World swimming championships: 10 races to watch
Ten races to watch at the world swimming championships in Budapest that start Saturday ...
Women’s 400m Freestyle (Final Saturday, June 18)
Katie Ledecky‘s toughest race to win is always her shortest. For the first time since 2013, she goes into a major international meet with the 400m free fitting that bill after dropping the 200m. She will look to regain the crown after taking silver behind Aussie Ariarne Titmus at the Olympics and the most recent world championships (2019). Titmus, who broke Ledecky’s world record at the Australian Championships last month, is skipping worlds to focus on the Commonwealth Games later this summer. So the American’s top challenger should instead be 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh, who was fourth in Tokyo. Ledecky has been 1.07 seconds faster than McIntosh this year.
Men’s 400m Individual Medley (Final Saturday, June 18)
This race could include reigning Olympic champion Chase Kalisz and reigning world champion Daiya Seto of Japan. But a pair of 20-year-olds are also worth watching. American Carson Foster missed the Olympic team by one spot. A month later, he swam a 400m IM time that would have won Tokyo gold by nearly a second. At world championships trials, Foster beat Kalisz by 1.17 seconds. Then there’s Léon Marchand, who come the 2024 Paris Olympics could be France’s best swimmer and going for the nation’s first gold medal of the Games given the 400m IM is traditionally on the first day of competition. Marchand, who trains under Michael Phelps’ old coach Bob Bowman, was sixth in Tokyo, but his personal-best time would have earned silver.
SWIMMING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule
Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay (Final Saturday, June 18)
For so long the most exciting relay, with the U.S. trading gold medals with Australia, South Africa and France. But since Caeleb Dressel entered the picture in 2016, the Americans won all four Olympic and world titles. Dressel will be the lone returnee from the U.S. Olympic final quartet. The absence of Russia (ban) and British star Duncan Scott (COVID-19) means the U.S. should enter the final as a significant favorite. Watch out for Italy, which was just two tenths behind the U.S. in Tokyo going into the anchor, where Zach Apple widened the final margin to 1.14 seconds.
Women’s 100m Butterfly (Final Sunday, June 19)
Last year, this event represented the future of U.S. swimming with high schoolers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan going one-two at Olympic Trials. They did so again at world championships trials (and in the 100m free) and are significantly stronger medal contenders in Budapest than in Tokyo (where Huske was fourth and Curzan 10th). They rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. They will also benefit from the expected absences of the last two Olympic gold medalists, Sarah Sjöström of Sweden (focusing on freestyle) and Maggie Mac Neil of Canada (focusing on relays). China’s Zhang Yufei, the silver medalist in Tokyo, lurks.
Women’s 200m Individual Medley (Final Sunday, June 19)
Field includes Tokyo Olympic champion Yui Ohashi of Japan, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary (who won all five Olympic and world titles from 2013-19) in the likely first event of what could be her last worlds and American Alex Walsh, who is fastest in the world this year. But the favorite may well be Australian Kaylee McKeown, who swept the backstrokes in Tokyo but did not race the 200m IM at the Olympics. However, McKeown won the 200m IM at the Australian Olympic Trials in a time that ended up being best in the world in 2021. This year, she ranks second behind Walsh.
Women’s 100m Backstroke (Final Monday, June 20)
All three Olympic medalists return, and all three held the world record at different times. Current record holder McKeown is the biggest star of the Australian team in Budapest. Canadian Kylie Masse, who took silver in Tokyo, is the defending world champion. American Regan Smith, the Olympic bronze medalist, is fastest in the world this year by a significant .55 of a second over McKeown.
Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay (Final Wednesday, June 22)
The only relay in Tokyo where less than a second separated gold from bronze. It could be close again. China won the Olympics in a surprise (and a world record). The Chinese are again a bit of a mystery given their swimmers’ lack of racing during the season. Ledecky anchored the U.S. to silver in Tokyo, but she will be the lone returning member of the final quartet. Australia’s two stars from its bronze-medal team -- Titmus and Emma McKeon -- are skipping worlds. Canada, potentially with McIntosh and Tokyo 200m free bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak, could knock the U.S. off the podium altogether.
Men’s 200M Breaststroke (Final Thursday, June 23)
This event had the opportunity to feature the six fastest men in history, but two-time reigning world champion Anton Chupkov is out due to Russia’s ban. Shoma Sato and Ippei Watanabe aren’t on the Japanese roster. That could mean smooth sailing for Olympic gold medalist Zac Stubblety-Cook, who broke Chupkov’s world record at the Australian trials in May. His biggest threat may be Dutchman Arno Kamminga, who took silver in both breaststrokes in Tokyo. No man has swept the 100m and 200m breaststrokes at a single worlds since American Brendan Hansen in 2005.
Men’s 100m Butterfly (Final Friday, June 24)
Dressel is a clear favorite in all four of his individual events, but his longest race (by time) may be his closest. That’s because of Hungarian Kristof Milak, the 200m fly world record holder who in Tokyo took silver in the 100m fly, .23 behind Dressel, to supplant Phelps as the second-fastest performer in history. Milak will be swimming at a home worlds and likely coming off repeating as world champion in the 200m fly three days before the 100m final. The 100m fly could be the second of three finals for Dressel on this night alone, but he managed the same schedule pretty well in 2017 and 2019, winning all three events both times (one a relay).
Men’s 1500m Freestyle (Final Saturday, June 25)
In Tokyo, American Bobby Finke capped his 800m-1500 free double by charging from third place with 150 meters left to win the mile. Finke took 9.05 seconds off his personal best over the course of 2021, culminating in Olympic history. But perhaps forgotten was that the men who finished second, third and fourth all had personal bests more than two seconds faster than Finke’s gold-medal-winning time. None of them happened to deliver when it mattered most like Finke did. Now all of those men -- Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk, German Florian Wellbrock and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri -- are expected to face Finke again in Budapest. The world’s fastest this year is somebody else, 20-year-old German Lukas Martens. Romanchuk, Ukraine’s best swimmer, trained for a time with Wellbrock in Spain amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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