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.

WOMEN’S 400 FREESTYLE

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.

PLACE SWIMMER COUNTRY BEST TIME SINCE RIO PREDICTED TIME 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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5wimmer
4 years ago

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

petriasfan
Reply to  5wimmer
4 years ago

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.

petriasfan
Reply to  petriasfan
4 years ago

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.

commonwombat
Reply to  petriasfan
4 years ago

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
Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

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

commonwombat
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

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

Peter
Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

Remy Fairweather a notable example

G.I.N.A
Reply to  Peter
4 years ago

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 .

korn
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

some french looked good ? i missed that one

XYZ
Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

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

commonwombat
Reply to  XYZ
4 years ago

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.

G.I.N.A
Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

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 .

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Karl Ortegon
4 years ago

Good article Karl, thanks, & a potential typo: shouldn’t the grid above be predicted time for WC’s, not Rio?

Zanna
4 years ago

Where is the open water final recap?

bobo gigi
Reply to  Zanna
4 years ago

Yes! My swimmer has won the gold and they don’t talk about the race? 😡
http://img-3.journaldesfemmes.com/8SfThBgNSAHshDMLL6L3Vrg_QgM=/600x/smart/image-cms/1524233.jpg

ellie
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

lol.

Brownish
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

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.

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

exactly

Dee
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

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

korn
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

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

Hswimmer
4 years ago

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

Dee
4 years ago

1. Ledecky
2. Kapas
3. Smith

I expect some pretty stunning swims from Hungarians at home next week, and I fancy Kapas to reel in Smith, her last 100m in Rio was fast, and she wasn’t far off by the touch. Ledecky untouchable. Titmus the danger to the predicted top 3 for me, she has looked a real find in her Euro races this summer.

Brownish
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

I think the same order (for the two remaining medals the time will be under 4:02, 4:01 low and high) Then Lee and Titmus. Ajna can be in the final but 800 and 1500 is much better for her.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

The question is whether Li and Titmus are the real deal or just flashes in the pan.

swimswam.com/ranking/2016-2017-lcm-women-400-free/

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

I think the main problem is this will be their first big international race, we’ll see.

G.I.N.A
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

What sort of logic is that? They are 15 & 16 repectively & iirc that is the best ever for a 15 yr old & 2nd best ever for a 16 yr old only behind Ledecky.

Don’t rain on their parade .

Brownish
Reply to  G.I.N.A
4 years ago

Yes, Ajna (15) has “only” 4:06.42

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

The women’s 400 m freestyle is Day 1 on the schedule so Leah Smith should be fresh.

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

As all the others…

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

How did that work out for Rebecca Adlington at the 2012 London Olympics?

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

Personal best
Kapas – 4:02.37 (Hungarian National Record)
Ledecky – 3:56.46 (World Record)
Smith – 4:00.65

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

You are speaking about the old Hungarian record 🙂

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

7 August 2016

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

I wrote it from the future 🙂

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

Your crystal ball is broken.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

Same old Hungarian record.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

TYR Rankings (2016-17 LCM Women’s 400 m freestyle)

swimswam.com/ranking/2016-2017-lcm-women-400-free/

Ledecky – 3:58.44 (1st)
Smith – 4:03.77 (3rd)
Kapas – 4:06.05 (6th)

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

I didn’t say that it will be easy, as I wrote they will be some tenths between them. Kapas is a very very kind smiling girl outside the pool, but a beast in the water. Let’s see it.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

So Leah Smith is chopped liver?

Dee
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

You’re being a bit unnecessarily salty. People are allowed to think Leah Smith won’t get silver, and comments about her rivals dont mean Smith = The opposite. Nobody has bad-mouthed her. This feels like Post-US trials 2016, when people dare suggest it wouldn’t be a Ledecky/Smith 1-2 haha

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

There is nothing to suggest based upon performances during the 2017 calendar year that Kapas will swim a personal best or match a personal best. As for historical performances, you have a case for Kapas over Smith in the women’s 800 m freestyle and women’s 1500 m freestyle.

TYR Rankings (2016-17 LCM Women’s 400 m freestyle)

swimswam.com/ranking/2016-2017-lcm-women-400-free/

Kapas – 4:06.05 (6/23/2017)

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

I knew that you could read and copy twice but there’s freedom and democracy so everybody can think anything not just you.

Riez
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

I have no doubt that Kapas will swim PBs in all her three events. That likely means silver in 800 and 1500 and we, Hungarians, hope the same for 400, but will still love her if it doesn’t happen like that.

Brownish
Reply to  Riez
4 years ago

I waited for you. The PBs are sure. Will it be enough in 400?

Riez
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

I have the very same question 🙂 My prediction is a 4:01 low at least. Easily can be better on the first day in front of a cheering home crowd in a faster pool, but not a sub 4:00. So it depends on Smith I guess.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Riez
4 years ago

Try 4:04.77 instead.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

Wrong!

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Riez
4 years ago

Oh really?

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Riez
4 years ago

Try 5th place in the 400 m freestyle.

Brownish
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

Thanx Dee. This medley relay is pretty strange.

Brownish
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

You should be read my comment again.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Brownish
4 years ago

Kapas – 5th

swammer
4 years ago

“…dominance that began with her gold and world record in Barcelona at the 2013 World Championships.”
Correction: Ledecky didn’t break the world record until summer nationals of 2014.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  swammer
4 years ago

Katie Ledecky holds the championship record of 3:59.13. While Katie Ledecky may not break the world record this summer, the championship record should fall.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

Championship Record
Ledecky – 3:58.34

Ex Quaker
4 years ago

That’s painful to predict her at 4:00.2. Couldn’t give her the 3:59?

75M FREE
Reply to  Ex Quaker
4 years ago

Reverse psychology. She’s going a 3:58 anyways.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
Reply to  Ex Quaker
4 years ago

I love how the author predicts personal bests for practically everyone on the list.

David
4 years ago

Watch out for Anja Kesely of Hungary 🙂

Brownish
Reply to  David
4 years ago

Of course, but it’s very difficult to be on the top from the European Junior Championship (6 golds! and some CRs) through the Worlds till the Junior Worlds. She was really clever yesterday on the Opening Ceremony too.

Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

Katle Ledecky
2013 World Championships – 3:59.82 (American Record)
2015 World Championships – 3:59:13 (Championship Record)

Katie Ledecky was nowhere near that peak in Indianapolis at Trials, yet Katie Ledecky posted the third fastest time in the history of the event. As for the women’s 100 m freestyle, Katie Ledecky pulled a double (100 m freestyle, 800 m freestyle) on Day 1 of the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships.

Prickle
Reply to  Baker-King-Vollmer-Manuel
4 years ago

The world record at 400 was the most stubborn one that Katie had to deal with. It didn’t want to follow the pace of personal bests (aka world records 🙂 ) at other distances. But now when beating her records became almost inhuman task the new world records at 400 looks the most reachable one. Her race at trials gives a lot of hope that it can happen next week unless her relay duty may change her plans.

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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