SwimmingRyan Held Bounces Back From 2021 Fluke for World Championships Berth

Ryan Held Bounces Back From 2021 Fluke for World Championships Berth

Ryan Held Bounces Back From ‘2021 Fluke’ for World Championships Berth (VIDEO)

Ryan Held thought he had qualified for his second Olympic team. Sure, his performance in the 100 freestyle final at Olympic Trials was more than a second slower than his lifetime best and his slowest of the three rounds in Omaha, but he had finished sixth. The top-six swimmers in the 100 and 200 free always are selected as relay swimmers for the Olympics, Held thought. So did almost everyone else in the building.

But a few days later, Held remembers sitting in an Omaha sandwich shop when he learned about a little-known rule: the U.S. could only select 12 relay-only swimmers for Tokyo. But there were 13 swimmers in position to earn that nod. Held’s finals swim was the lowest-world-ranked of the 13 women and men, so he would be the unlucky man out.

The news completely through Held off his game. He was considered a strong contender to qualify for the Olympic team in the 50 free, but he fell to 12th in the semifinals, more than a half-second off his best time. A day later, when the Olympic team was announced, Held was not part of it.

“I was like, ‘Wait, what? This is a rule?’” Held said of the 12-swimmer cap. “And then after that, mentally, it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same going into my 50. Honestly, yeah, it sucked. But it’s just something I had to go through and live through, and honestly, I think it mentally made me tougher.”

After winning Olympic gold as part of the U.S. men’s 400 free relay at the 2016 Olympics, Held had barely missed qualifying for World Championship teams in both 2017 and 2019. When he finally thought he was over the hump, he ended up receiving the crushing news.

The Olympic Trials setback, which Held called the “2021 fluke,” weighed on him for 10 months, even as his swimming career continued and he had success. Held moved to the Phoenix area where he began training with Herbie Behm’s sprint group at Arizona State University, and he believes that move and training alongside Arizona State sprinters Grant House, Carter Swift and Cody Bybee has revitalized his training.

Held was selected to swim at the Short Course World Championships in December, and he captured six medals, including individual medals in the 50 and 100 free and two relay golds. Those honors were great, but he still wanted to qualify for a spot at a long course selection meet, where all the best swimmers in the U.S. would be gearing up with the same goal in mind. “A major championship meet that I actually had to trial for and not just get selected like Short Course Worlds,” Held said.

Now, he has made it back. In the 100 free final at the U.S. International Team Trials in Greensboro, Held finished third behind Caeleb Dressel and Brooks Curry. It was not a lifetime best, not even close, but this 48.18 was enough for a guaranteed relay spot at the World Championships.

“It feels super good. Just going into this race tonight, I was just so nervous, and it feels so good just to get that mental monkey off my back,” Held said. “Finally, OK, I can reset now. Mentally, it’s behind me. I’ve proven to myself that I can do the race and move on.”

Sure, finishing third and narrowly missing out on a spot in an individual event was a slight bummer for Held, but the overwhelming feeling was of sheer relief. It was visibly evident how much it meant to the 26-year-old Held to get back onto the top American international squad after a six-year absence. No more thinking about the “2021 fluke.”

“Obviously, I want to get that individual spot, but I just wanted to get on the team. Just get on the team. Just get over this hump,” he said.


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