It’s pretty incredible to see barriers broken. At the 2018 NCAA Championships in Minneapolis, the University of Florida senior, Caeleb Dressel broke three barriers in three different events. First he swam to a sub 18-second 50 freestyle, then on night two he swam a sub 43 second 100 butterfly, and on the final night he swam a sub 40 second 100 freestyle.

In this episode of Whiteboard Wednesday, we’ll take a look at how Caeleb Dressel swam a 17.63 50 yard freestyle!

Video Transcription

Howdy swim fans, here with another episode of Whiteboard Wednesday! In today’s lesson we’re discussing the incredible swim by Caeleb Dressel – 17.63, the first human to ever go sub-18 seconds for a 50 yard freestyle!

Dressel swam this time at the NCAA Championships in the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. It was absolutely amazing.

He broke the 50 freestyle record three times within 12 hours: 18.11 in the prelims, a 17.81 leading off the 200 freestyle relay and then lowered it further with a 17.63 in the finals of the 50 freestyle.

Caeleb Dressel is redefining what it means to go fast, and today we’re going to dive into the numbers and see just how fast this swim is and how he got there.

17.63 is absolutely insane. The race starts from the blocks – a 0.63 second reaction time on the start. Reaction Time is the time from when the beep fires to when your toes leave the block. A 0.6 is relatively fast; however, what is more incredible is the 1st 25 split.

Dressel was 8.48 seconds on the first 25 to his feet!

On the 2nd 25 yards, Dressel took just 9.15 seconds. This is roughly what the best in the world can do on the first 25 yards with a dive!

If we examine the stroke count, he’s not taking a lot of strokes. 8 strokes on the first 25 and back in 11 strokes on the second 25 yards. This is a little bit more than he took in the prelims of the race where he swam an 18.1. It looks like he increased his tempo and swam the finals race more aggressive taking those extra strokes and dropping half a second with more power in every stroke.

United States’ Caeleb Dressel starts a men’s 50-meter butterfly semifinal during the swimming competitions of the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, July 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Underwater, he took 6-7 dolphin kicks off the start and the turn. It’s hard to tell exactly how many kicks he took, but it appears he took roughly the same number of kicks off the start and turn. Finally, he took zero breaths the entire 50! Most elite swimmers racing sub-20 seconds in the 50 freestyle don’t take a breath at all.

As an athlete, Caeleb Dressel is not the largest swimmer behind the blocks. At 6’3″ and 190lbs, he’s a lean and mean machine.

In the 100 Freestyle, Dressel is the first person to ever swim sub-40 seconds. It sounds a bit ridiculous to say 39 for someone’s time, but in 2018 and on we can now start to say the number ‘3’ in front of a 100 time. In that race, his first 50 was 18.96 seconds.

At the NCAA Championships, Dressel also broke the 100 butterfly all-time record (which he held) and was the first to swim under 43 seconds racing home in 42.80 seconds. In this race, he clocked a 19.99 on the first 50 – which is insane!

People often ask how these times compare to a Long Course pool. For relative context, last year Dressel swam a 21.15 in the 50 freestyle in the FINA World Championships. In the 100 freestyle he raced to individual gold with a 47.1. In 2017 he also swam a 1:47 in the 200m freestyle at the U.S. Team Trials for Worlds. To be able to swim the 50 through the 200 at this level is astonishing.

What gets me the most excited about 17.63 is just how much faster this time is than anyone else in the world. The next fastest human ever is Cesar Cielo who raced a 18.47 at the 2008 NCAA Championships.

Dressel’s time of 17.63 is 4.55% faster than the next fastest human ever in the 50 yard freestyle.

This is an incredible margin to be ahead of anyone in the world. A margin of 4.5% is so large even when considered that the next fastest person is Cesar Cielo – the current World Record holder in the 50 and 100m freestyle and the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the event.

In this 50 Freestyle Race at the NCAA Championships, the next fastest competitor was Ryan Held (N.C. State) with a 18.64. Dressel won the event by over 1-second which is pretty ridiculous for a 50 freestyle at this level of competition.

If we try to examine why he’s swimming so fast, it’s important to look at the fundamentals. Physically, he’s no the largest, heaviest, or strongest athlete behind the blocks.

Dressel is able to put together the perfect race and outperform the rest of the world in every component of the 50 freestyle.

In the 50 freestyle (short course), there’s three fundamental elements.

  1. Start – Reaction Time, Entry, Streamline, Breakout
  2. Turn – Approach, Flip, Streamline, Breakout
  3. Finish – Swimming Speed, Finish Speed

Dressel’s underwater streamline is arguable the fastest in the world. He’s hitting 15m off the start in about 5 seconds. On the turn, the key is approaching the wall with speed and maintaining speed through the push-off and into the breakout.

The fastest part of any race is when you start off the block or when you push off the wall. Your ability to maintain speed through the breakout and carry it into the overwater part of the race defines how fast your 50 freestyle can be.

To gain perspective and appreciate how fast 17.63 is, if we compare this time to speed in km/hr – it’s the equivalent of moving at 9km/hr. That’s a solid jogging pace for most people.

Dressel achieved this speed moving through water – a medium that’s 800x more dense than air…

What gets me so excited about a swim like this that breaks the 18 second barrier, it means there is so much potential in the sport of swimming to get faster. In the future, there will not be just one swimmer under 18 seconds in the 50 and under 40 seconds in the 100, there will be multiple swimmers.

It may take a few years for this to happen, but now the next generation of swimmers are inspired and know it’s possible to achieve these times, and it will surely happen!

See Also: 39.90 100 Yard Freestyle Analysis



  1. It would be cool to analyze the various “parts of the machine” and see if that sheds anymore light on how this is happening. Is he way faster with a kickboard than anyone else? How fast can he pull a 200? How much is he tricep pressing in the weight room? Core work? How about flexibility?
    I’m sure it is a combination of many things, and I understand you can probably only analyze so much. But this is so extraordinary, I’m actually interested in the finer details with how all of these performances are unfolding…

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