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.”
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.
LucaUrlando 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.
Caeleb Dressel didn’t match his seven-gold tally of 2017 but became the first swimmer to take eight medals in one world championship meet as the U.S. men took silver in the 4x100m medley relay, the last men’s race of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
The U.S. women capped their late surge in the championships with individual golds for Lilly King and Simone Manuel, followed by an emphatic world-record swim in the 4x100m medley relay in which breakout star Regan Smith set the tone in the backstroke before handing off to King, Kelsi Dahlia and Manuel.
The Sunday successes added to a late rally for a U.S. team that ran away with the overall medal count as usual but suffered a series of setbacks earlier in the week, including an illness than wiped out much of Katie Ledecky‘s week as well as some puzzling performances in a handful of events that are typically U.S. strongholds.
The Americans finished with 27 medals and 14 golds, down from their haul of 38 medals and 18 golds in 2017. Australia was second in the medal standings with 19 medals and five golds.
Dressel wound up with six gold medals: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, men’s 4x100m freestyle and the mixed 4×100 freestyle. He took silver in both medley relays — the men’s 4x100m and the mixed 4x100m. The 50m butterfly and the mixed 4x100m freestyle are not on the Olympic program.
In 2017, Dressel missed out on the medals in the 50m butterfly but took gold in all four relays in addition to his other three individual medals.
The women’s relay opened with Smith, a high school student from Minnesota who’ll start college at Stanford after the Olympics next year. The 17-year-old swimmer broke out on the international scene earlier in the week with a world record in the 200m backstroke semifinals and followed up with a convincing win in the final. She lived up to expectations in the relay with a world-record backstroke leg of 57.57 seconds.
“There’s nothing better than diving in with a body-length lead already,” King said.
King extended the lead to nearly three seconds. Dahlia, a 100m butterfly bronze medalist in 2017 under her maiden name of Kelsi Worrell, kept the lead around the same margin while Canada passed Australia to move into second place.
The only questions left on the freestyle leg were whether Australia’s Cate Campbell could surge past Canadian star Penny Oleksiak for silver and whether Manuel could wrap up keep the U.S. women under world record pace. The answer on both counts was yes, with Manuel swimming a leg of 51.86 seconds for a final time of 3:50.40, more than a second off the record the U.S. women set in 2017.
“To start off with a world record from Regan, I think that really pumped us all up,” Manuel said.
Olivia Smoliga swam in the heats for the medley relay to earn her third medal and second gold of the meet.
Dressel did all he could in the men’s relay, pulling the U.S. team from fourth to first with the fastest butterfly time (49.28) by more than a second in his last race of a busy week.
Swimming🏊 – Fast times at Gwangju pool
👉 Regan Smith🇺🇸 57.57, first ♀️ sub-58s in 100m back 👉 🇺🇸 WR 3:50.40 in ♀️ 4x100m medley 👉 Duncan Scott🇬🇧 46.16 free split, 0.08 slower than fastest-ever Jason Lezak (OG 2008). 👉 Dressel🇺🇸 49.28 fastest fly split#FINAWorlds
Ryan Murphy, who was fourth in the 50m backstroke earlier in the evening, stayed close to Russian multimedalist Evgeny Rylov, and breaststroke specialist Andrew Wilson handed off in fourth place amid a tightly bunch lead group.
Dressel handed off to NathanAdrian, a much-decorated freestyle veteran who has rebounded from treatment for testicular cancer earlier this year and anchored the winning 4x100m freestyle relay earlier this week. Adrian held off the charge from Russia, but Duncan Scott, the subject of an angry outburst from China’s Sun Yang at a medal ceremony earlier in the week, posted the second-fastest freestyle split of all time to give Great Britain the gold.
Earlier Sunday, Manuel inched past a loaded field in the 50m freestyle to win in 24.05 seconds, 0.02 seconds ahead of Swedish star Sarah Sjoestroem and 0.06 ahead of Australia’s Cate Campbell. Denmark’s Pernille Blume finished within 0.07 seconds of Manuel but missed out on the podium.
