Jack Alexy Fills Void as Rising U.S. Sprint Star With Opportunistic Silver Medal

Jack Alexy -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Jack Alexy Fills Void as Rising U.S. Sprint Star With Opportunistic Silver Medal

As soon his 100 freestyle semifinal race began, Jack Alexy seemingly lost any chance of scoring a spot in the final. On his dive, Alexy failed to reach streamline before hitting the water, knocking his body out of line completely and zapping his momentum from the start. The 20-year-old American emerged a half-bodylength behind the field and struggled to catch up, over-swimming the first 50 before fading down the stretch to fifth in his heat.

But Alexy got lucky. His time of 48.06 was enough to get into the final, two tenths behind the rest of the field but two hundredths ahead of South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo. That meant Alexy, who had posted a best time of 47.68 in prelims, would have his shot at the big names Wednesday evening. Just make one quick adjustment first.

“I tell you I did a few starts last night in warm-down,” Alexy said. “It’s kind of hard not to think about it last night and this morning, but stuff happens like that, and you just got to move forward.”

So what that the field included world-record holder David Popovici, 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers, 200 free world champion Matt Richards and 2022 silver medalist Maxime Grousset? Even the presence of those acclaimed performers was not going to stop Alexy, whose semifinal misfortune had gifted him with an outside lane for the medal race, away from the thrashing sprinters in the middle of the pool.

So Alexy went for it. As the men in the middle raced each other, the Morristown, N.J., native snuck out ahead from lane eight. He reached the halfway point in first place, splitting 22.48 to clear the field by 19-hundredths. “I’m not usually in an outside lane, but it’s pretty nice to have clear water on one side. I had a really good view of the field going out, and I knew I’d be out at the top of the first 50. Just bring it back home the second 50,” Alexy said. “I tried to approach it like any other race, get in my comfort zone, focus on my process, stay in my own lane and just do my thing.”

The field closed, with Chalmers and World No. 1 Pan Zhanle of China charging down the stretch after being tied for seventh at the halfway point, but Alexy remained in the lead until the closing strokes. Chalmers would get to the wall in 47.15, securing his first individual world title for the final big victory missing from his collection, while Alexy earned a stunning silver, finishing in 47.31 ahead of Grousset’s 47.42, which edged out Pan (47.43) and Richards (47.45) for bronze.

All this from a man making his senior-level international debut this week in Fukuoka and one whose best time entering U.S. Nationals exactly one month ago was 48.85, good for the 14th-fastest seed time. A man who showed promise at the 2021 Olympic Trials but finished 24th in the 100 free at last year’s U.S. International Team Trials in 49.97.

But during his sophomore season at Cal, everything clicked for Alexy. He became one of the top sprinters in the country and finished second in the 100-yard free at the NCAA Championships in 40.92. Entering Nationals, he was in position for a big drop and a chance at qualifying for Worlds as a relay swimmer, but instead, Alexy got under 48 and took the title for himself.

So did that make Alexy the top 100 freestyler in the United States? Perhaps, but his hold was tenuous, and the position he was filling was attached to quite a legacy. This meet marks the first time in 15 years — a run dating back to the 2008 Olympics — that neither Nathan Adrian nor Caeleb Dressel are swimming the 100 free for the United States. At the last World Championships held in Fukuoka in 2001, Anthony Ervin won the world title in the 100 free, and since then, Dressel, Adrian, Jimmy Feigen and Jason Lezak are the only men to reach the podium at a Worlds or Olympics in the event.

“We have not only a great legacy at Cal but a great legacy of sprint freestyle in the USA,” Alexy said. “Obviously Nathan Adrian, pretty big shoes to feel, but I feel like I’m in the right direction, making my college team proud and also my country.”

Enter Jack Alexy. He swam his best time in the biggest moment, nearly snatching away a world title before the seasoned Chalmers came through, and Alexy ended up as the 13th-fastest performer ever in the event and the second-best ever behind Dressel, a surprise to even himself.

“I was just trying to make the Worlds team, whether it be an individual or relay spot, at U.S. Nationals and very happy with that time and my place,” Alexy said, fully aware of the fact he had just clocked 47.31.

And now that Alexy has proven himself, he will be among those expected in the hunt for the medals in the 50 free. He will swim on the American mixed 400 free relay and surely anchor a star-studded men’s medley relay, with Cal teammates Ryan Murphy and Dare Rose likely to be part of that team. China has encroached on favorite status in that relay, but Alexy beating Pan in the individual 100 free suggests an American leg-up on the final leg.

A busy final three days in Fukuoka remain, but Alexy has already secured his signature moment and one of the best surprises for the U.S. all week.

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