2019 World Championships: USA Is Actually Doing Better in 2019 Than in 2015


  • 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
  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

In spite of a lot of handwringing from fans of Team USA, by most statistical measures, the United States is doing better at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships than they did in 2015. So far, the 2019 Americans have placed more swimmers in finals, have finished higher, on average, in the events, and have earned more medals than their 2015 counterparts.

(Note: we recognize that 2015, where the American men’s 4×100 free relay didn’t even final, isn’t a particularly high threshold. However given Team USA’s performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the reports of American swimming’s death in 2015 were greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.)

We looked at Team USA’s performance through the first three days of competition – plus in the men’s 800 free and women’s 200 free finals since we already know the outcome for American swimmers in those events – and found the numbers to be nowhere near as dismal as feared. Americans have only missed three finals this year, versus five in 2015; their average event placing is 7.9 versus 8.2 in 2015; and they have won seven swimming medals versus six in 2015.

If we add 2017 to the mix, it becomes more apparent why fans are quick to judge the Americans’ performance. But the truer comparison, if we’re looking at apples-to-apples, is the World Championships that take place in the year before the Olympic Games. Not only is the selection process different, but the athletes themselves are in a different part of the quadrennial cycle and it makes sense to look at those figures side-by-side.

  2019 2017 2015
Gold medals 3 5 3
Silver medals 2 7 0
Bronze medals 2 3 3
Total medals 7 15 6
Average place 7.9 4.6 8.2
Prelims eliminations 2 0 4
Semi-finals eliminations 8 4 8
“Empty” finals 3 0 5

When you consider the statistics include the women’s 1500 free and 200 free, both of which Katie Ledecky scratched for medical purposes, the comparison to 2015 looks even less bleak. Although, those prodigious absences are probably contributing to the general sense of gloom that most fans are probably feeling.

So what can redeem this meet for the Americans? Well, Team USA still has a few gallant knights of the pool who could roar in and salvage this meet, at least enough to dull the points of the pitchforks.

  1. Caeleb Dressel – Although he had a poor meet at Pan Pacs (and US Nationals) last year by his standards, Dressel looks back in form in early returns this year. He had a solid, though not spectacular, 400 free relay leadoff of 47.6, and a really good American Record swim for gold in the 50 fly. The meat of his meet begins on Wednesday morning with prelims of the men’s 100 free, and based on what we’ve seen at this meet so far, he has to be considered the favorite in all 3 of his remaining individual events, even by those who may have been skeptical coming into the meet: the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 fly. If Dressel performs to peak Dressel standard, especially after the struggle last year, in the back-half of this meet (a World Record would be nice), then at least the medal counts will look ‘ok.’ Caeleb may not be counting medals, but the rest of us definitely are.
  2. Chase KaliszKalisz swept the men’s IM events at the World Championships in 2019, and in both races held a fairly comfortable margin (half-a-second in the 200 IM over Kosuke Hagino, who isn’t at this meet, and 2.5 seconds in the 400 IM over David Verraszto. It’s been hard to make good sense of his in-season swims this year, and with swimmers like Daiya Seto and Clyde Lewis rising up neither race is a sure thing, but Kalisz is a very good bet for the Americans in the IMs still. It’s sort of like a Schroedinger’s Cat situation: he still hasn’t raced yet, and until he does, he’s both “nailed his taper” and “whiffed on his taper.” We’ll get some evidence on Wednesday morning in prelis of the 200 IM.
  3. Regan SmithWe’re all super excited about Regan Smith and her potential. Her only individual swim is yet to come in the women’s 200 backstroke, and none of the main competitors in that race (Hosszu, Baker, Masse, Ruck) have been completely on their “A” game. If Smith, at 17, were to at least medal in the 200 back, and maybe win it, that would be a huge morale boost for the USA. It would, however, require the coaches to make a really tough decision about the women’s medley relays.
  4. Relays – Even with their individual struggles, the American relays to open the meet were still pretty good. The American women are probably still favorites (especially if Australia’s Emma McKeon is as sick as Katie Ledecky is after both scratched the 200 free). The men’s medley won’t have the front-half that we all dream that it could, but the back-half is still very good (Britain might pip them here). And the US should be able to stack the best mixed medley (though they made some ill-advised decisions in that regard at Pan Pacs last year) thanks to Lilly King and Caeleb Dressel appearing to be in-form. If Ledecky is feeling better, the Americans, on depth alone, still have to be the favorite in the women’s 800 free as well. Maybe even without her, given how well Leah Smith and Gabby DeLoof have been swimming.
  5. Simone ManuelTeam USA’s superhero, who always steps up huge in the clutchest moments, doesn’t start her individual program until Thursday morning with prelims of the 100 free. If ever there were a moment for American swimming’s clutchest performer, this would be it. She faces two of the toughest fields in Gwangju in the 50 and 100 free, against the likes of Cate Campbell and Sarah Sjostrom, but she stepped up big-time in both Rio (100 free gold) and Budapest (100 free gold). Does she have more magic?
  6. Hali Flickinger is the 2nd seed in the women’s 200 fly. Another swimmer that we haven’t seen yet, but with her and Katie Drabot as the #2 and #3 seeds (and Mireia Belmonte not swimming very well as the #4 seed), this is an opportunity for the Americans to pick up 2 medals.


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1 year ago

Slice it any way you want- USA is performing horribly.

Reply to  Jjran
1 year ago

That’s really not true… this is a separate issue from the selection process, but if you look at the swimmers who are actually there, it’s more so-so than bad. Day 3 was awful, but Day 1 was actually pretty good. Overall there have been plenty of good swims, but overshadowed by Ledecky’s sickness and a few high-profile misfires (Murphy, Haas). Grothe, Dahlia and Seliskar struggled… also Baker, but that was predictable (and predicted) since she broke her ribs and missed training this spring. Same for Shoults. On the other hand, the 4 x 100 relays were terrific. Smoliga, Smith and McLaughlin were solid to good. Wilson, Andrew, Grevers, all just fine. Manuel, Kalisz, Conger, Dressel, Smith, Prenot, Flickinger, Drabot, Comerford… Read more »

Scott Morgan
Reply to  Caleb
1 year ago

You basically support OP’s point: you list more names of those who have failed than those who haven’t. At this point, they are performing horribly.

Reply to  Scott Morgan
1 year ago

I listed about more than a dozen people doing well (including most of the relay swimmers) vs. half as many doing poorly… the results speak for themselves. It’s not a 10/U age group meet where everyone goes a best time.

Reply to  Caleb
1 year ago

the US is performing badly at this meet. that’s a true statement. it means almost absolutely nothing for next year, if that’s your point- then it’s not true. but, yes, the US is having a cringe worthy meet on pretty much every level except the 400 free relays (are we really striving to be a country that just has good relays..?)…in the end, this may be the final lesson for the bad selection process. I was at US Nationals in 2018, it feels like so long ago..i can’t believe there is an international meet going on that picked swimmers from that meet when (as everyone has alluded to) there are age groupers in the US that would medal here…sad. if… Read more »

Reply to  Jjran
1 year ago

As a Brit, we’d have a national holiday if we performed the way the US is!

It might not meet expectations, but it’s still dreamland for most countries.

1 year ago

that’s like comparing the worst meet to the second worst meet.

Human Ambition
Reply to  dude
1 year ago

US had 2 winning individual athletes in Olympic events 2015.
Japan had 3.

1 year ago

I doubt it will happen but right now the teams are clustered so close together on the medal table if the US continue to not perform they could end up around 5th on the medal table.

About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swim/swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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