U.S. Nationals: Ryan Held Wins Mental Battle in 50 Free Victory

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Ryan Held Wins Mental Battle in 50 Free Victory

Ryan Held had to take a dose of his own advice Saturday night.

Before the meet, he had a talk with some of the younger NC State swimmers, sharing lessons he’d learned at his alma mater. One that stood out, semi self-effacingly, was to not take it too seriously, to “swim for the 8-year-old you who would be absolutely in awe” of being at a meet like this.

It came in handy to cap Phillips 66 Nationals and earn a bit of history for himself.

Held won the men’s 50 freestyle, booking a rare individual swim at a major international event for a swimmer that has been such a relay cornerstone for going on a decade.

Held clocked in at 21.50 seconds. He was followed by Jack Alexy, whose time of 21.63 seconds edged out Olympian Michael Andrew by .01 seconds.

“It’s such a great feeling,” Held said. “I told my wife, every day before I was leaving for practice, that I was going to make an individual event for the World Championships this year. For it to finally happen is a dream come true.”

That drive informs the mixed feelings he overcame this week. Held Saturday reversed the disappointment of the 100 free, where he was third at the 50-meter mark but faded to fifth. It was still enough to get him to Worlds for relay duty, but with the youth movement of the 100 free overturning the veteran order, he entered the final night looking for an individual swim.

It was job done, then, but not in the way he wanted.

“On one hand, I was happy, excited,” Held said. “But then on the other, I was like, ah man, this is not how I wanted to make the team. I wanted to make it individually, I had such a great swim in the morning.”

Held showed well in the 50 backstroke and 50 butterfly in the interim period, but he never felt himself a realistic threat to claim the one spot in either event. Instead, he used the swims to get his mind right and “to have some fun.”

Still, doubt crept in ahead of Saturday that Held had to quell.

“It was exactly how I wanted it to go,” Ryan Held said. “I think Herbie (Behm) and I have been working on the 50 a lot this year, and just before, I was really nervous. What if Tuesday re-happens? What if I do this, do that? I was just trying to stay out of my head behind the blocks.”

The sprint youth movement is still churning. Alexy, the surprise winner of an insane 100 free in 47.93, keeps his hot streak going. He ventured under 22 seconds for the first time in morning prelims at 21.83, second to Held’s 21.65. He was faster still at night, slicing another two tenths off that time to grab his second Worlds swim.

That leaves Andrew on the outside looking in. His busy program included a win in the 50 butterfly, but with roster caps met, he is set to miss out on the event. He was second in the 50 breaststroke.

Matt King, the surprise third-place finisher in the 100 free, added another solid swim by going 21.80 for fourth place in the 50 Saturday. Arizona State’s Jonny Kulow was fifth, followed by David Curtiss and 100-free runner-up Chris Guiliano. The top seven were under 22 seconds. Five of those top seven are collegiate swimmers with eligibility left, in what might start to turn the tide of international dominance in the 50 free in the NCAA realm.

Olympian Drew Kibler rounded out the A final in eighth.

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