The medalists were the same, albeit with Campbell and Sjoestroem reversed, as they were in the 100m freestyle earlier in the week, when Manuel won from all the way out in Lane 1 after a slow time in the semifinals.
In the first women’s final of the evening, King won her final showdown with Russian Yuliya Efimova in the 50m breaststroke. King, who holds the world record of 29.40, finished in 29.84, barely outtouching 14-year-old Italian Benedetta Pilato, (30.00) who burst into tears as King reached over to congratulate her. Efimova was third in 30.15.
“The girls next to me really gave me a good race,” King said.
Like Manuel, King also won the 100m race in her discipline. King also won both events in the 2017 world championships and won the 100m in the 2016 Olympics but was denied a shot at a breakthrough in the 200m after being disqualified in the preliminary heats.
Jay Litherland took a surprising silver in the men’s 400m individual medley, in which top American Chase Kalisz failed to qualify two years after setting the championship record in the event. Litherland, a bronze medalist in the 4x200m freestyle relay in 2017, was 3.34 seconds behind Japanese favorite Daiya Seto heading into the freestyle leg but closed to within 0.27 seconds at the finish.
“I can’t explain it,” Litherland said. “That was a fun race.”
In the first final of the evening, South Africa’s Zane Waddell, who swims at the University of Alabama and won an NCAA title this year in the men’s 4x50m medley relay, stunned the Russian and American favorites in a tightly bunched finish in the men’s 50m backstroke.
Waddell finished in 24.43, just ahead of Evgeny Rylov (24.49) and world record-holder Kliment Kolesnikov (24.51).
Murphy (24.53, fourth) won the 100m and 200m backstroke in the 2016 Olympics but has never claimed an individual world title. He took silver and bronze in 2017 and then silver in the 200m backstroke earlier this week.
Michael Andrew (24.58, fifth) has the unusual distinction of qualifying for the final in every 50m race of the week, though he was unable to crack the podium in any final.
“What was nice about not hitting every mark was the motivation it gives me going into Tokyo,” Andrew said.
Germany’s Florian Wellbrock won the men’s 1,500m freestyle in 14:36.54. No U.S. swimmers qualified for the final.
Hungary’s “Iron Lady,” 30-year-old Katinka Hosszu completed a quadruple-double, winning the 400m individual medley title for the fourth straight time after doing the same in the 200m medley earlier in the week. U.S. swimmer Ally McHugh was sixth.
Hosszu also swept the medleys in the 2016 Olympics and won the 400m race back in 2009.
Swimming🏊 – Katinka Hosszú🇭🇺 became the first woman to win 5️⃣ gold medals in a specific event (women's 400m individual medley).
Other swimmers with large medal hauls in the championships included Australia’s Campbell (two individual medals, three from relays) and Ariarne Titmus (three individual, one relay), Russia’s Rylov (three individual, two relay) and Efimova (three individual), Great Britain’s Adam Peaty (two individual, two relay), and Canada’s Kylie Masse and Sydney Pickrem (two individual and one relay each).
After a slow start to the world swimming championships in Gwangju, South Korea, the U.S. team has stormed back with a dizzying run of world championships and world records.
Caeleb Dressel took three gold medals in less than two hours Saturday, bringing his total for the week to six world titles and keeping alive his chances of matching his seven-gold tally from the 2017 world championships. Dressel’s final race of the evening was the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, where Simone Manuel also picked up another world title — and a world record.
Dressel repeated his 2017 feat of three golds in one night, something Michael Phelps never attempted at an Olympics or worlds.
“It was not easy in ’17, and it was not easy this year,” said Dressel, who joined Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky as the only swimmers to earn four individual titles at a single worlds. “I don’t want it to be easy.”
Regan Smith — who, like Dressel, set a world record in a semifinal race Friday — won her first world title at age 17.
Ledecky allied from a week of illness and a substantial deficit in the 800m freestyle to add an emphatic win to her trophy case.
Swedish star Sarah Sjoestroem kicked off the evening with her third straight 50m butterfly title, her first gold after a silver and two bronze medals this week. She also won four medals in 2017 and can match her record of five from 2015.
