2017 Worlds Preview: Smith vs Europeans For Silver In Women’s 1500


Women’s 1500m Freestyle

After being added to the World Championship schedule back in 2001, the women’s 1500 will now be an Olympic event, starting in 2020. Many believed this addition was a long time coming, including two-time defending World Champion Katie Ledecky, which makes it all the more surprising the lack of participation in the event.

If this were a race that had semi-finals, two thirds of the field would advance through. Only 24 women have opted to compete in this event in Budapest, and this isn’t a new trend. In Kazan, only 26 were entered and 25 swam. We also have to factor in that the announcement of this event’s addition to the Olympic schedule came in early June, which is pretty late notice with these championships coming less than two months later. We can expect increased participation in 2019 in Gwangju as we head to Tokyo, but for now, the top swimmers won’t have to put much effort into the prelims with such a thin field.

On the entire swimming program, no events have a more surefire winner than the women’s 800 and 1500 with Ledecky in the mix. She had a close battle in the 1500 with Denmark’s Lotte Friis in 2013, as they both went well under the existing world record, but since then she hasn’t been challenged. She has continued to stomp on her world records every year, lowering it to 15:28 in 2014, and then 15:27 and 15:25 in Kazan with a record in the heats and final.

Big world record swims last summer in the 400 and 800 saw Ledecky in peak form, significantly better than 2015. What about the 1500? She didn’t swim it all last year with no reason to, and was 15:35 at the Santa Clara Pro Swim this year before opting out of the event at U.S. Trials (with her entry assured with her 800 win). The mile comes fairly early in the schedule, and Ledecky could treat the heats as a warm-down and still qualify. The gold isn’t a question, and the world record looks like it will go down as well.

While we already know Ledecky will be the runaway winner, the race for silver could be an exciting one.

Fellow American Leah Smith hadn’t done a long course 1500 in so long she was entered with a yards time at U.S. Trials, and threw down a swim of 16:01.02 out of one of the early heats with no one to race, ultimately winning the event. After her sensational trials we all know she’s got a gruelling schedule in Budapest, one that could see her racing a total of 7000m, but like I said the 1500 is relatively early in the schedule. Like Ledecky she’ll be able to chill during the prelims and come back with a strong performance in the final. It looks like she can go under 16 minutes, the question is how far.

Smith’s 16:01 is 2nd fastest in the world for the year, but 2015 world bronze medalist Boglarka Kapas has been well under the 16:00 mark each of the past two years. After finishing 3rd behind Ledecky and Lauren Boyle in 2015 in a best of 15:47.09, she won the 2016 European title in 15:50.22 and also added an Olympic bronze in the 800. With some help from the home crowd, she looks primed for another big swim and a step up on the podium.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte could potentially swim even even more than Smith in Budapest with a potential 7400 metres on her schedule. Given her pedigree in the 200 fly and medley events it would make sense for this to be an event she potentially scratches, but with a medal well within her reach it would be a surprise to not see her swim. She’s the #3 seed at 16:00.20, the time she posted to finish runner-up to Kapas at the Euro’s last year. The 26-year-old has been as fast as 15:57 back in 2014, and her distance free continued to look good last summer as she missed an Olympic medal in the 800 free by two seconds.

Two other Europeans who will be in the mix for one of the minor medals are Italy’s Simona Quadarella and another Hungarian, Ajna Kesely.

The Junior World Champion in 2015, Quadarella has taken a big step forward this year with a new personal best in 16:03.55. After winning that title in Singapore in 16:05, she struggled last season managing a best of 16:15 and 16:22 at the European Championships. Her 16:03 came just a month ago at the Sette Colli Trophy, so we’ll see how she handles the quick turnaround. If that swim was unrested, we could see something big from her.

Just 15, Kesely has been on the up-and-up this year as he continues to develop. Her personal best in this event has dropped over 30 seconds this year, all the way down to 16:11.25 at the end of June when she won the European Junior title in impressive fashion. It’s a bit early for her to medal, but she’s a good bet to final and gain some more experience. Last summer she competed in Rio at just 14, swimming a pair of individual events and also getting to compete on Hungary’s 4×200 relay that placed 6th.

31-year-old Kristel Kobrich will be the elder statesman of the field, and has a wide range of experience, winning her first international medals at the 2002 South American Games in Belem. With a best of 15:54 she’s the 9th fastest performer in history, and though her fastest days are probably behind her, she’ll likely be a finalist for the 6th straight time.

Slovenia’s Tjasa Oder was a quick 16:08 at the European Championships last year, but has been just 16:29 this year. She has been pretty hot and cold over the past few years, excelling in 2014 and 2016 but way off, at least in this event, in 2013 and 2015. If the trend continues, she won’t be a factor.

Others who could potentially final are China’s Hou Yawen and Chen YiejieJimena Perez of Spain and Celine Rieder of Germany. Canadian Olivia Anderson was only 16:46 this year at in-season meet, but was a respectable 16:18 last year.


1 Katie Ledecky United States 15:35.65 15:22.8 WR
2 Boglarka Kapas Hungary 16:04.19 15:44.2
3 Leah Smith United States 16:01.02 15:52.9
4 Mireia Belmonte Spain 16:08.73 15:58.8
5 Simona Quadarella Italy 16:03.55 16:00.7
6 Ajna Kesely Hungary 16:11.25 16:07.5
7 Kristel Kobrich Chile 16:12.89 16:13.0
8 Hou Yawen China 16:13.37 16:15.1

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6 years ago

The real race can be “only” for bronze medal between Smith and Belmonte if they’re not too tired.
Kesely after finished 2nd at the Hungarian Nationals, won the European Juniors, swims here and she’s going to swim at the Junior Worlds in August too. Tough year.

Philip Johnson
6 years ago

The gap Ledecky has on the world in this event is insane.

6 years ago

Lol because swim swam is tired of making articles that say “Ledecky aiming to break her world record”, they resort to who can get silver.

6 years ago

Way too fast, i really don’t see 4 women under 16 min. Not sure about WR.

Reply to  oli993
6 years ago

You know how fast those 4 women are??

samuel huntington
Reply to  Hswimmer
6 years ago

it’s still too fast for the women

Reply to  samuel huntington
6 years ago

Now they’ll all go sub 15 since u said that

samuel huntington
Reply to  Hswimmer
6 years ago

not going to happen, i’m just a random commenter

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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