2019 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
- All sports: Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
- Pool swimming: Sunday, July 21 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
- The Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Gwangju, Korea
- Meet site
- Competition Schedule
- FinaTV Live Stream
- Entry Lists
- Start Lists
The 2019 World Championships have wrapped, and they’ve had a huge impact on the trajectories of some key events, swimmers and nations heading towards the 2020 Olympics. Let’s take a moment to run down a few of the key risers and fallers from all of last week’s action.
Australian Women’s Relays:
Even without rising star Shayna Jack, who dropped off the team last-minute after failing a doping test, the Australian women won two of the three relays and took silver in the third. Australia is developing outstanding free relay depth to go along with their top-tier stars. Cate Campbell has always done her best work on relays, and another batch of 51-second splits (51.1 on the mixed medley, 51.4 on the women’s 4×100 free, 51.9 on the women’s medley) only cements her as the most dangerous relay leg on the planet.
Both free relays have two of the top talents on the planet: Cate and Bronte Campbell in the 4×100 and Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon in the 4×200. Whether Jack’s looming suspension is up by Tokyo or not, Australia could perhaps outperform the U.S. in women’s relay medals for a third-straight year.
Heading into the meet, it was Kliment Kolesnikov whom most people viewed as the exciting young Russian backstroker. But with Kolesnikov dealing with injuries, defending 200 back world champ Evgeny Rylov stepped into the spotlight and may have supplanted Kolesnikov as the backstroker of the present, if not the future.
Rylov successfully defended his 200 back world title, giving him wins in three of his four major competitions this quad – 2017 Worlds, 2018 Euros and 2019 Worlds, with only 2020 Olympics to go. But maybe more impressive was Rylov’s improved speed. He moved up to the silver medal spot in the 100 back – his first world-level senior medal in that event and a build on his Euros silver from last summer. Then in the mixed medley relay, Rylov went 51.97 for what would be only the sixth sub-52 swim in history, though it might not officially count as it came in a mixed relay.
Each quad, we expect to see younger names rise as older names start to fall off. Usually, it’s the flood of post-Olympic retirements that bring it about, but this time around, we saw a huge changing of the guard in the third year of the Olympic cycle.
Here’s a look at some of the notable teenagers who made big moves last week:
- Kristof Milak, 19 – the Hungarian flyer broke a hallowed Michael Phelps world record and dominated the 200 fly with a two-second drop.
- Regan Smith, 17 – hailed as the backstroker of the future for Team USA, Smith made the most of limited event entries, smashing a world record with a three-second drop in the 200 back, then swimming her way onto the medley relay where she broke the 100 back world record.
- Maggie MacNeil, 19 – one of the early shockers of the meet, the 19-year-old Canadian upset world record-holder and three-time defending world champ Sarah Sjostrom in the 100 fly.
- Ariarne Titmus, 18 – Australia’s teen talent pulled off an equally-shocking upset, besting Katie Ledecky in the 400 free. Titmus also won silver in a brutal 200 free field and bronze in the 800.
Beyond that crew, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, 18, and Minna Atherton, 19, both won individual backstroke medals, and Russia’s Andrei Minakov won 100 fly silver at age 17. And that was even with some of the world’s best teenage swimmers (Kliment Kolesnikov, Nicolo Martinenghi) dealing with injuries and others (Luca Urlando, Evgenia Chikunova) not making their country’s worlds rosters.
The hype was real with Dressel, who was even more impressive than he was in a banner 2017 Worlds showing. The topic of a lot of intense conversation after his disappointing summer of 2018 (complete with an unexpected motorcycle accident story), Dressel pretty well proved that 2018, not 2017, was the fluke internationally.
In the 100 free, threats abounded, including defending Olympic champ Kyle Chalmers, but it was Dressel that won their rematch after losing in 2018. Dressel went 46.96, the best time ever in textile and just off the world record. Same goes for the 50 free, where Dressel crushed the field by almost half a second and went a textile-record 21.04. The 100 fly saw Dressel smash a world record with a 49.50, wiping Michael Phelps off the board by three tenths. And the 50 fly left Dressel 4-for-4 in individual golds.
