Speed Surge: Jordan Crooks and College Rivals Pushing Limits in 50 Freestyle

Jordan Crooks -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Speed Surge: Jordan Crooks and College Rivals Pushing Limits in 50 Freestyle

Last February, University of Tennessee sprinter Jordan Crooks joined Caeleb Dressel as the second man in history to eclipse 18 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle. Five weeks later, Crooks secured the NCAA crown in a nail-biting finish over Florida’s Josh Liendo. And it was not just those two men at the forefront: the field was the fastest in history, with 13 men breaking 19 in prelims and a time of 18.87 required to reach the A-final. Only once before had it required an 18-second effort to secure a spot in the top-eight: one year earlier, when nine men went under in the morning.

Eight of the top nine swimmers from the 2023 national championships are returning for this year, thanks to Arizona State’s Jack Dolan and NC State’s Noah Henderson both opting to use the COVID-19 waiver to swim a fifth year in college. Only Brooks Curry, the 2022 winner in this event, has left the college ranks. And with all that talent on hand, the early-season results are suggesting some monster times are in the works for this year.

It’s worth noting that plenty of college swimmers have not unloaded special performances yet. That’s perfectly normal for early November. The Cal duo of Bjorn Seeliger and Jack Alexy currently sit lower than expected in the national rankings? Not a big deal, especially after Alexy’s breakout summer saw him win World Championships silver medals in the 50 and 100-meter free. On the contrary, it’s the speed displayed by their rivals in dual-meet action that suggests a special championship season to come.

Entering last weekend, the country’s top time in the 50 free belonged to Dolan, whose 19.02 in Arizona State’s meet against NC State is only 16-hundredths slower than his best time all of last year. Dolan is still tied for the top spot. Liendo previously ranked second at 19.30, but not anymore. Here were the top swims from just two days, between meets in Raleigh, Knoxville and Tempe:


Jack Dolan — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

1. Jordan Crooks (TENN), 19.02
2. Jack Dolan (ASU), 19.14
3. Luke Miller (NCST), 19.18
3. Noah Henderson (NCST), 19.18
5. Josh Liendo (FLOR), 19.28
6. Jonny Kulow (ASU), 19.37
7. Drew Salls (NCST), 19.46
8. Artem Selim (ASU), 19.48

Those swimmers are eight of the top-10 in Division I so far this season, with another NC State swimmer in the mix (Quintin McCarty, who went 19.48 when the Wolfpack raced the Sun Devils) along with Notre Dame’s Chris Guiliano, who broke through over the summer by clinching a World Championships team berth in the 100-meter free. Guiliano owns a 50-yard season best of 19.35.

Kulow has emerged on a breakout arc in the 50 free and 100 free, including recent success at the Pan American Games.

The first 18-second swims of the 2023-24 campaign are not far off — surely we will see such performances next week during the first wave of midseason invitationals. Currently, swimmers from Arizona State and NC State have an unusually large presence toward the top of the standings. How much will that change, especially once swimmers from Florida and Cal have their opportunities for racing with rest and tech suits. We shouldn’t expect the Golden Bears to show off their top form in the fall, but head coach Dave Durden’s group always shows up in March, so Seeliger and Alexy will undoubtedly be factors in this race at the NCAA Championships.

The other two returning finalists to watch here are Gui Caribe, Crooks’ teammate at Tennessee and recently the Pan Am Games gold medalist in the 100-meter free, and Youssef Ramadan, the Virginia Tech swimmer who was the NCAA champion in the 100 butterfly last year. Neither is a likely title-contender, but the 50 free is an event where any mistake can doom a swimmer and the smallest margins come into play. If the favorites are even slightly off their best, the rest of the field comes into play when the race is as tight as this year’s collegiate final is sure to be.

And for fans of speed, the question is whether further swimmers will venture into 17-second territory. Crooks has seemingly improved since last year’s college season, with an impressive long course campaign netting him spots in a pair of World Championship finals this summer. Liendo was slightly off his best times this summer, but his college season last year was his first time ever racing in short course yards, so he will likely become more confident in the format. Seeliger has an 18.2 on his résumé, and it’s plausible for Alexy or some of this season’s early scorchers to make the leap.

In the meantime, expect to keep seeing speedy times pop off around the country as the swimmers build toward an ultimate splash-and-dash clash in less than five months.

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