Then Dressel hit the pool for the 50m freestyle and set a championship and American record of 21.04 seconds. Brazil’s Bruno Fratus and Greece’s Kristian Gkolomeev tied for second 0.41 seconds behind, an eternity in such a short race.
Dressel was up again 34 minutes later in the 100m butterfly, in which he broke Phelps’ world record in Friday’s semifinal. His time of 49.66 seconds was just shy of his new record of 49.50 but a comfortable 1.17 seconds ahead of Russia’s Andrei Minakov.
South Africa’s Chad le Clos, a longtime Phelps rival, took bronze just ahead of 19-year-old Hungarian Kristof Milak, who broke Phelps’ record in the 200m butterfly on Wednesday.
Next up was Smith, who broke through in the international swimming scene with authority on Friday with a world record of 2:03.35 in the 200m backstroke semifinals on Friday. In the final, she was nearly a second ahead of her new world record at the halfway mark (59.45 seconds, a time that would have taken sixth in the 100m backstroke here) before cruising home in 2:03.69, a solid 2.57 seconds ahead of Australia’s Kaylee McKeown.
Smith has one more year at Lakeville North (Minn.) High School before beginning her college career at Stanford. She is not entered in any other individual events but could be selected for the medley relay.
“I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to try to break (the world record) two nights in a row,” Smith said. “Just to get close to that again was awesome, so I’m really happy.”
Then Ledecky, the world’s most dominant freestyle swimmer in the 2010s, shook off a week of illness that forced her out of a couple of races and rallied with a furious sprint in the final lap to take gold in the 800m freestyle, in which she has taken every world and Olympic title from the 2012 Olympics onwards.
Dressel returned for a third swim in the leadoff leg of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, staking the U.S. team to a narrow lead of 0.03 seconds over Australia. Zach Apple pushed that lead out to nearly a second, and Mallory Comerford stayed in front despite a charge from Emma McKeon.
Then it was up to Manuel, who defended her world title in the 100m freestyle earlier in the week and qualified for the 50m free final with a strong semifinal earlier in the evening. She extended the lead slightly at the turn and finished 0.57 seconds in front.
The overall time of 3:19.40 pared 0.20 seconds off the previous world record, set by the U.S. team in 2017.
Earlier this week, Dressel took gold in the 100m freestyle, the 50m butterfly and the men’s 4x100m freestyle. He can equal his 2017 total of seven golds in the men’s 4×100 medley relay on Sunday.
In the first final of the evening, Sjoestroem won the 50m butterfly over Dutch veteran Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who took silver for the second straight world championship. Egypt’s Farida Osman edged out American Kelsi Dahlia by 0.01 seconds to take bronze. Dahlia tied the American record with a time of 25.48.
Like Dressel, Sjoestroem has a busy schedule here. She was back in the pool barely 20 minutes later, posting the fastest time in the 50m freestyle semifinals. Manuel qualified fourth, while fellow American Abbey Weitzeil did not qualify.
Lilly King, who won her second straight 100m breaststroke world title earlier in the week, rebounded from her disqualification in the 200m breaststroke to post the fastest time in the semifinals of the 50m breaststroke, another event in which she is the defending champion. King finished in 29.84, with Russian rival Yuliya Efimova winning the other semi in 30.12.
Ryan Murphy qualified for the 50m backstroke final, taking second in his semifinal behind Russia’s Evgeny Rylov, who took gold ahead of Murphy in the 200m backstroke.
Michael Andrew finished sixth in the 50m freestyle and returned an hour later to earn the rare distinction of qualifying for the final in all four 50m disciplines, qualifying seventh in the backstroke. He finished fourth in the butterfly final and seventh in the breaststroke.
Dressel has one event left Sunday, the men’s 4x100m medley relay. He’s accomplished everything he could have hoped for individually in Gwangju with four American records and a world record. It will only raise the hype going into the Tokyo Olympics, where if all goes right at trials he will in at least six events and perhaps a Phelpsian eight.
“I’ll be ready for it next year,” said Dressel, who burned out from the sport as the world’s top prep swimmer five years ago and struggled with the increased demands of turning pro last year. “I’ve never been one to buy into all the hype. It’s really just between me, myself and my coach getting ready for next year.”
OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.