2018 SHORT COURSE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Katie Ledecky fans will have to wait yet again to see the once and future distance queen take on the short course meters pool as the six-time Olympic gold medalist is notably absent Team USA’s roster. But we’ve known this for a long time now, and the Pacific Rim is nothing if not eager to give us a young new swimmer that can challenge Ledecky in a freestyle event longer than 200 meters.
Enter: Wang Jianjiahe. (16-years-old, China.)
Enter: Ariarne Titmus. (18-years-old, Australia.)
Enter: Li Bingjie. (16-years-old, China.)
Ledecky was a mere 15-years-old herself when she exploded onto the scene at the London 2012 Olympics and won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meter freestyle in an absolutely dominant fashion, and her career has only snowballed since then. While it’s difficult to really compare others, especially teenagers, to Katie Ledecky, it’s important to recognize that Ledecky has been the rabbit for a long time now, and maybe, just maybe, there is finally a pursuer capable of truly challenging her, in the form of either Jianjiahe, Titmus, or Bingjie.
Women’s 400 Meter Freestyle
- World Record: 3:53.97, Wang Jianjiahe (CHN), 2018
- World Championship Record: 3:55.76, Mireia Belmonte (ESP), 2014
- 2016 World Champion: Leah Smith (USA), 3:57.78
16-year-old Wang Jianjiahe of China is the huge favorite in the women’s 400 meter freestyle. After missing the world record by only 0.1 at the 2018 FINA World Cup in Budapest, and without current world record holder Mireia Belmonte in attendance to challenge, the 400 free is Jianjiahe’s race to lose. Competing with Jianjiahe in the 400 will be Li Bingjie, another impressive young Chinese swimmer who has already posted a time of 3:59.20 this season to rank 6th in the world.
2016 world champion Leah Smith of the United States will do her best to defend her title, but her best time from 2016 sits a full 3.8 seconds behind Jianjiahe’s, though Smith did post an impressive 3:58.94 at the World Cup in Budapest–where Jianjiahe nearly broke the world record–so Smith has shown great un-tapered speed already this year.
Smith, who has had an impressive streak of finishes in the big pool behind Katie Ledecky the past two summers, including a bronze medal in Rio in the 400 freestyle and a silver at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, was upstaged at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships by then-17-year-old Ariarne Titmus of Australia. Smith still brought home the bronze medal, but she finished nearly 5 seconds behind Titmus, who clocked an impressive 3:59.66 to become the third-fastest performer in the event all-time. Given that her short course time is only about a half-second faster than her long course time, Titmus could drop a seriously impressive time in Hangzhou.
Hungarian Boglarka Kapas, Russian Anna Egorova, and German Sarah Kohler have personal bests all within a second of one another, though Egorova has been the fastest this year with a 3:58.91, followed closely by Kohler at 3:59.21. Kapas is much farther behind as far as season bests are concerned, but the 2016 Rio bronze medalist in the 800 enters the meet with a lifetime best of 3:58.15, and will focus exclusively on freestyle (200/400/800).
Italian Simona Quadarella enters the competition with a personal best time of 4:02.86, but to make the finals she will probably have to swim at least a 4:01 or faster, though there is no reason to doubt her ability to do so, even though the 400 is the shortest event in her championship lineup.
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Women’s 800 Meter Freestyle
- World Record: 7:59.34, Mireia Belmonte (ESP), 2013
- World Championship Record: 8:03.41, Mireia Belmonte (ESP), 2014
- 2016 World Champion: Leah Smith (USA), 8:10.17
The greatest difference between the competitors in the women’s 400 meter freestyle and the women’s 800 meter freestyle is the increased relevance of the swimmers who specialize in the 1500 and open water disciplines. Though there are some swimmers who can dominate from 200 to 1500 (Ledecky), and from open water 5k to the 400 in the pool (Jordan Wilimovsky), such range is uncommon.
Wang Jianjiahe, who enters the competition over 11 seconds ahead of the second seed Sarah Kohler, is the huge favorite to win the 800 in front a home crowd. Though she might win by a lot, Aussie Ariarne Titmus, who posted an impressive 8:17.07 to pick up Pan Pacs silver in Tokyo in August, could make it an interesting race. Similarly, Li Bingjie of China, who boasts a LCM time of 8:15.46, making her the 3rd-fastest all time behind Ledecky and Rebecca Adlington, ought to be in the conversation for a spot on the podium.
2016 world champion Leah Smith may have to swim another 8:07 or faster just to get on the podium this year. In addition to Jianjiahe, Bingjie, and Titmus, Smith will have to fend off Italy’s Simona Quadarella, who is more of a 1500 meter swimmer, but enters the meet with a speedy season best of 8:13.41.
2016 Rio bronze medalist in the 800 freestyle Boglarka Kapas will have her work cut out for her just to make the podium. Kapas, who is versatile and can also swim fly and IM at the international level–Kapas won gold in the 200 fly at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow in August–she is focused exclusively on freestyle in Hangzhou.
Finally, open water star Haley Anderson should have a great shot at making the finals of the 800, but exactly where she’ll finish is difficult to say. Anderson’s best time of 8:30.80 isn’t exactly recent. In fact, it’s 10-years-old and was swum in December of 2008. However, given Anderson’s open water prowess, it’s appropriate to expect to see her swimming in the final of the women’s 800 in Hangzhou, probably after producing a massive personal best in prelims.
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