As Hype Builds for Paris Olympics, Men’s 100 Butterfly Could Be a Race to Remember

Noe Ponti of Switzerland reacts after compete, winning the silver medal, in the 50m Butterfly men Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 14th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Noe Ponti -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

As Hype Builds for Paris Olympics, Men’s 100 Butterfly Could Be a Race to Remember

At the last Olympics, the men’s 100 butterfly unfolded as a showdown of two world-record-holding, Olympic-gold-medal-winning swimmers with very different racing styles. The United States’ Caeleb Dressel, already the gold medalist in the 100 freestyle, would go out hard before Hungary’s Kristof Milak, the winner of the 200 fly, would run him down on the back stretch. The result was Dressel winning in 49.45, breaking his own world record, while Milak passed Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic to become the second-fastest man ever.

Since then, no one has broken 50, but a preponderance of low-to-mid 50-second swims has made the men’s 100 fly one of the most anticipated races of the Paris Games. Ironically, after coming in three years ago as the big favorites, Dressel and Milak are now the wildcards, with the world waiting to see how good they might be after both have been absent from international competition for extended periods.

The world champion last year was France’s Maxime Grousset, who held off the charging duo of Josh Liendo (Canada) and Dare Rose (USA) to secure his first world title. Grousset became the fifth-fastest performer ever with the result, and aside from Leon Marchand, he will represent France’s best hope for gold in the pool at a home Olympics later this year.

The medal-winning trio from Worlds against the resurgent pair of Dressel and Milak? That’s plenty of drama for one final, but add in even more players: Australia’s Matt Temple clocked 50.25 in December to move to sixth all-time in the event, and he then clocked 50.61 in mid-March. Further back in the rankings, the Netherlands’ Nyls Korstanje has been as fast as 50.78. If Korstanje can maintain his electric early speed, he is in the medal mix. Then there’s 19-year-old Diogo Matos Ribeiro, a Portuguese swimmer who won gold medals in the 50 and 100 fly at the most recent World Championships this February.

And hopefully no one forgot about Noe Ponti, who was just 20 years old when he claimed bronze in that Dressel-Milak showcase in Tokyo.

Ponti has largely been under-the-radar in global competitions since winning his medal in Tokyo. He has grabbed a trio of medals at the Short Course World Championships, but on the long course level, he finished eighth in the 2022 final before taking seventh in 2023 after narrowly qualifying for the top heat.

However, Ponti has been resurgent in recent months, beginning with a sweep of the butterfly event at the European Short Course Championships in December. In 2024, Ponti clocked 50.93 in the 100 fly last month for his first sub-51 effort in a one-and-a-half years, and now, he has jumped even higher with a sizzling 50.16 clocking in prelims at the Swiss Championships.

That swim moved Ponti up to sixth all-time in the race, knocking Temple down to seventh, and Ponti backed up his morning effort with a 50.37 winning time in the final that was still well under his previous best — and quicker than it took to reach the podium at last year’s Worlds.

Ponti also clocked 22.65 in the 50 fly at that meet, moving to sixth all-time while swimming faster than Thomas Ceccon clocked in winning last year’s world title in the event, and his 1:54.59 in the 200 fly would have been quick enough for a finals spot at Worlds. Interestingly, there is little crossover between top finishers in the 100 and 200 fly on the global level, with no swimmers making the final in both events at the 2023 Worlds. Ponti and Canada’s Ilya Kharun would be the two most likely candidates to qualify for double butterfly finals in Paris.

But it’s the 100-meter race that produced an Olympic medal for Ponti three years ago and where he will find himself squarely in contention for gold this time around. He is the first serious contender in the 100 fly to throw down a message-sending performance this year. We’ll get a glimpse into Milak’s current form with the Hungarian Championships beginning this week while Olympic qualification meets for France, Canada, Australia and the United States still to follow in the coming months.

At this point, it could require a sub-51 just to qualify and perhaps even 50-second swims getting left out. Five men have already been under 50.5 in the last year, and that does not count the returning duo that sits atop the all-time rankings in the 100 fly. Want to win a medal? That could require getting under 50.

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1 month ago

Dressel broke WR with 50.45? I think not!

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