2019 Worlds Preview: Strategies Abound In Men’s 200 Free


  • 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 200 Freestyle

  • World Record: 1:42.00, Paul Biedermann (GER), 2009
  • World Championship Record: 1:42.00, Paul Biedermann (GER), 2009
  • World Junior Record: 1:46.13, Elijah Winnington (AUS), 2018
  • Defending World Champion: Sun Yang (CHN), 1:44.39

The LCM 200 freestyle is one of the most difficult races to figure out in terms of splitting.

For three straight major championships, from the 2012 Olympics to the 2015 Worlds, the aggressive approach paid off. Yannick Agnel led from start to finish in both London and Barcelona, dominating the field, and James Guy pulled out the victory in Kazan in a similar fashion.

However, Sun Yang (who won silver in both London and Kazan), won the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championship gold medals swimming the opposite strategy. He was fifth at the 100m wall in Rio and sixth in Budapest but moved his way through the field to win.

The varying race strategies of this year’s contenders are all over the map, and it will be intriguing to see which one prevails.


In addition to Guy, Townley Haas of the U.S. and Danas Rapsys of Lithuania are two of the primary contenders who have been known to open up with speed.

Guy has gone 1:45 seven times, averaging an opening 100 of 51.0. Rapsys has averaged the same over his last five sub-1:46 swims, including a 50.62 front half from his personal best (1:45.12).

For Haas, not only have his four fastest swims been taken out in 50-point, but his relay splits from Rio, Budapest and Tokyo have all been sub-50. The ‘fly and die’ strategy certainly worked for him in winning three consecutive NCAA titles, and given how fast his relay legs have been (most recently 1:43.78 at Pan Pacs after opening in 49.40), it’s what he needs to do in the individual event.

He has continued to perform individually on the international stage, going from the Olympic final to World silver and then Pan Pac gold last summer. If he goes out as he has in college (and relays), it seems to be his best chance at gold.

Chad Le Clos tried a similar strategy in Rio, opening all three of his swims with reckless abandon. He was out in 23.91 in the semis and then an insane 23.39 in the final, ultimately winning the silver in what remains his PB of 1:45.20.

However, upon the release of the unofficial entry lists, Le Clos isn’t entered in the event.

Rapsys is one of the rare swimmers who can open in 24-low and still close sub-27. The key for him, along with Guy, is to not overdo the first 100 and lean on their 400 backgrounds to close strong.

When he goes out more conservatively Rapsys can really fly on the way back, including a notable 26.16 split at the FINA Champions Series in Guangzhou.

The Lithuanian was the fastest swimmer in the world last year and sits at #2 this year. He may be the biggest threat to Sun Yang.

Other contenders who tend to take out the race aggressively include Katsuhiro Matsumoto of Japan, Dominik Kozma of Hungary and Clyde Lewis of Australia.

Matsumoto opened his PB of 1:45.63 set this year in 51.29, and he blasted his Pan Pac bronze swim last summer (1:45.92) in 51.00.

Kozma opened in 50.68 en route to his 2017 best time of 1:45.54, and also split 50.05 on the way to a 1:44.81 relay split at that meet (51.06 on the way to 1:45.77 this year).

Lewis, who went a best of 1:45.88 to qualify for the team in June, was out in 51.36.

Duncan Scott 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)


The main swimmers who come to mind when you think about attacking the middle 100 of the 200 free are Andrew Seliskar and Duncan Scott.

Last summer was Seliskar’s coming out party both in this event and in major international competition, as he rattled off four straight 1:45s from U.S. Nationals to Pan Pacs.

His race strategy was reminiscent of what Ryan Lochte executed perfectly at the 2011 World Championships, where he pounced on the third 50 with a 26.29 split to top the only heat in history with five swimmers under 1:45.

Seliskar hasn’t been quite that fast, but in his four swims under 1:46, he hasn’t dipped over 27 seconds on any of the second or third 50s, and his middle 100 splits are incredibly consistent: 53.57, 53.59, 53.56, 53.56.

In the 2017 Worlds final, only gold medalist Sun and bronze medalist Aleksandr Krasnykh kept both of those 50s in the 26s, and in Rio, it was Sun (1st), Conor Dwyer (3rd) and Krasnykh (8th).

The strategy can work, but, like Krasnykh at the Olympics, it won’t matter if your first and fourth lengths are lacking (he was still 1:45.91 in that swim).

If the former Cal Bear can gravitate down from 24-high opening up to 24.5, and close in the vicinity of 27.0 (has averaged 27.39 in 1:45 swims), he’s absolutely in the hunt to get on the podium and possibly go 1:44.

Scott has executed a similar strategy a few times, including his best time from the semis at 2017 Worlds where he split 26.69/26.70 down the middle en route to 1:45.16. He was slightly faster in his swim at British Nationals in April, going 53.35 in the middle 100 on his way to 1:45.63.

In the final at last summer’s European Championships, he trailed the early leader Rapsys by half a second at the 100, split 27.1 on the third 50 to turn dead even with him, and then dropped a 26.87 final 50 to win it in 1:45.34.

His optimal strategy seems to be to build his way through the 50s, but has both a slight speed advantage on Seliskar opening up and historically has been able to close it out better (five swims, all 1:46 or better, back in 27.0 or faster).

Seliskar is still relatively new to this event, and Scott has a bit more experience under his belt. While the American will need a near-perfect race to get into the 1:44s, Scott is right on the cusp.

Russian Mikhail Dovgalyuk generally follows this strategy as well, hitting a 26.54/26.73 middle 100 when he went his best of 1:45.74 two years ago. He was just off that, 1:46.08, at Russian Champs in April.

