Ryan Held, after lean years post Rio, now among world’s fastest swimmers

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Ryan Held had been a missing man since his viral Rio Olympic podium experience, when he broke down into tears and was consoled by Michael Phelps. He re-emerged Wednesday with the fastest-ever 100m freestyles in a U.S. pool.

Held won the 100m free at the U.S. Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., in 47.39 seconds, ranking him third in the world this year. Only American Caeleb Dressel and Australian Kyle Chalmers, who went one-two at last week’s world championships, have been faster in 2019.

Held swam 47.43 in the morning prelims, which also went under the previous fastest time in a U.S. pool set by Nathan Adrian at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Now, only Dressel and David Walters rank ahead of Held on the U.S. all-time 100m free list in any pool worldwide.

Quite a turnaround for Held. He was a surprise third in the 100m free at the 2016 trials to earn a spot on the 4x100m free relay that took gold in Rio. He then finished sixth and eighth in the 100m free at the last two national championships. Held lowered his personal best from 48.26.

“Those two races, this morning and afternoon, had like two years of disappointment, bad summers built up,” Held told Tanith White on NBCSN, adding later that he was sick and burnout from swimming last summer before making a coaching change. “This was finally the summer that it all came together.”

Dressel was originally entered in the 100m free but scratched after a busy world championships last week in South Korea where he earned six gold medals and eight total medals.

Held attributed to Dressel the motivation for other U.S. sprinters to improve going toward the Olympic year. Dressel has lowered Walters’ 2009 American record three times from 47.33 to 46.96, just .05 off the world record.

“A single tide raises all ships,” Held said on USA Swimming’s Deck Pass Live. “Caeleb just pushing the bar that much further. It was like, well, I’ve got to beat him. I’ve got to put the pedal to the metal.”

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In other events, 17-year-old Regan Smith won the women’s 200m butterfly in 2:07.26.

Smith, who broke the 100m and 200m backstroke world records at last week’s world championships, swam an off-stroke but still topped a field that included world 200m fly bronze medalist Katie Drabot. Smith’s time ranks her No. 6 in the world this year and third among Americans behind world silver medalist Hali Flickinger and Drabot.

Luca Urlando took the men’s 200m fly, as expected, in 1:54.92. The 17-year-old ranks third in the world this year with a 1:53.84 from June, when he broke Phelps’ national age-group record.

But Urlando was not at last week’s worlds as that team was decided in 2018. Last summer, Urlando was the highest-ranking U.S. swimmer not to make the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships team, though it was initially announced that he did make it.

Had Urlando made Pan Pacs and then swum .17 faster there than he did at nationals, he would have made the team for July’s world championships. Urlando went to Junior Pan Pacs instead last summer and did not swim faster than at nationals.

Should Urlando, the grandson of an Italian Olympic hammer thrower, make the Tokyo Games, he is in line to be the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Phelps made his Olympic debut.

Olympian Abbey Weitzeil took a women’s 100m free that lacked Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel. Weitzeil, who was seventh at the Rio Games, swam a personal-best 53.18, which ranks her ninth in the world this year.

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