2021 Trials Vision: Caeleb Dressel & The Insanely Deep Men’s 100 Free Field

Caeleb Dressel. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Caeleb Dressel.

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 US Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in 2021.

The men’s 100 freestyle is potentially the deepest event in the United States right now. In 2019, five of the ten fastest men in the world were American, led by world champ Caeleb Dressel, who is the fastest man in textile. He is the favorite to win next summer in Omaha, but it will not come easy as one mistake could prove to be disastrous for him. In 2018, an injured Caeleb Dressel finished sixth in this event at U.S. Nationals. Yes, he was not healthy, but it goes to show how difficult this field will be.

The Favorite

Caeleb Dressel

Caeleb Dressel – Photo Courtesy: Patrick ~B. Kraemer

Caeleb Dressel finished sixth in this race four years ago in Rio, and will have the target on his back to win in Tokyo. He has won the last two world titles in 2017 & 2019, and has the American record with his 46.96 from last summer. Although this is an extremely deep field, Dressel is about as overwhelming a favorite as can be based on his speed and athleticism that make him so dangerous in this event. He was a 48.6 in March but has been known to be a monster taper swimmer so he will be tough to beat.

The Contenders


Nathan Adrian. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

The biggest contender here has to be Nathan Adrian. He battled cancer for the majority of 2019 and was still able to anchor the U.S. to a gold medal in the 4×100 free relay. What can Adrian do with a healthy year of preparation? Yes he is over 30-years-old, but this is the 2012 Olympic gold medalist we are talking about. He won bronze in Rio and has been known as one of the best relay swimmers for the Americans in history. His ability to stay at the top and be this consistently good for over 10 years is what makes him dangerous for the second spot. The last time Adrian did not finish first or second in the 100 free at nationals was 2008, and for that he is still a contender.

The fastest man in the U.S. since September is Zach Apple, who would be a first-time Olympian if he can make the top six for the relay in Omaha. Apple proved to be a huge relay asset for the Americans last summer at the World Championships, swimming the fastest split on the 4×100 free that won gold and also won medals on three others, including gold in the mixed free. Apple was a 47.6 in December and has proved to be a spectacular racer. If he has a lane in the final, he will be tough to beat.

It is hard to discern who exactly is a favorite and who should be considered a longshot in the men’s 100 free. Dean Farris, the 2019 NCAA champion, was a 48.4 in December and has also been known to be a big taper swimmer. Farris took the school year off at Harvard to train at Texas and coach Eddie Reese said he was “on a mission” this year. Does Farris have what it takes to get a top two spot? Certainly a top four relay finish is within his grasp and the 100 free could be his best chance.


Ryan Held. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2016 Olympians Ryan Held and Blake Pieroni had big 2019s as both were under 48 seconds. Held won the national title with a 47.3, which was faster than the bronze medal winner at the World Championships. Held had a rough couple years after standing on the podium alongside Adrian and Michael Phelps, missing the 2017 and 2018 travel teams, but came back with a strong 2019 to jumpstart his Olympic year. Unfortunately he will have to wait another year, but he had been swimming well as of late and will be among the talks to make a relay spot.


Blake Pieroni. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Pieroni finished fourth at the World Championships in the 100 free as it was his first individual final at the international level. It was a huge step for Pieroni in his career as he was a 49.00 in March. He has been known to swim much better when rested and he will definitely be a wild card in the 100 freestyle. He made the team four years ago by finishing sixth and got the valuable experience of swimming in Rio.

The Longshots

Again, how do you really consider who the “underdogs” are in this event? Is that disrespectful to Tate JacksonMaxime Rooney and Michael Chadwick? The problem is, only Chadwick out of those three has any real senior international experience, and Chadwick did not swim on the finals relay at the two Worlds he swam at. Not to continue to beat a dead horse, but this 100 free field is stacked and it will be difficult to make it out of the semifinals and into the final. Chadwick has the experience of swimming in a nationals final and making the top six, so he has that in his favor.

Jackson and Rooney have both broken 48 seconds, as the two Longhorns are shooting for their first major senior teams. Rooney was a contender four years ago coming out of high school in the 100 & 200 free, but didn’t make the final in either. 2021 could be a big redemption tour for him after he missed his final NCAA championships.

And we have not even mentioned Robert HowardDaniel Krueger and Townley Haas, who could also factor in the top six. Surely there is someone else we have not mentioned, too ahead of the 2021 Trials?

It’s going to be a real battle, and the two that come out individually will definitely be medal favorites. Adrian was the last gold medalist in 2012 and the Americans have not had two on the podium since 1988 when Matt Biondi and Chris Jacobs went 1-2.

2021 Trials Vision

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1 comment

  1. avatar

    Adrian won’t make the team as an individual swimmer. Also you really should get rid of this crap comment system.