2019 Worlds Preview: Sans Biggest Challenger, Sjostrom is 100 Fly Favorite


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Women’s 100M Butterfly

  • World Record: 55.48, Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden – 2016 Olympic Games
  • World Championship Record: 55.53, Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden – 2017 World Championships
  • World Junior Record: 56.46, Penny Oleksiak, Canada – 2016 Olympic Games
  • Defending 2017 World Champion: 55.53, Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden – 2017 World Championships

It’s hard to believe that this year, 5 days after the women’s 100 fly final at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, will already mark 10 years since a 15-year old Sarah Sjostrom shocked the world and set the World Record in the 100 fly in the final at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. Since that historic swim, Sjostrom has had ups and downs in her career (it took her another 6 years to get back to that time), but one thing is still clear: the 25-year old, in the prime of her swimming career, is still the queen of the sprint butterfliers until someone dethrones her.

She is both the defending Olympic champion and the 3-time defending World Champion. But, as Sjostrom the freestyler has risen to be the best in the world in combination across the 50, 100, and 200 freestyle, her butterfly has slid just a bit, and enough to possibly open a crack for a challengere to take her throne in South Korea.

Sjostrom won last year’s European Championship, but was ‘only’ 56.23 – a time that she’s bettered on 15 occasions in her career. So far in 2019, she’s had some solid times – including a 56.4 season-best in late May at the Champions Series stop in Indianapolis – but she’s only been faster than 57 seconds in 4 swims.

Even with the expected trio of sub-57s for her at the World Championships, that would be fewer swims under that mark for Sjostrom in any season since 2015.

Sjostrom’s sub-57 second swims in the 100 LCM butterfly:

  • 2014 – 4
  • 2015 – 6
  • 2016 – 11
  • 2017 – 10
  • 2018 – 12

So who are the challengers that could contend for Sjostrom’s throne in this race, and upset her bid for a 5th long course world title in the event?

Consistent Contenders

There are 2 other swimmers globally who are consistently sub-57 at championship meets, enough so that we can safely expect them to do so at Worlds. One if 25-year old Emma McKeon from Australia, who took silver to Sjostrom in 2017 with a 56.18 that would have won the European title in 2018 (if Australia were in Europe, and she repeated the swim). Her time wasn’t quite as ‘on point’ at the Commonwealth Games lasst year, swimming 56.78 in the final, but she still put up one of the best swimming performances in that meet’s history on whole with 6 total medals, including 4 golds.

McKeon was 56.85 at Australia’s National Championships in April, almost as fast as those Commonwealth Games already.

The other swimmer who seems to have no problem cruising under 57 at seasons-end is American Kelsi Dahlia. With a lifetime best of 56.37, she took bronze at the 2017 World Championships. She too will be 25 by the time the World Championships roll around in a few weeks.

She was actually faster than McKeon last year, marking a 56.44 at the Pan Pacific Championships. Her best this season is a 57.45, in mid-June, but the Americans don’t have a trial meet in the pre-Olympic year, so it’s somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison between her and McKeon. Dahlia has been right around 57.4 a month out of championship season in each of the last 3 years, though, so she’s right on track to hit the consistent 56.4 that she’s landed in each of the last 3 years.

Young Upstarts

Japan’s 18-year old Rikako Ikee would probably be the start of this group, but she’ll skip the World Championships after having recently been diagnosed with Leukemia. She was the world leader last season with a 56.08 at Pan Pacs.

The two biggest upstarts I’m watching for, then, are two swimmers who had historic collegiate seasons in the United States: Maggie MacNeil of Canada/the University of Michigan; and Louise Hansson of Sweden/USC. Hansson broke Dahlia’s record in yards by .17 seconds (49.26) last season, while MacNeil is now the 3rd-fastest in that event all-time, and the fastest-ever freshman, with a 49.59 from Big Tens.

Both raced at Canada’s World Championship Trials, and both showed signs of translating that short course speed to long course speed – MacNeil 57.04, and Hansson 57.35. Hansson also has the Swedish butterfly pedigree that extends back far before Sjostrom to swimmers like Therese Alshammar and Anna-Karin Kammerling.

Both will face the challenge, though, of carrying electric, historic mid-season swims forward to championship season – which not all swimmers can do. That will be an especially tall task given that the number of ‘championship’ meets they’ve had already this season – conference meets, NCAAs, and then Canadian Trials.

Rest of the Field

Penny Oleksiak, who was 4th at the Commonwealth Games and 2nd at the Olympics, isn’t swimming the race, eliminating another young talent from the conversation.

