World Championships: Ben Proud Zooms to 50 Free World Title; Michael Andrew Claims Silver

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Ben Proud -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Ben Proud Explodes for 50 Free World Title; Michael Andrew Claims Silver

Great Britain’s Ben Proud is a pure sprinter, a 50-meter specialist who has won on almost every level he has competed. During his career, he has captured 50 freestyle titles at the Commonwealth Games, European Championships and Short Course World Championships, and in 2017, he was the world champion in the 50 butterfly. The 27-year-old owns a 50 free lifetime best of 21.11, which ranks him fourth all-time in the event and second-fastest in history in a textile suit, but Proud had never won a 50 freestyle medal at a major international long course competition. At the Olympics, Proud ended up tied for fifth in the event.

His week at the World Championships in Budapest got off to a rocky start when Proud fell to seventh in the 50 fly final. But in the 50 free semifinals Thursday in Budapest, Proud recorded his quickest swim in years (21.42) that allowed him to lead the field into the final by almost three tenths, and he walked out for the championship race behind lane four as the odds-on favorite.

“I had to call (Energy Standard coach) James Gibson and basically be like, ‘I’ve done a very good race in the semifinal. How the heck do I back this up?’” Proud said. “And he just said, ‘Focus on the details. Hit the start. Pick it up into the wall.’ I just did exactly what he said.”

In the final, Proud came through. His start (0.57 reaction time) vaulted him ahead of the pack right away, and Proud held on as the United States’ Michael Andrew closed in. Proud touched in 21.32 to secure gold, nine hundredths ahead of Andrew’s 21.41, and with that swim, Proud the first British swimmer to ever win a world title in the splash-and-dash.

Immediately afterward, Proud gave credit to those who have supported him as he sought to rebound after disappointing results at the Olympics where he was bereft following the one-length dash.

“I was just absolutely in tears because Olympics the last few years have been such a big thing with Covid happening, it was a real emotional rollercoaster.

“I really paid the price with my mental health the couple of months afterwards.

“I’ve had a brilliant team around me this year. Mark Skimming back at Bath University stuck around, did exactly what he needed to do to get me to a place where I was ready to step on, and I’ve recently moved back to Turkey to train with (strength coach) Mark Cosso, who is an absolute legend. He’s really got me to a great place physically, mentally, and I’ve absolutely loved training with him. It’s only been two months, but we have a really good thing going,” Proud said.

“This medal today, gold, silver, bronze, no matter what it was, it was always going to be for them, so I’m really chuffed to be able to bring something home. Big disappointment after the 50 fly. I really made a big mistake in that, but that fired me up for today, and I’m much happier to be leaving a freestyle world champion.”

The event was contested without Olympic gold medalist and two-time defending world champion Caeleb Dressel, who withdrew from the second half of the World Championships with an undisclosed health issue. Proud admitted that Dressel’s absence changed the feel of the race, and he was able to take advantage on his way to gold.

“To be honest, when Dressel is around, you know he’s a phenomenal swimmer, and to me, he’s always going to be the one that will be better day in and day out,” Proud said. “As soon as he was out, that changed the dynamics of the competition. I think a lot more people had a different type of pressure leading in. But when you come to World Champs, it’s all about getting through the rounds and getting your hand on the wall. I have to appreciate that but also wishing the best for Caeleb because no one wants to be sick. We hope he’s doing well because it’s not the same without him.”

Andrew just missed winning an Olympic medal in this event by three hundredths of a second, but this was his third individual medal of a strong World Championships in the sprints for the 23-year-old American. Previously, Andrew claimed bronze in both the 50 fly and 50 breast.

“It’s good. It’s better than a bronze. Before the race, I called 21.3 winning it. I was right. But it was a great swim, personal best. Can’t be upset with that. Super happy for my buddy Ben,” Andrew told NBC Sports after the race. “The Olympics was a tough 50 for me, so to come here, be able to execute, it’s great. We’ve had a fun week. I’m just taking it one race at a time.”

The bronze medal went to France’s Maxime Grousset in 21.57, three hundredths ahead of Hungary’s Szebasztian Szabo (21.60). Grousset, the silver medalist in the 100 free final Wednesday, got into the final in a swim-off when he edged out Olympic bronze medalist Bruno Fratus by the same margin, three hundredths.

Canada’s Josh Liendo was fifth (21.61) as he just missed winning his second individual medal of the meet after he claimed bronze in the 100 free behind David Popovici and Grousset.

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