How Jack Alexy sprinted to the top of U.S. swimming

Swimmer Jack Alexy is proof that the path to success is not always streamlined.

Alexy, a sprinter who won five medals in his world championships debut last July, is a headliner at this week's Tyr Pro Series meet in Westmont, Illinois, where he could face the fastest American swimmer of all-time, Caeleb Dressel.

Peacock airs live coverage Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

The sprint freestyles in particular at Westmont could be early previews of June's U.S. Olympic Trials, where the top two in most events make the team for Paris.

At the Tokyo Olympic Trials in 2021, Alexy was awed to share a ready room with Dressel, owner of 13 world titles by then.

They were in the same 100m free semifinal at trials, which took place 10 days after Alexy's commencement from Delbarton, an all-boys Catholic prep school in Morristown, New Jersey.

Alexy described himself as scrawny — 6 feet, 6 inches, and 195 pounds out of high school. The athletic genes came from mom, Lynn, a Notre Dame guard in the 1980s, and maternal grandfather, Bill, a Detroit Piston in 1957.

Alexy faced figurative towering presences at trials — Olympic gold medalists like Dressel, Nathan Adrian and Ryan Held.

"I had those thoughts of I don't necessarily belong," he said.

Still, Alexy met his goal of making the semifinals. He surprised himself by chopping 98 hundredths of a second off his personal best that spring in the 100m free, a 48-second race.

He finished 10th in the event at trials as the youngest man in the top 15, breaking Dressel's national record for 17- and 18-year-olds. Later, he was 17th in the 50m free as the youngest man in the top 23.

"I had that mindset of just go there, see what happens, nothing to lose," he said, "but I could have been doing extra stuff to put myself in a better position to make the final or maybe even make the team at that young age."

The next year did not go as Alexy hoped. He ended his freshman campaign at Cal with 23rd-place finishes in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles at the NCAA Championships.

It's somewhat of a Cal swimming tradition to get a Golden Bear tattoo if one scores points at NCAAs. Alexy didn’t reach that threshold of placing in the top 16 of an individual event, but he was part of two relays that made the podium.

"I was going to get (the tattoo), but I felt a little weird if I got it," Alexy said, "because I didn't score any points."

A month later in April 2022, Alexy said he was "embarrassed" with his 100m free result at the U.S. trials for the 2022 World Championships. He placed 24th in the preliminary heats, swimming 1.28 seconds slower than he did at the Olympic Trials a year earlier.

"If I didn’t have that failure, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am now," he said.

Alexy came to grips with the fact that he wasn't in great shape, the result of not eating right nor training at his best his freshman year at Berkeley.

He was determined not to let it extend into a sophomore slump.

"I was approaching every practice with that mindset and question of asking myself, what do I do today in these next two hours that I have in the water to make an Olympic team or make a world team or win an Olympic medal," he said.

Alexy improved to second in the 100 free and sixth in the 50 free at NCAAs in March 2023.

Then in his first swim at last June's U.S. Championships, he clocked 47.75 seconds in the 100m free heats. The personal best by 94 hundredths came with his goggles filling up with water.

That night, Alexy won his first senior U.S. title to make his first world championships team.

A month later, he had a moment of panic upon splashing into the 100m free semis at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

Alexy was crooked diving into the pool, and his hands separated when he was supposed to be streamlining. He trailed by a body length by the time he took his first stroke.

Streamlining is where a swimmer reaches their arms above their head and places one hand on top of the other to reduce drag while under water.

The streamline “is the single most important word in the entire sport of swimming,” NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines said on the broadcast.

Alexy scrambled from the poor start to get the eighth and last spot in the final by two hundredths of a second.

He then swam personal-best times in the 100m free final and then the 50m free final two days later, earning silver in each event.

The medal presenter for the 100m free was Anthony Ervin, part of a lineage of Cal men to win Olympic sprint freestyle gold that also includes Matt Biondi and Adrian. Alexy could be next.

Adrian in particular helped Alexy handle the run-up to the Olympics as a new star in the sport.

"I can't exactly remember what the words were that I said to him, but my advice to him would have been my advice to anybody in that position," said Adrian, whose five Olympic gold medals included the 100m free in 2012. "You found yourself in a position with the ability to swim fast. Don't make any drastic changes, right? You are on the right path."

After July's worlds, Alexy did get that Golden Bear tattoo behind his left shoulder.

"It kind of all clicked over the summer," he said.