23-year old South Korea An Se-hyeon was 5th at Worlds in 2017, and I’d like to believe that she will be a factor in front of a home crowd. She has been off her best the past few years, though: at the Asian Games she took a bronze in 58.00, and her season-best this year is 57.96. That doesn’t feel like a time that’s within reach of the podium. Chinese 21-year old Zhang Yufei should also make the final, but like An hasn’t made much progress since the last World Championships. Russia’s Svetlana Chimrova finished 7th in 2017, when her star was rising meteorically, and followed that with silver at the European Championships (in both the 100 and 200 fly) last season. A week-long hospital stay earlier this year, however, derailed her Russian Nationals performance, and it’s a guess at best whether she’ll be back in form for Worlds.

That gives a reason to knock 3 of the top contenders. So who does have momentum? For one, the second American entrant Katie McLaughlin. After a neck injury a few years back, it wasn’t clear if she’d ever return to her wunderkind destiny, but over the last 12 months she’s been swimming faster-than-ever. Her 57.77 at the Santa Clara International in early June is the second-best time of her career, and was 6-tenths better than she was at the same meet a year earlier. She could be the next sub-56 in this field.

Australia’s Brianna Throssell snaked in and took the 2nd Australian spot from Maddy Groves.

The entire country of Italy has momentum, and that includes Ilaria Bianchi, who swam 57.5 at Sette Colli, and Elena Di Liddo, who was 57.6 at Italian Nationals in April.

But, if you’re looking for some real darkhorse contenders, look to the country of South Africa, which has begun to emerge from a decade of struggles in its women’s swimming program. Erin Gallagher and Tayla Lovemore have been trading South African Records in the sprint butterfly events over the last year, and Gallagher ranks 13th in the world this season with a 57.67 (she wasn’t even in the top 25 last year). Gallagher, who is training in the same group as South Africa’s breakout breaststroker Tatjana Schoenmaker at last check, is the better 100 meter swimmer thus far, but Lovemore did win the 50 (in a new National Record) at this week’s World University Games.


It would have been tempting to pick Ikee, if she were racing, but she’s not, and so there’s no justification, where I sit, to pick anyone besides Sjostrom in this race. There’s a conversation to be had between McKeon (who’s shown more speed in total) and Dahlia (who’s been consummately consistent) for silver. 2018 was a strange year, and McKeon’s 56.8 was still good enough to win the race she had to win, so I’ll give her the nod for that 2nd position. She’s got a good idea of what she needs to go, at least, to beat Dahlia: 56.2.

That leaves us with the same podium as 2017. Not very exciting, but the smart picks. There’s plenty of novelty to be had in the rest of the final.

Place Swimmer Country Season-Best Lifetime-Best
1 Sarah Sjostrom Sweden 56.42 55.48(WR)
2 Emma McKeon Australia 56.85 56.18
3 Kelsi Dahlia USA 57.45 56.37
4 Maggie MacNeil Canada 57.06 57.06
5 Louise Hansson Sweden 57.35 57.35
6 Katie McLaughlin USA 57.77 57.51
7 Elena Di Liddo Italy 57.51 57.38
8 Beryl Gastaldello France 57.69 57.69

Darkhorse: Erin Gallagher, South Africa.



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Honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Sjostrom went a 54.

Good but not Great

I don’t doubt her potential to do that, but Sarah is traditionally a very good in season swimmer who dosen’t make significant drops from those in season times (which is fine when those in season times are near or are WRs). She could’ve changed her training in a way that would allow her to make such a massive drop at worlds, but with how good her 50 free looks right now I doubt that’s the case. I think her focus this year in on the 50s, particularly the 50 freestyle. That being said I think she could still potentially pull off 4 wins at worlds (though that 100 free going to be tough). I think after a somewhat disappointing 2017… Read more »


You gotta think the lack of sub 57 times can be pointed towards a more muscular build that needs its taper to really perform top times. That being said Sarah does not look quite as smooth in the butterfly anymore and it’s a bit hard to know what to expect. The women’s butterfly has been in a standstill for a while now, so just maintaining your level goes quite a long way still.

Ol' Longhorn

Why not? Schooling went a 54 a few weeks ago.


Dahlia won’t have it easy for a medal. MacNeil and Hansson have been very consistent and dropping time.


The young girl from Belarus, Anastasiya Shkurdai, who just swam a 57.39 today at Euro Juniors, would have to be considered at least a dark horse — IF she’s going to Worlds. (I realize this article was written before today’s swim.)

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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