World Men’s Newcomer of the Year: Jordan Crooks Blossoms Into World Champ

Jordan Crooks of Cayman Islands stands with the gold medal after compete in the 50m Freestyle Men Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 17th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

World Men’s Newcomer of the Year: Jordan Crooks Blossoms Into World Champ

The byword for Jordan Crooks from the 2022 NCAA Championships was confidence.

As much as his medals from that meet – tied for third in the 50 freestyle, fifth in the 100 free – were an excellent return for the University of Tennessee freshman, he returned from Atlanta with something arguably more valuable. He knew he had earned his place among the elite American swimmers and Olympic sprinters from all over the globe. Crooks proved he belonged in the conversation of the best male sprinters in the world.

He’s spent the bulk of 2022 proving that. His gold medal in the 50 free at the 2022 FINA World Short-Course Championships is less a revelation than a validation of the growth happening all along.

“It was really new to me, and I learned a lot,” Crooks told Swimming World in October about NCAAs. “I think it was a really cool meet to be a part of, because I was able to see a lot of different techniques that I didn’t really know about or had only heard about and race some really impressive guys.”

Just a sophomore, Crooks has comprehensively rewritten the Tennessee record boards. The native of the Cayman Islands holds program marks in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 butterfly, plus second in the 100 backstroke. He’s been part of three school record relays. He won seven medals, including gold in the 50 free and silver in the 100 free, at the SEC Championships in the spring.

Internationally, he’s shown immense progress since before the pandemic. He set a national record in the 50 and swam well in the 100 in Worlds in Budapest, missing out on semis in 19th and 21st place, respectively. That’s a massive improvement from a non-factor 78th place in the 100 free in 2019. His best 50 time of 22.20 is within a shout of the Olympic A cut of 21.96 as he chases his first Games in Paris.

The times have continued to drop in the shorter pool. He assembled an elite college invitational season in the fall, leading the nation in the 50 free (18.27), 100 free (41.17) and 100 fly (44.79).

He capped that form with gold at Short-Course Worlds in Melbourne, with a twist. Crooks may have felt let down to have set the best time (both personal-bests) in prelims and semis of the 100 free before fading out of medal contention to a tie for sixth in the final, two tenths off the podium. But he recovered by going 20.46 to win the 50, besting a veteran and star-studded field – Ben Proud, Dylan Carter, Szebasztian Szabo, Florent Manaudou, Kyle Chalmers – to gold.

That speed and that resilience bring the promise of more to come.