2017 Worlds Preview: Sjostrom’s Recent Tear Sets Her Apart In 50 Free

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

2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships

Women’s 50m Freestyle

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom became a superstar at a very young age. After winning the European Championship title in the 100 butterfly at just 14, she shocked the world one year later when she won the World title at 15 in world record time.

She has been a major player on the world stage ever since in the 50 and 100 fly, but over the last four years her freestyle has really come to fruition, and this year she has established herself as the best sprinter in the world. She joined an elite club when she cracked 24 seconds at the Swedish Championships in 2014, and followed up with a bronze medal in the event at the 2015 World Championships. After a grueling schedule kept her out of the final in Rio, she has shown a remarkable resurgence in the event.

Starting in April, Sjostrom has slammed down six swims under 24 seconds over the last few months. Prior to this explosion, the most ever done by someone in a single season was two, and Australian Cate Campbell had done it the most times total with four. With Sjostrom crashing through those barriers, there’s no doubt she’s the frontrunner in this event at the World Championships.

The 50 free does come at the end of a long eight day schedule, but the 100 fly Olympic champion has dropped the 200 free from her schedule, so she should have more gas left in the tank than she did at the end of the Olympics. She could have a heavy workload with the Swedish relays, especially with the inclusion of the mixed events, but she has a relatively wide margin over the rest of the world in this event and should be able to get the job done. With six swims coming between 23.83 and 23.96 over the last three months, there’s no reason she can’t challenge Britta Steffen‘s world record of 23.73.

The woman who will give Sjostrom the biggest challenge for gold is Denmark’s Pernille Blume, who surprised everyone when she won the Olympic title last summer as a relative unknown. Blume was just 13th at the World Championships one year prior, but rattled off the three fastest swims of her life to ultimately win gold in the final in a time of 24.07. She has continued the momentum this year, posting three 24.1s over the last few months. She’s currently 2nd in the world behind Sjostrom, three tenths back.

The winners of silver and bronze last summer, Simone Manuel and Aliaksandra Herasimenia, will be major factors in the event as well. Included in Manuel’s amazing Rio Games was the 24.09 swim for silver in the 50 free, narrowly missing Dara Torres‘ American Record by two one-hundredths. She’s ranked 3rd in the world with her 24.27 from U.S. Trials, slightly faster than she was at the Olympic Trials, indicating she could be toying with the 24-second mark in Budapest.

Herasimenia hasn’t been a consistent performer on the world stage, but has delivered when it counts. She won the 2011 World title in the 100 free, won a pair of silvers in the sprints in London, and earned a second straight 50 free medal with that bronze in Rio. She hasn’t been nearly as consistent this season as she was in 2016, cracking 25 only once this year, but certainly can’t be counted out given her ability.

2012 Olympic champ Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands has a resume that speaks for itself in this event. Along with the Olympic gold, she also won the 2013 World title, World silvers in both 2011 and 2015, and also has won three World Short Course titles. Though her 6th place in Rio was her lowest finish in the event since she hit the world scene, she was only twelve one-hundredths from gold, and had been the exact gold medal winning time, 24.07, earlier in the year at the European Championships. Currently ranked 4th in the world at 24.29, she’s another who could potentially challenge the 24-second barrier in Budapest.

Defending World champion Bronte Campbell has shown remarkable consistency this season, cracking 25 seconds a total of ten times. She’s a good bet to make the final, but would need to return to her 24-low form of 2015 to contend for a medal. With sister Cate sitting out of Worlds this year, fellow Aussie Shayna Jack will get an opportunity on the big stage. Jack went a lifetime best of 24.66 to take 3rd behind the Campbells at Aussie Trials, and heads into Worlds as the 8th seed.

Another young up-and-comer to watch for is Japan’s Rikako Ikee. Ikee has been known as more of a butterflier in her young career, but shattered the 50 free Junior world record in February in a time of 24.48. Like Sjostrom, she could have a hefty event lineup in Budapest, but is certainly capable of making her way to the final. Ikee and Jack have had a steady progression in this event over the last few years, placing 4th and 5th at the 2014 Junior Pan Pacs before winning silver and bronze at the 2015 World Junior Championships.

Etiene Medeiros had a big swim last summer on her home turf to make the Olympic final, but that’s probably where her potential maxes out in this race, with her best medal chance coming in the 50 back. Tamara Van Vliet added her name to the Dutch roster for Budapest after clocking 24.64 at the Mare Nostrum stop in Canet. She’ll contend for a spot in the final, as will France’s Anna Santamans, the Chinese duo of Liu Xiang and Zhu Menghui, as well as Canadians Sandrine Mainville and Michelle Toro, who have all been sub-25 this season.

