experience under his belt, Liendo looks primed to be a major factor in the 50 free final.

One thing to keep in mind is that all three rounds of this event and the 100 fly are on the same days at Worlds.

Of course, the biggest men’s 50 freestyle story of the 2023 NCAA season was Crooks. The University of Tennessee sophomore became just the second person in history to crack the 18 second barrier, joining Dressel in that exclusive club. He fired off a 17.93 at SEC Championships and though he wasn’t as fast at NCAAs, he still earned a national title.

In addition to his success at the college level, he won gold at 2022 Short Course Worlds, earning not only his first international medal but the Cayman Islands first World Championships medal in swimming.

Worlds will be a big test for Crooks, as he’ll be eager to see his gains translate to long-course. His personal best is a 22.20 from 2022 Worlds where he finished 19th, and 22.38 is the fastest he’s been this season. He’ll need a big drop from his personal best to make the final, much less enter the medal conversation, but based on the year he’s had that could be just what he has in store for Fukuoka.

Don’t Forget About…

Szebasztian Szabo courtesy of Fabio Cetti

There are three 2022 Worlds finalists that we haven’t mentioned yet: Szebasztian SzaboLorenzo Zazzeri, and Kristian Gkolomeev. Szabo swam his personal best 21.60 en route to his 4th place finish in Budapest, missing the medals by just three-hundredths. The Hungarian is an explosive 50 free/50 fly specialist like Proud. Now well under the 22 second barrier, can he take the next step and get on the podium? He’s neared his best this season, swimming 21.72 on the Mare Nostrum tour.

Zazzeri has raced once since last summer’s European Championships. At the Campionato Italiano Assuluto, he posted a 22.24, which he’ll clearly need to be faster than if he wants to make a repeat appearance in the Worlds final. His teammate Leonardo Deplano is the fastest Italian so far this year, hitting 21.89 at the Italian Championships. Gkolomeev has yet to break 22 seconds this season as well. He was 22.03 at May’s Acropolis Open. So, like Zazzeri, he has some work to do.

Dylan Carter tore up the 2022 SCM World Cup, topping the men’s standings and sweeping the 50 free, 50 back, and 50 fly at all three stops. He followed that up with a bronze medal at 2022 SC Worlds. This month, he swam a personal best of 21.87 in long-course, getting under his previous mark by four-hundredths. It was his first sub-22 second effort of the season, a strong sign for him heading into Worlds. He’s tied with Crooks’ Tennessee teammate Gui Caribe for 15th fastest this season, who’s another young swimmer to circle on the heat sheet.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Ben Proud Great Britain 21.68 21.11
2 Cameron McEvoy Australia 21.27 21.27
3 Florent Manaudou France 21.56 21.19
4 Ryan Held United States 21.50 21.50
5 Josh Liendo Canada 21.80 21.61
6 Szebasztian Szabo Hungary 21.89 21.60
7 Maxime Grousset France 21.78 21.57
8 Lewis Burras Great Britain 21.91 21.68

Dark Horse: Diogo Ribeiro, Portugal Ribeiro lit up the international junior circuit last year, highlighted by winning the gold medal at World Juniors in the 50 butterfly with a world junior record. Earlier this season, the 18-year-old posted a new national record of 21.87 in the 50 freestyle. That marked just the second time in his career he’s been under 22 seconds but we haven’t seen a lot from him since as he pulled out of Sette Colli after testing positive for COVID-19. Depending on how he’s recovered and how well he handles sprinting with stars physically bigger than him, he could be a potential upset for a spot in the final. 

SwimSwam: 2023 Worlds Previews: Proud Has Hot Hand In The 50 FR as Resurgent Stars Aim at Medals

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