Dressel chipped in two golds and two silvers with massive relay splits to win 8 total medals. That brought him to 15 World Championships medals in just two appearances. Of those, 13 have been gold. Dressel already sits #4 all-time in long course world swimming titles, behind Phelps (33 total; 26 gold), Ryan Lochte (27 total; 18 gold) and Katie Ledecky (18 total; 15 gold).
American men’s backstrokes
Since at least the 1990s, the American men have ruled the backstrokes internationally. U.S. men swept 200 back golds from 1998 to 2013, and have won 21 of a potential 32 Olympic-distance backstroke medals over those eight World Championships meets. (With each country maxed at two entries per event, American men could win a max of 4 medals at each Worlds).
But since then, the streak has cooled significantly. Since losing the 200 back streak in 2015, the American men have yet to win another gold in either the 100 or 200 back. Their 2019 total of just one men’s 100/200 back medal is tied for their worst showing since missing medals entirely in 1986.
Ryan Murphy was supposed to be the backstroker of the future after breaking a world record at the 2016 Olympics. But he regressed in 2017, and despite being one of the few Americans who looked sharp in 2018, he was again off in 2019. The backstroke woes were probably the culprit for Team USA’s historic loss in the men’s medley relay, as well as the mixed medley relay. With Matt Grevers turning 34 this year and with no other American having broken 53 since the Rio Olympics, what once looked like a strength for Team USA might just be a relative weakness.
World Relay Records
As of the start of the Rio Olympics, 4 of the 6 relay world records were still holding up from the super-suit era of 2008-2009. But Tokyo looks like a true chance to surpass the suit era on relays, after three world records fell and several more took close shaves in 2019.
The Australian women dropping the super-suited 4×200 free relay record was probably the most impressive swim. The U.S. had appeared to have shots at that record for a few years now, but couldn’t put it together at the right time. Australia did just that, and suddenly no supersuited world records remain in the long course women’s relays.
The American women broke their own medley relay record, and though Australia didn’t break their own 4×100 free relay record, they’re only a year removed from doing so at Commonwealth Games. Tokyo could easily see all three women’s relay records fall.
The mixed 4×100 free relay isn’t an Olympic event, but that record went down as well. Perhaps the surprise was how close the men came to all three of their supersuited relay records. Great Britain’s 3:28.10 was the fastest time in European history, and two tenths behind the American relays from 2016 and 2017 for the fastest swims since the suit ban in 2010.
The Americans went 3:09.06 in the 4×100 free relay, the best time in the world since the suit ban, and only about eight tenths off the record, without using Universiade 47.0 split Dean Farris, and with Dressel seven tenths slower than he’d go individually a few days later.
The men’s 4×200 is probably the longest shot, but Australia’s 7:00.85 is about as close as anyone has come to the 7-minute barrier since the U.S. team went 6:59.70 back in 2012.
Like with Murphy, the regression of Chase Kalisz is hard to explain. He was sharp last summer, winning both IMs at Pan Pacs and dominating the world ranks. But he faded badly in 2019, barely managing a bronze medal in the 200 IM (while adding more than a second from his top time last year) and missing the 400 IM final entirely while adding almost eight seconds from 2018.
It’s possible Kalisz was dealing with an illness or injury, but he didn’t get his Katie Ledecky 800 free moment of showing his ceiling even through adversity. It’s not smart to rule Kalisz out for 2020, but his stock certainly isn’t trending upwards the way it clearly was coming out of 2018.
Belmonte won three medals at the 2017 World Championships. She fell off badly in 2019, missing final after final, though her regression is more easily explained than Kalisz’s: she’s 28 years old and swims some of the sport’s most punishing events. This time around, Belmonte took on the 200 IM, 400 free, 200 fly, 1500 free, 800 free and 400 IM – but only made finals of the 800 and 1500.
Belmonte has long been revered as one of the toughest athletes in the sport. But she may have to rethink her event lineup for 2020 if she hopes to medal in a third-straight Olympics.