2019 World Champs Preview: Italians Returning From Injury in Men’s 800 Free

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
  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

MEN’S 800M FREESTYLE

  • World Record: 7:32.12, Zhang Lin, China – 2009 World Championships
  • World Championship Record: 7:32.12, Zhang Lin, China – 2009 World Championships
  • World Junior Record: 7:45.67 Mack Horton, Australia – 2014 Australian Championships
  • Defending 2017 World Champion: 7:40.77 – Gabriele Detti, Italy

The men’s 800 is an event exploding with potential. Prior to 2017, the event wasn’t part of the Olympic program for men, heavily minimizing its importance among the world’s top distance swimmers. The event was officially added to the 2020 Olympics, with the decision coming out about a month before the 2017 World Championships. That makes this the first long course World Championships where that addition should actually have a significant impact on the way athletes trained and how much they prioritized preparation for the 800 in their World Championships focuses.

Ukrainian Mykhailo Romanchuk has been on the forefront of the event since that announcement. He held the fastest time in the world last season, going 7:42.96 to win the European Championships. He’s carried that momentum over into this year, too. Back in April, he won a thriller of a showdown at the Stockholm Open, going 7:42.49 to top Germany’s Florian Wellbrock (7:43.03). Those two remain the fastest times in the world this year, and are faster than anyone worldwide went in the 2017-2018 season.

But it won’t be smooth sailing for gold, because the 2017 World Champ is returning with a vengeance. Gabriele Detti of Italy went 7:40.77 that year – the 8th-fastest swim of all-time in this event. Outside of the world record of 7:32.12 (recently ranked in our super-suited world records series among the toughest records to beat), no one else has ever been under 7:35. And since the ban of the super-suits, only Sun Yang of China has been sub-7:40 – he’s done it twice, in 2011 and 2015. Detti missed last year with injury issues, but went 7:43.8 in April and sits just behind Romanchuk and Wellbrock in the world rankings.

Sun, like Detti, returns to the world stage in this event in 2019. The Chinese superstar won World titles in this race in 2011, 2013 and 2015, but has seen his focus shift from major distance to the 200/400 as he’s moved into his mid-20s. Sun fell to just 5th in this event at 2017 Worlds, going 7:48.8. His yearly bests have moved mostly backwards since 2011 too:

  • 2011 – 7:38.57
  • 2013 – 7:41.36
  • 2015 – 7:39.96
  • 2017 – 7:48.87
  • 2018 – 7:48.36

Detti’s Italian countryman Gregorio Paltrinieri is another major threat. Paltrinieri excels over the longest distances – he won every major 1500 free available to him between 2014 and 2017: 2014 Euros, 2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. He’s also won Worlds silver (2015) and bronze (2017) in the 800 free, and finished second at Euros last year to Romanchuk. He’s also dealing with injury fallout: he hurt his elbow at the U.S. Open Water Nationals this spring, though he appears to be fully back from that injury.

We mentioned Wellbrock briefly above. The 21-year-old German is one of the rising young stars in distance swimming. He burst onto the scene last summer, upsetting Paltrinieri for the Euros 1500 free title and taking bronze in the 800.

The Americans have struggled in men’s distance free for awhile now – odd, considering how dominant the American women (Katie Ledecky in particular) have been in the same events. But Zane Grothe has been on a tear during this Olympic cycle. He won Pan Pacs gold last summer in 7:43.74 – the second-best time in the world behind only Romanchuk. Meanwhile Jordan Wilimovsky‘s 7:45.19 was 4th in the world, though it feels like he’d need a pretty good drop to contend for a medal. (In 2017, 7:42.44 won bronze, and the event should only likely move forwards with its new Olympic inclusion). Wilimovsky is also a top open water threat, and with this year carrying a lot of weight for Olympic open water qualification, it seems likely his focus is mostly on the marathon swimming this year, though he can still make the final here.

Norway’s Henrik Christiansen should also be in the mix for a finals spot.  He was one spot out of bronze in 2017, going 7:44.21, and last year finished in the dreaded 4th spot again at Euros in 7:46.75. He’s already been 7:45.11 this year, taking third behind Romanchuk and Wellbrock in that stellar Stockholm Open race, and ranks 4th in the world so far this season.

There will be a handful of big names either not competing or not expected to contend. Australia’s Mack Horton is the world junior record-holder in the event and won bronze at the 2015 World Championships. But he had a rough Australian selection meet and missed the qualifying times in the 200, 400 and 800 frees. He’s on the team, and it’s not clear what events he’ll contest in Gwangju. He’s dropped the 1500 from his program and has had more success in the 400 free. Horton has been 7:44.0 in his career, but hasn’t broken 7:50 since early 2016. Instead, the Australian to watch is probably Jack McLoughlinthe Commonwealth Games 1500 free champ and bronze medalist (behind the two Americans) at Pan Pacs in the 800 last year.

Meanwhile Wojciech Wojdak of Poland looked like a hotshot up-and-comer, winning 2017 Worlds silver at the age of 21 in 7:41.73. But he fell off hard last year, going only 7:56.8 and missing the Euros final by six spots. He hasn’t been any faster than 7:55.1 this year, and unless he’s holding out for an absolutely monster taper, he’s probably not a finalist this year.

Others looking intriguing this year: France’s David Aubry went 7:46.3 back in April. Austria’s Felix Auboeck is a fast-riser who won the mile in short course yards at the NCAA Championships. Anton Ipsen of Denmark is another former NCAA standout who has been 7:49 already this year. Sweden’s Victor Johansson was sub-7:50 last year and so has Jan Micka out of the Czech Republic.

TOP 8 PICKS:

Place Swimmer Country Season-Best Lifetime-Best
1 Gabriele Detti Italy 7:43.83 7:40.77
2 Mykhailo Romanchuk Ukraine 7:42.49 7:42.49
3 Florian Wellbrock Germany 7:43.03 7:43.03
4 Gregorio Paltrinieri Italy 7:45.35 7:40.81
5 Zane Grothe USA 7:53.40 7:43.74
6 Sun Yang China 7:48.03 7:38.57
7 Henrik Christiansen Norway 7:45.11 7:44.21
8 Jack McLoughlin Australia 7:46.79 7:46.79

Dark horse: Brazil’s Guilherme Costa is only 20 and already holds the South American record in this event. He’s improved very quickly, from 8:12 in 2016 to 8:02 in 2017 to 7:50.92 last summer. Even if he’s a longshot to medal, he’s got a great chance for a splash swim that would land him in the final.

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SuspituoSam
1 year ago

“Injury”

WV Swammer
1 year ago

Over/Under for this WR being broken by 2032

BSD
Reply to  WV Swammer
1 year ago

Over

Rafael
1 year ago

Costa was sick at Brazil trophy and almost missed world, his coach expected a sub 7:50 and 14:50 there.

He went 7:53 at sette coli so I don’t doubt he breaks 7:50 and final

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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