2017 Worlds Preview: McKeon Making Claim for 200 Free Medal Upgrade

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


With Sarah Sjöström out of the picture to focus on her sprints, Katie Ledecky has a much clearer path to gold than she did last year. It was a battle of titans in Rio between the Swede and the American, with Ledecky fighting off a late charge to hold on for the gold. Now, it’s not looking very likely that Ledecky will have quite as tough an opponent as Sjöström later this month in Budapest.

If anyone is going to push back, however, it’ll be Federica Pellegrini or Emma McKeon (or both). Pellegrini, the world record holder, has medalled in this race countless times. Pit her experience against McKeon, a younger (though not Ledecky-young) Australian competitor who beat the Italian Pellegrini in Rio, and you have an interesting dynamic between experience and fresh talent. The 200 free is not a race to be swum without strategy– McKeon likes to take it out fast, and she was out ahead of both Sjöström and Ledecky at the 100 mark in Rio. Pellegrini and Ledecky are better closers, though Ledecky obviously puts it all together the best.

McKeon (1:55.68) and Pellegrini (1:55.94) have swum similar times this season. The Australian came into Rio with a 1:54.8 from Aussie Trials, and earned the bronze in 1:54.9. Pellegrini came in with a season best 1:54.5, then fell six tenths to fourth in Rio. McKeon has to be favored to upgrade to a silver behind Ledecky this summer.

Another Swede, Michelle Coleman, posted a lifetime best 1:55.64 at the Stockholm Open this April. She is a very fast in-season swimmer, like Pellegrini– she was 1:55.8 in the months before Rio but was 7th (1:56.27) in Rio. If Coleman can match or improve upon her best in Budapest, she could catch Pellegrini off her game and sneak in for a medal.

Interestingly enough, Katinka Hosszu decided to enter this race after not swimming it in Rio. Hosszu is great in the 200 free, and her 1:55.41 PR from the Dubai World Cup stop in 2015 is a really strong time. She does have a heavy schedule, taking on the 200 fly, 200 back, 100 back, 200 IM, and 400 IM, but so does someone like Leah Smith. The American will race the 200 through 1500 free as well as the 400 IM, amassing 3300 meters of prelims swims only, excluding any relay swims. These women are tough enough to make the final, and Hosszu maybe a medal, but they will be feeling the load of their other events if they swim this final.

Ai Yanhan and Li Bingjie will lead the Chinese women, while Mary-Sophie Harvey will be one of the Canadian entrants in this event along with Katerine Savard. Ai and Li are both just 15, while Harvey is 17. Li is made more for the 400 free, where she’s a medal threat, but both Chinese women are very talented young prospects. Harvey will be more fun to watch in the 400 IM, but she continues to develop her mid-distance free, and this could become one of her strong points in a couple of years.

Japan’s Rikako Ikee would be another young name to watch, but FINA’s app doesn’t show her among the two entries for Japan into the event. Ikee was a 5-event national champion for Japan, and this event makes the most sense for her to drop, especially considering the big role she’ll have to play on most of her nation’s relays.

Meanwhile, Femke Heemskerk and Charlotte Bonnet are two big European names who will be hard to get past for the final. Bonnet (1:55.80) of France is one of a flurry of 1:55’s this season, with Heemskerk of the Netherlands not far back (1:56.28). Heemskerk faltered in Rio, missing the final, while Bonnet touched 8th. If they’re on form, though, they should find themselves racing in the final.

1 Katie Ledecky USA 1:53.73 1:53.5
2 Emma McKeon Australia 1:54.83 1:54.8
3 Federica Pellegrini Italy 1:55.18 1:55.4
4 Michelle Coleman Sweden 1:55.64 1:55.7
5 Katinka Hosszu Hungary 1:56.81 1:55.9
6 Leah Smith USA 1:56.68 1:56.3
7 Li Bingjie China 1:56.74 1:56.3
8 Charlotte Bonnet France 1:55.80 1:56.3

Dark Horse: Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey. She’s the 2nd-best LCM 200 freestyler currently in the NCAA (yes, Leah Smith is no longer a collegiate swimmer) behind Ledecky with her 1:56.91 PR from Rio. She’ll have to lop off at least five or six tenths, but a finals berth could be in store for her. 

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15 Comments on "2017 Worlds Preview: McKeon Making Claim for 200 Free Medal Upgrade"

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I would be very disappointed if Coleman does not save her best for last this time and beat her in-season times. Her problem in previous championships has been that she needed to go absolutely all-in in the semis to reach the final, and not leaving enough in the tank. She has improved quite a lot in the 100 since last season and has a lot more easy speed now. Hopefully that means she can have a more controlled race around the 1.56-mark this time to reach the final. She definitely has enough speed now to go sub 1.55 and I hope she can pull it off when it matters. I’m curious if any girl is going to step up and… Read more »
Coleman has been swimming very well and very consistently and its true that she did swim a 100FR PB recently (0.2 sec). IF the minor medals are raced north of 1.55flat then I could very much see her in the medal equation as I could see her dropping another couple of tenths. But a sub1.55 is still a drop of over 0.5sec and that’s quite an ask …. not out of the question but not the matter of course that some think it may be. If its a slow race behind Ledecky then the medal field most certainly widens to include the likes of Ikee, Smith, Bonnet, either Chinese swimmer and perhaps Hosszu/Heemskirk. If the minor medals are south of… Read more »

I agree about Coleman being a revelation this season. My predictions are:

Ledecky, then Coleman, and one of the Chinese swimmers for the bronze.

Ledecky likes to take her third and last 50 split identical.
I mean really identical.
If it’s more than one time, I wouldn’t call it as coincidence.
Her two swims at Austin 2016(I’m pretty sure she had another identical swim, forget where though):

1:26.89 (29.65) 1:56.54 (29.65)
1:25.31 (29.12) 1:54.43 (29.12)


I guess this is what she meant “down to a science”.
Let’s see if she could make it this time.

The third 50 is the most difficult part of the race at 200 for Ledecky. This season she is trying to keep it under control. As soon as she manages to make it under 29 sec without vomiting she will be ready to challenge Pellegrini’s world record. The perfect splits at 200free belongs by far to Allison Schmitt. Ledecky was very close to replicate it in Rio shouldn’t she make a mistake at second turn. I think she lost about 0.2-0.3sec by starting this turn too early and losing the strength of the push off the wall. Similar as in Sjostrom’s case 200 distance is a very uncomfortable race for Katie Ledecky. At 200 her progress was the slowest one… Read more »

My picks:
1. Katie Ledecky 1:53.9
2. Federica Pellegrini 1:54.7
3. Emma Mckeon 1:54.8
If Smith swims 2 rounds of 1500m, she will not go to the final :(((

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studies and swims at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and has been in the pool ever since. He misses Vine.

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