2019 World Champs Preview: Women’s 800 Free is Still a Race for Silver


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While the 200 free and 400 free are feeling less like they belong solely to Katie Ledecky (especially the former), the American still has a strong advantage over the world in the 800. She’s been 8:10.70 to lead the world rankings, and returns after claiming her third-straight World title in the event in 2017.

FINA Champions Swim Series – Budapest – photo by Rafael Domeyko

While it’s teenagers like Taylor Ruck and Ariarne Titmus who have risen to Ledecky’s level in shorter events, China’s Li Bingjie and Wang Jianjiahe have been the most threatening in the longer ones. Li touched less than two seconds back of Ledecky at the 2017 World Champs, while Wang this year is the most dangerous of the two.

This year at Chinese Nationals, Wang clocked an Asian Record time of 8:14.64. That came just three weeks after she torched the Asian Record in the 1500 free at a Pro Swim Series stop with a time of 15:46.69. She’s still over three seconds back of Ledecky’s world-leading time, which was done at a PSS stop in May, and Ledecky on-form will be well under 8:10. But, in Budapest in 2017, she was just 8:12.68 — another swim like that would leave her incredibly vulnerable to the ever-improving Wang.

Wang’s countrymate, Li, was well off at Chinese Nationals with an 8:27.96, leaving her just 16th in the world. But Li, with her PR of 8:15.46 from Budapest, was the Asian record-holder before Wang broke her mark, and Li is still the #4 performer of all-time and the third-best active swimming right now based on best times.

Having had more success in LCM in the 200 and 400 free, American Leah Smith had a breakthrough at the 800 distance this spring when she went 8:16.33 at a PSS stop. It was a lifetime best by almost a full second, out-doing her performances at the 2017 Worlds and the 2018 Pan Pacs, which alludes to even more of a drop to come at Worlds. Smith, last summer, was edged by Titmus in this event and settled for bronze — Titmus got to the wall in 8:17.07, just over a tenth quicker than Smith.

Hailing from the fast-rising swimming nation of Italy is Simona Quadarella, who last year won the distance triple crown at 2018 Euros by sweeping the 400, 800, and 1500 free. She took the win in 8:16.45 in the 800, putting her right in the mix in the crowd of 8 teens while setting the Italian Record.

There are a few big names to watch for out of Europe right now, and leading the continent in 2019 are Germany’s Sarah Kohler and Hungary’s Ajna Kesely. Kohler, who set the German 1500 record at Euros last year where she took the silver, is better the longer the distance. But, her 8:23.83 ranks her favorably this season at #6, right behind Australia’s second entrant to Worlds in this event, Kiah Melverton (8:22.83). She’s also just ahead of Kesely, the rising teenager who was 8:24.25 at the Canet stop of the Mare Nostrum tour.

It’s hard to gauge what we’ll see from Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas and Spain’s Mireia Belmonte. The pair finished 5th and 4th, respectively, in this event at the last Worlds, but Kapas was only 5th last summer at Euros despite having a breakthrough in the 200 fly to win gold there in 2:07.13. Meanwhile, she hasn’t even cracked the top 25 in the world in the 800, having been just 8:49 at Hungarian Nationals (though she was 8:36 in June). Belmonte’s been 8:27.12, a solid time considering she took 4th in 2017 with an 8:23, but this event could feasibly see six or more women break 8:20.


1 Katie Ledecky USA 8:10.70 8:04.79
2 Wang Jianjiahe China 8:14.64 8:14.64
3 Leah Smith USA 8:16.33 8:16.33
4 Simona Quadarella Italy 8:21.20 8:16.45
5 Ariarne Titmus Australia 8:18.23 8:17.07
6 Li Bingjie China 8:27.96 8:15.46
7 Sarah Kohler Germany 8:23.63 8:20.53
8 Kiah Melverton Australia 8:22.83 8:22.83


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1 year ago

I see Ledecky and smith go 1-2 then Titmus or Wang for third

1 year ago

“Defending World Champion: Katie Ledecky (USA), 21.15” damn that win from last worlds just might be the most impressive performance of all time

WV Swammer
1 year ago

I don’t see Ledecky touching her Rio time, but I think it will be much quicker than Budapest…

1. Ledecky 8:06.50
2. Smith 8:14.95
3. Wang 8:15.64

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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