Fernando Scheffer of Brazil executed a brilliant 25.24/26.51/26.84/26.92 en route to his South American Record of 1:45.51 last December, and we can’t forget he split 1:44.87 on the relay at Pan Pacs last summer.

Sun Yang (Rafael Domeyko)


The strategy employed by Sun Yang to win in both 2016 and 2017 was to stay in contact with the field through 100 metres, make a move on the third length, and then pull away from everyone coming home.

In both of those swims, he looked near unbeatable. No one could contest him on the last 50 (though in both of his swims his third 50 was actually faster at 26.37 and 26.35 respectively rather than closing in 26.71 and 26.94, but no one close could break 27).

And while 2018 may not have been his best year, he still ranked third in the world in this event, and he was able to go a casual 1:46.12 at the FINA Champions Series in Guangzhou less than 90 minutes after a 3:42.7 400. He’s going to be tough to beat once again.

The other swimmer incredibly intriguing on the back half of this race is Russian Martin Malyutin.

Malyutin is currently the fastest swimmer in the world this year, having negative split a 1:45.46 at the Russian Championships in April with these splits: 25.69/27.10/26.58/26.09. This wasn’t a one-off either, as his other two career swims under 1:47 (both this year as well) were negative split, including a rare sub-26 final 50 (25.95) in his 1:46.28 semi-final swim from that same National meet.

If the 20-year-old, who will be competing in his first LC World Championships, can add a bit more speed opening up and come back like he’s been doing, he’s going to be a problem for the field. His splits coming home are super-suited Biedermann-esque.

The other man expected to close like a freight train is Kyle Chalmers, who has proven himself to be the best 100 free back half swimmer in the world.

After turning in a tie for sixth at the 100m wall in the Commonwealth final, Chalmers turned on the jets with back 50s of 26.83 and 26.29 to win gold in what remains his best time of 1:45.56. He also came back in 26.58 to run down Lewis and win Aussie Trials last month in 1:45.76.

Ji Xinjie of China is also right in the mix in the event, having been 1:46.27 this year at Chinese Nats. He tends to split his swims fairly even throughout, opening 24-high and holding 27-lows.


Place Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Danas Rapsys Lithuania 1:45.56 1:45.12
2 Sun Yang China 1:45.73 1:44.39
3 Duncan Scott Great Britain 1:45.63 1:45.16
4 Townley Haas USA 1:47.09 1:45.03
5 Martin Malyutin Russia 1:45.46 1:45.46
6 Andrew Seliskar USA 1:46.89 1:45.70
7 Kyle Chalmers Australia 1:45.76 1:45.56
8 Katsuhiro Matsumoto Japan 1:45.63 1:45.63

Darkhorse: Breno Correia, Brazil. Correia has brought his lifetime best down from 1:47.94 to 1:46.65 this year, and was a stalwart on the relays at SC Worlds with splits of 45.32 and 1:40.98 in the 100 and 200 free respectively. The 20-year-old has a high ceiling and will only continue to improve.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Dominik Kozma will final easily

3 years ago

If anyone can upset Mr.Sun , it will be either King Kyle or Seliskar.

3 years ago

Good read!

As for picks I’d say Sun (painful, but he has history on his side) or throw a dart a board for anyome else.

bear drinks beer
3 years ago

1. Scott and Sun will medal
2. Seliskar faster than Haas
3. Guy swims to his full strength in the semi, makes top 8, and then adds time in the final
4. Matsumoto won’t final.
5. KING KYLE can finish anywhere between 1st and 16th.

Reply to  bear drinks beer
3 years ago

Kyle 1st 😁

3 years ago

200 free is the best race in the sport all the GOATS swim it. The supersuits probably gave the swimmers a better feel for going faster. Taking the suit off slowed em down but they already gone way faster than 1:44 high so that wasn’t even a big deal for them. Also 1:45 is kind of a magical barrier. Phelps was stuck at 1:45 from 2003 til 2007, yang being the only one under I think will win.

3 years ago

Him winning the 400 seems virtually inevitable but hopefully someone can knock him off here.

3 years ago

Just casually sliding out the fact that Ian Thorpe went a 1:44.06……. 18 YEARS AGO

Reply to  Justhereforfun
3 years ago

Waiting on that next generational, pure freestyler to appear. Thorpe back in his day, Agnel in the early 2010s, and since then, there isn’t anyone that I would classify as being a superstar with this event being their “baby” – Sun Yang has enough speed to win it, but it’s still a little bit short for him, and everyone else is stuck in the 1:45s because they swim too hard on the first 50.

Reply to  MTK
3 years ago

One might argue that the 200 isn’t Thorpe’s “baby” either, given that his first world title is in the 400 and he still holds the fastest textile time in the 400, but I do agree about the 200 not being the best event for most of the people on this list, with it being “too long” or “too short” for them

3 years ago

The problem with this, is that there are probably enough active swimmers who have swum a 1:45 to fill out the entire semifinal (28 since 2013) and in that time, only one guy (guess who) has been 1:44.

Any guy can have a breakout swim, but by Sun’s 400, we can see he’s in great shape and will almost certainly be back under 1:45, which is where he was at rio and Budapest, when it counted. Personally, I think this is Sun’s race to lose, as others could maybe break 1:45, but sun has been 1:44.3 as recently as Budapest. I don’t think anyone is touching that this year

After that, literally anyone could get on the podium. Right now… Read more »

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Backstrokebro
3 years ago

Yang will be wagging his finger, per norm.

To quote Rowdy from 2017 with about 40 meters remaining, “Kiss it goodbye.”

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

Read More »