The other American entrant, Abbey Weitzeil, admitted she had a tough year transitioning to college life at Cal and her swimming hadn’t been on the same level as it was heading into Rio. Despite being almost half a second slower than Omaha, she earned a ticket to Budapest by placing 2nd at the U.S. Trials in a time of 24.74. She’ll need to be faster than that to final, probably by two or three tenths, but one thing working in her favor is she’ll be well rested compared to the others with only one event on her schedule.

TOP 8 PICKS:

SWIMMER COUNTRY SEASON BEST PREDICTED TIME
1 Sarah Sjostrom Sweden 23.83 23.7(sub-WR)
2 Pernille Blume Denmark 24.13 23.9
3 Simone Manuel United States 24.27 24.0
4 Ranomi Kromowidjojo Netherlands 24.29 24.1
5 Bronte Campbell Australia 24.56 24.3
6 Aliaksandra Herasimenia Belarus 24.84 24.3
7 Shayna Jack Australia 24.66 24.5
8 Rikako Ikee Japan 24.48 24.5

Darkhorse: Rising Kiwi Gabrielle Fa’Amausili clocked a best of 25.02 at the New Zealand Championships, and is one to keep an eye on in both this event and the 50 back as she continues to progress. This will be her first major international competition after winning medals at the 2015 World Juniors and 2016 Junior Pan Pacs. She’s been right on the verge of a breakthrough at the senior level somewhere, just needs to find one spark to get her over the hump.

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Joe

No way Sjostrom swims any mixed relays. Sweden has never given any attention to them, and will only be bringing three male swimmers anyway – two breaststrokers and one distance swimmer. Likely won’t enter a team in either.

This is for my money the female event of the championships. Sarah’s to lose, but at the same time proven champions chasing her which makes it very exciting.

iLikePsych

While I normally support the team player, I hope Sweden realizes that their relay medal chances are low enough that they’re better off just resting her for her individual events so she can sweep 4 events than using her to just get their relays into finals

Dan

Plus no 800 Free relay so she is not doing 5×200 at this meet
Probably prelims and finals of the 400 FR and 400 MR (not sure if Sweden can break 3:40 without Sarah and in 2013 it took 3:39.2 and in 2015 it took 3:38 for finals).

Dee

1. Sjostrom
2. Blume/Manuel/Kromo
3. Blume/Manuel/Kromo

Pretty confident that’s our top 4 – Order? I have no idea behind Sjostrom

Steve Nolan

Same-ish. I’d put Blume a slight favorite over the other two for silver, but feel pretty confident about those four.

Though, speaking of busy schedules – Simone might have a lot of swims with the mixed relay and 4×2 thrown in? But it also might not be more than usual for her, so…this is a good comment; the end.

E Gamble

Simone and Caeleb had 14 swims at NCs. They can handle it.

bobo gigi

Now before making picks we have to see who has the least crazy schedule or in other words the smartest schedule. 🙂 Who puts at risk his best gold medal chance because of too much energy wasted elsewhere? Hopefully for Dressel and Manuel they will not swim the useless mixed relays. Why ruining your week with a crazy schedule? Save your energy for your best events! We don’t talk about NCAAs here! You swim against the top of the top of the world! If you are at only 90% against someone much fresher who is at 98%, your gold medal chances are very low. Simone has enough to do with the usual relays. Even the 4X200 is not a very… Read more »

commonwombat

I agree with the general drift of your statement. With regards to mixed relays, I’m not against them in principle but I do object to how they were rushed onto the Olympic program. Had it been after a couple of Olympic cycles on the Worlds program (and there had been general take-up by leading countries), then my view may be different. This was what was done with the mixed relay in the Winter Olympic sport of biathlon where it was on the regular World Cup circuit and annual World Championships for at least 2 Olympic cycles before being added to the Olympic program in Sochi. Actually, I WOULD put forward a significant change to. the competition program that would certainly… Read more »

Dee

I find, as a general rule, US collegiate swimmers handle all sorts from holding tapers, to coping with a busy schedule, far better than others. Think Simone will be fine.

Swimmer?

Sjostrom will win, but can she deliver the world record at worlds and not just the meets with no pressure?

a_trojan

to my knowledge Sjostrom has never held a freestyle world record.
And she has set a world record in the 100 fly at Worlds and the Olympics, so I think she can deliver at worlds.

SwimJon

She is for 200 free SCM.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James is currently a university swimmer for the Laurentian Voyageurs in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. He is studying economics. Along with swimming, he also loves hockey. He's in his 14th season as a competitive swimmer. Best Times - SCM (LCM) 50 FR - 24.56 (25.12) 100 FR - 53.58 (56.70) 200 FR - 1:56.07 (2:04.29) 1500 …

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