2017 Worlds Preview: Leah Smith v. The World for 400 Free Silver

You can find links to all of our event-by-event previews and a compilation of our predicted medal-winners here.


We’re four years in to Katie Ledecky‘s reign in this event, a dominance that began with her gold in Barcelona at the 2013 World Championships. Despite it being half a decade with her name all over the headlines, Ledecky continues to find ways to get just a bit faster. We’re not seeing her blow out best times any more, but we still are seeing her break world records when she is at her peak, and she’ll be ready to go in Budapest.

Ledecky was nowhere near that peak in Indianapolis at Trials, and that was most obvious in her 100 free where she clearly had no easy speed. She was dominant, as usual, in the 200 and up, and there’s no reason to believe that she won’t put up new bests in Budapest. Does that mean a 3:56 low, with a couple tenths of drop? Or can she shock the clock with a full second drop or more? SwimSwam’s crystal ball is out of order right now, so we can’t say for sure. It seems certain, though, that we’ll be treated to a world record in this race with gold all but secured for the rising Stanford sophomore.

Leah Smith continues to get better, and if it weren’t for Ledecky, Smith would be the clear distance star for the USA. While Ledecky’s absurd progression in this event will dilute the successes of the women behind her to the casual swim fan, Smith is the 2nd-best textile performer, ever. Like Ledecky, her spot in this race on the Worlds team, as well as her spot in the other distance free races, was a pretty safe bet. She was definitely not tapered all the way down, if at all, so she should be close to the 4:00 barrier if not past it in Budapest, as opposed to dropping a big swim at Trials then adding a bit in Rio like she did last year.

A great swim by Smith is no guarantee for a silver, or even a medal, however. There are a few teenagers who have been great this year: Li Bingjie of China and Ariarne Titmus of Australia. Li swam a 4:02.52 at Chinese Spring Nationals, while Titmus was 4:04.82 at Aussie Trials. Both are on the rise, though neither have proven themselves on the international stage– yet. The door is open for new talent, as 2016 silver medalist Jazz Carlin of GBR bowed out of this meet, Canada’s Brittany Maclean retired, and Aussie Jessica Ashwood also chose not to race in Budapest to focus on 2018 and the years coming. All three of those women were in the Rio final last year, while other Rio finalists Tamsin Cook (taking time off) and Coralie Balmy (out indefinitely) won’t be in Budapest this summer.

Ajna Kesely, while not yet having shown the speed that fellow teenagers Li and Titmus have, could certainly be the next big Hungarian star. Swimming in her home country, Kesely will be fighting for a spot in this final. Her countrymate Boglarka Kapas, the national record holder in this event, is a medal contender after just missing the bronze last year. Both have been 4:06-low this year, right behind Spain’s Mireia Belmonte (4:05.76). Belmonte could be dropping this event in the midst of a busy schedule, but she will likely get a finals spot if she chooses to swim it.

China’s Zhang Yuhan just missed out on the final last summer with a 9th place finish in Rio, but she’s ranked 7th in the world this year (4:06.19) with a time that’s a tad faster than she was last summer. Meanwhile, we could see something out of either GBR’s Holly Hibbott, the 17-year-old who raced past 2016 Olympians Carlin and Eleanor Faulkner at British Trials this spring. Her 4:06.37 performance in Sheffield could be just the beginning for her, and the British women had some impressive swims at their trials– perhaps she can ride that momentum into Budapest.

Finally, Russian freestyler Veronika Popova is not to be slept on. She fired off a 4:06.82 in Canet that leaves her just out of the world’s top 10, and as a great 200 freestyler, she will be tough in Budapest.

1 Katie Ledecky USA 3:56.46 3:55.8 WR
2 Leah Smith USA 4:01.92 4:00.2
3 Boglarka Kapas Hungary 4:02.37 4:01.8
4 Li Bingjie China 4:02.52 4:02.1
5 Ariarne Titmus Australia 4:04.82 4:04.5
6 Mireia Belmonte Spain 4:05.76 4:04.6
7 Yuhan Zhang China 4:06.16 4:06.0
8 Veronika Popova Russia 4:06.82 4:07.1

Dark Horse: Mary-Sophie Harvey of Canada. Harvey had a lot of great races in multiple events at the Arena Pro Swim Series this year. In Austin, she popped a 4:09.69– not a stellar time, considering the company in this article, but a stepping stone nonetheless. If she’s going to branch out on the international stage from her IMs, this race would be a great start.

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Saying Tamsin Cook was unable to qualify is a bit off isn’t it? She chose to sit this year out I thought.


5wimmer, you’re absolutely correct. Cook chose to focus on her education this year. When Cook (and Ashwood) come back and are ready for duty, it’s going to be tough for the girls (inc. Titmus) to gain qualification. I’m sure all three aforementioned will make Comm Games cut (top 3 are selected). But come 2019 Worlds – who knows who’ll be on the team.


Also, didn’t Coralie Balmy retire at the conclusion of the Rio Olympics? WaIt, she retired after swimming a 50m SC at the FINA World Cup Series.


Three open ended questions in themselves.

WILL Cook return ?? Not all swimmers return from these “sabbaticals” and if so, will the desire still be at the same level ?

WILL Ashwood return to the same levels or have we already seen her best (arguably the case) ?

CAN Titmus replicate her domestic performances in intl waters …. or is she a “one season comet” who flames out ? We’ve seen a few of those over the past decade in AUS women distance events

bobo gigi

Titmus looked very good at the French open 2 weeks ago. Very close to her best time.


Realistically she will need to swim to her PBs to make both 400 & 800 finals. In all honesty, should she make those finals then that should be seen as a positive rather than placing any unrealistic expectations of medals. Hopefully this can be sustained into next year …. sadly there have been so many one-season wonders in these events that caution is warranted


Remy Fairweather a notable example


Remy had coaching interruptions & was forced to train solo . After her coach had to leave town to get a job , Remy adjusted to a new style of training & made a 200 breakthru in Glasgow into the 1.58s from 2.00 + . Unfortunately she contracted Glandular Fever about the same time. Remy’s coach took a job in Launceston Tasmania & quickly developed Ariarne Titmus to Junior Worlds in 2015 . Ariarne followed him back to Qld & later switched to SPW . So although Remy could not make it to her personal potential , I believe Ariarne can . Remy has a rather enviable life surfing in Bali ( last reported) . All is well .


some french looked good ? i missed that one


Tamsin Cook said she would be returning next year. She said she struggled with the post-Olympic emotions.


Here’s hoping she DOES come back ….. and with the right headspace. When folk take “sabbaticals” and their motivation is a significant part of that equation, one tends to “beleive it when you see it” when it comes to their return.


Tamsin is South African like you . She has that drive that is makes them a success in Oz .If she says she will ,she will but if not – ok we are very glad she came . I always like the way she attacked the 40O & likely showed Ariarne how to , by example .


Where is the open water final recap?

bobo gigi

Yes! My swimmer has won the gold and they don’t talk about the race? 😡




I can tell the story, I watched the race. The two French guys (+Fontaine) worked together througout the whole race and ate Kristof at about 4 km who went alone with them from the very beginning. He got tired. Good lesson for a guy in his first adult race. The Italian guy didn’t do anything till the last 750 m, the British till the last 500 m they were really really clever. Let’s see the times from 4-11. Shortly that happened.




I hear French TV aren’t airing OW, despite basically all your medal chances being there? Odd


I watched this morning! very early here. Olivier looked good. Another Lucas prodigy!


Smith will be under 4:00 and Li could be more of a challenge.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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