2019 World Champs Preview: Building Excitement for 2020 in the Women’s 1500


  • 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

Women’s 1500m free

We start this preview as all other 800 and 1500 previews have started since practically the dawn of Katie Ledecky‘s career: it’s not a question of if she’ll win, it’s just by how much.

Her world record time of 15:20.48 is fairly fresh, swum in the first race of her professional career at the May 2018 Pro Swim Series stop in Indianapolis. She was 15:38.97 at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships last August, winning by over 21 seconds, but we know many USA swimmers struggled to hit their tapers at this meet with the travel schedule. She went 15:45.59 in January, good for the top spot in the world, and hasn’t swum it again since. With few data points, it’s hard to know how Ledecky’s season trajectory might look. At Worlds in 2017, she was 15:31.82, but had been 15:35.65 the month prior; she did post a quick in-season 400 last month, going 3:59.28 with presumably no rest.

While Ledecky might be starting to come down to earth (or rather, a select few are catching up to her level) in the 400, she remains untouchable in the longer distances. She really has no reason to go all-in on this swim, and from a spectator perspective, saving any fireworks for when she becomes the first Olympic gold medalist ever in the event might not be a bad idea. But you really just never know what Ledecky will do, time-wise.

Wang Jianjiahe. Photo: Rafael Domeyko

While Li Bingjie seemed, for a time, to be the queen of Chinese distance swimming – and perhaps even an heir to Ledecky on the world stage (at five years younger) – Wang Jianjiahe, 16, was SwimSwam’s 2018 Female Breakout Performer of the Year, and decidedly dethroned Li in the longer distances this spring. At the 2019 Pro Swim Series stop in March, Wang and Li went head-to-head in the 1500, with Wang coming out on top by more than 30 seconds. Her 15:46.69 Asian record is the No. 2 time in the world this year behind Ledecky, and a six-plus second drop from her previous best. She also handily defeated Li at Chinese Nationals in the 800 later in the month, also taking down the Asian record with an 8:14.64, a four-second from her year-old best time.

Italian Simona Quadarella has followed a similar trajectory to Wang as of late: at the 2019 Sette Colli Trophy in late June, the 19-year-old took six seconds off her previous PR to take down the meet record in 15:48.84. Ranking No. 3 in the world currently, Quadarella is also the third-fastest performer since Rio. Given that her drop was so recent, exactly a month before Worlds begins, it’s hard to see her getting much faster already, but she and Wang are in a class of their own compared to the rest of the field.

Notably, teenagers Delfina Pignatiello (the South American record holder) and American Erica Sullivan, currently ranked No. 4 and 5 in the world, will not be at the meet. Also absent from this field is American distance mainstay Leah Smith, who hasn’t logged a single 1500 this year. Because of these major absences, particularly those of the younger two swimmers, it’s almost more useful to just think of this race as a preview of what’s come in its first Olympic appearance next year. Ledecky should win the first Olympic 1500, but it will be the race for second and third that we’ll want to track over the next year, noting how Pignatiello and Sullivan might stack up to the Worlds field.

Regardless, leading the next tier of swimmers is American open water star Ashley Twichell, who already took sixth in the 10K to kick off her World Championships showing and make her first Olympic team in four tries. Twichell dropped 15 seconds in the mile from July 2017 to July 2018 (16:10.63 to 15:55.68). She’s only raced two 1500s this season, however, with the fastest coming in December at 16:09.80, and the other just six weeks later at 16:13.03. In March, she showed that age is no object, improving her short course 1650 by five seconds after three years of stagnation; that time converts to something in the 15:40s range. Regardless of whether she’ll drop quite that far, she’s a candidate to carry her momentum into a big swim.

German Sarah Kohler‘s best time stands at 15:57.85 from the 2018 European Championships, and her season-best is a few seconds faster than Twichell’s at 16:06.68 from the 2019 Swim Open Stockholm in April. Just days before that, she was 16:07.33, and hasn’t race the mile since then. Over the last two years, her time has come down two seconds, from 15:59.85 in August 2017.

Mireia Belmonte. Photo: Peter Sukenik

It’s been two years since Spain’s Mireia Belmonte has produced a top-notch time, but the last time she did was when it counted: 15:50.89, a lifetime best, at the 2017 FINA World Championships. Her only other swims under 16 minutes came in 2013 and 2014. Belmonte logged a 16:07.43 in 2018, and this season has thus far topped out a 16:09.71; her slowest swim of the season came in February at 16:28.41. The 28-year-old veteran won’t need a best time to have a strong showing in this field, but will need to get back under 16:00.

It’s practically a tossup between Australia’s Kiah Melverton, 22, and 19-year-old Madeleine Gough at this point. Gough entered the year with a 16:04.62, then went a 16:20 and a 16:18 early in 2019. She dropped down to 15:58.26 in April, then at Australian World Trials last month, she was 15:56.39. Somewhat similarly, Melverton entered the year just barely under 16:00, then went 15:58.09 in April. In June, she shaved another couple seconds, good for a season and lifetime best of 15.56.46. We’re going with Gough, perhaps for no other reason than that she’s got more swims in her pocket this year, and has shown she can go fast when it counts.

We’d be remiss not to mention Hungarian Bolgarka Kapas, who holds a best time of 15:47.09, but that swim is from 2015. She was 15:50.22 in Rio, but her fastest since then was 16:04.19 in April 2017 (and 16:06.25 at 2017 Worlds). Her season-best of 16.08.67 put her 11th in the World (though a few ahead of her are not swimming), but it should take under 16:00 to make the top eight, and it’s not clear that 26-year-old Kapas will get back down there.

Place Swimmer Country Season-Best Lifetime-Best
1 Katie Ledecky USA 15.45.59 15:20.48
2 Wang Jianjiahe CHN 15.46.69 15.46.69
3 Simona Quadarella ITA 15.48.84 15:48.84
4 Ashley Twichell USA 16.09.80 15:55.68
5 Sarah Kohler GER 16.06.68 15:57.85
6 Mireia Belmonte ESP 16.09.71 15:50.89
7 Madeleine Gough AUS 15.56.39 15.56.39
8 Kiah Melverton AUS 15.56.46 15.56.46


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Tie for 4th? Bold prediction

Mr Piano

I wonder how good Ledecky would be in open water swimming.


I think she’s too high tempo for it. She doesn’t have that nice, easy stroke like Sun Yang.

Mr Piano

Open water swimmers have higher tempo than 1500 swimmers. They need it, because of all the waves they’re fighting.

Jim C

Ledecky would need to adjust her stroke for open water, but I imagine she could if she really wanted to do so.


U got nationality swapped on Belmonte & Melverton.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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