From Austin to Greensboro, the 2022 Winter Junior Championships provided blazing swims every night. In the boys’ 50 freestyle, it seemed like every time we turned around, another sub-20 second 50 free had been swum.
Male swimmers made a statement in the 50 freestyle in the closing months of 2022, and not just at a club level. In the NCAA, a record number of men went under 19 seconds at their midseason invites.
There’s a long history of sub-20 swims at Winter Juniors, but 2022 was a banner year. Including prelims, finals, and 200 free relay lead-offs, there were 36 sub-20 efforts swum across both meets. That’s the most in the last 10 years, and a differential of +19 from just last year.
Number of Sub-20 50 Frees (Flat-Start Only), 2013-22
Notes: Includes prelims, finals, and first leg of 200 freestyle relays. In 2015, Winter Juniors was split into two meets.
As shown in the chart, 2022 saw the highest number of 19-point 50 freestyles by a considerable margin (19 swims). Despite that, the fastest time of the year — 19.45 by Ethan Harrington — only ranks as the sixth-fastest top time.
In 2014, the year before the meet split, Ryan Hoffer was the only swimmer to get under the barrier, clocking 19.45 in prelims then 19.38 in finals. His club team, Scottsdale Aquatic Club, used him second on the 200 freestyle relay, so his 19.11 split doesn’t count for this chart. Interestingly, the year after the split, the number of sub-20 swims vaulted up to 7, with swimmers like Albert Gwo, Mark McGlaughlin, and Michael Andrew also getting under.
In addition to the meet splitting into East and West, another thing that’s important to consider is the order of events. Before 2014, the 200 freestyle relay was on the first day of the meet. Not only does having the relay on the first day of the meet inflate the data, but so does the fact that relays were still swum prelims/finals that year. Therefore, Caeleb Dressel had four opportunities to go sub-20; he did each time, which accounts for a third of the sub-20 swims that year.
After that year, the relay was moved to later in the meet and was swum finals only. So, in analyzing the data trends, we’re only looking from 2014-2023. You can see that data visualized below.
Total sub-20 Swims vs. Year
This chart shows that sub-20 swims had essentially plateaued from 2015-2019, averaging at 9. While the number of 19.xx swims certainly spiked in 2022, this graph helps illustrate that the amount of swims under 20 seconds actually began to rise in 2021.
One factor that may account for the dramatic rise from 2019 to 2021 is the pandemic. There was no Winter Juniors in 2020, which could account for why the number of swims more than doubles from 8 to 17. Had there been a meet in 2020, it’s possible we would have a more gradual rise.
But what about East versus West? Since the meet split, one of the big storylines each year has been which meet is faster. In this event, the West meet had more sub-20 swims four out of the seven years we’re looking at. Additionally, the West meet has also had the fastest swim for the last seven years.
Sub-20 Swims by East vs. West
Looking at the East vs. West data over time gives a chart like the one below:
East and West Sub-20 Swims vs. Year
One feat we’re still waiting to see is an entire ‘A’ final getting under 20 seconds. We were close to seeing it this year, as six of the East ‘A’ finalists broke the mark, as did seven in the West.
Full List of 2022 Sub-20 50 Freestyles