2021 Short Course World’s Picks & Previews: Men’s 400 & 1500 Freestyle

2021 FINA SHORT COURSE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S 400 FREESTYLE

Tokyo Olympic Finalists Participating:

One of the most viral moments from the swimming pool in Tokyo was when Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui powered his way to a gold medal in the men’s 400 freestyle. Hafnaoui had placed 8th in the prelims, just barely sneaking into the final. When it came down to it though, he managed to touch the wall first and win Olympic gold in a 3:43.36.

It was an incredible moment for Hafnaoui and while he’s committed to swim for Indiana since his Olympic debut, we have yet to see him return to the major international stage. That wait will end this week as he prepares to race at Short Course Worlds. Hafnaoui is entered in the meet with a 3:42.62 which is far off the top group of men, but it’s likely that he’ll be quicker than that here. The pressure to perform in one’s first race after winning Olympic gold will always be tough to contend with, so it will be exciting to see how Hafnaoui fares in his signature race.

While silver medalist Jack McLoughlin won’t be in attendance, bronze medalist Kieran Smith of the USA is going to be racing the 400 in Abu Dhabi. Smith is still an NCAA athlete, meaning he doesn’t get many short course meters racing opportunities. He is, however, prolific in the yards pool and recently put up an event-winning time of 4:10.72 at the Georgia Tech Invitational in the 500 freestyle. Smith should transition well to the meters pool and will certainly be in the race for a podium finish here.

Joining Hafnaoui and Smith in the 400 freestyle is a flurry of European men. In fact, considering Smith and Hafnaoui’s relatively slow entry times, the top 18 entrants are from Europe. We got a preview of this race a few weeks ago at Short Course European Championships where Luc Kroon of the Netherlands, Matteo Ciampi of Italy, and teammate Marco de Tullio went 1-2-3 in the event, each with a swim between 3:38.33 and 3:38.80.

That slate of men, however, doesn’t include the top 3 entrants at Short Course Worlds who are Danas Rapsys of Lithuania, British 200 freestyle Olympic champ Tom Dean, and Felix Aubock of Austria. Rapsys has been a bit off lately, including at the Olympics when he missed the final in this event with his 13th place finish in prelims. Dean and Aubock on the other hand have been solid in 2020 and while their best performances have been in the 200 and 1500, respectively, they should be able to meet in the middle and put up some solid 400s.

The other names on the list that have just as much of a shot as anyone here are Henrik Christiansen of Norway, Dean’s British teammate Max Litchfield, Balazs Hollo from Hungary, Switzerland’s Antonio Djakovic, and France’s Jordan Pothain, to name a few.

We’ll end though with one lesser-known name who might be in for an upset here. If I asked you who was the top seed heading into the Tokyo 2020 men’s 400 freestyle final, would you know the answer? Amid the chaos of Hafnaoui’s victory, many forgot that it was Germany’s Henning Mühlleitner who had the fastest prelims swim. Mühlleitner posted a 3:43.67 in round one but ultimately fell to 3:44.07 in the final. That prelims swim would have garnered bronze in the Olympic final and it is his entry time here in Abu Dhabi.

Top 3 Picks:

  1. Tom Dean, Great Britain (SB: 3:40.20)
  2. Kieran Smith, USA (SB: 4:10.72, 500 short course yards)
  3. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia (SB: NA)

WOMEN’S 800 FREESTYLE

Tokyo Olympic Finalists Participating:

Globally, the men’s 800 and 1500 freestyles over the past few years have been pretty much dominated by Europeans. The big asterisk there of course is American Bobby Finke who recently took gold in both the 800 and 1500 freestyle in Tokyo. In his absence from Abu Dhabi, however, the European men will likely steal the show.

In the lead-up to Tokyo, the trio of Mykhailo Romanchuk, Florian Wellbrock, and Gregorio Paltrinieri were considered three of the favorites to reach the podium in the 1500 free. Romanchuk and Wellbrock accomplished the feat, but reigning champ from 2016 Paltrinieri was bumped off, settling for 4th.

Wellbrock and Paltrinieri recently went head-to-head at Short Course Euros where Wellbrock got the gold in a 14:09.88 followed by Gregorio Paltrinieri who was silver in a 14:13.07. Romanchuk was absent from the meet but considering his 14:09.14 podium-topping swim from Short Course Worlds in 2018, likely would have been in the mix had he been present.

Those three men are certainly strong but if Bobby Finke showed us one thing in Tokyo it’s that they are not untouchable. In fact, fellow European distance powerhouse Henrik Christiansen sits at #2 in the psych sheets for the 1500 freestyle with a 14:18.15, which he swam in 2019. He was a bit of a question mark at Short Course Euros earlier this fall when he swam a pair of 1500s in 14:43.01 and 14:41.12. He wasn’t at his best in Tokyo either, placing 21st overall with a 15:11.14, but if he shows up in full form this week, will challenge for a spot on the podium.

Damien Joly is the only other man in the field with a sub-14:30 entry time and will go in as 4th seed for France with a 14:26.53. He posted that time recently at Short Course Euros where he finished 5th. Notably, 3rd and 4th place finishers at that meet Sven Schwarz of Germany and Kirill Martynychev of Russia won’t be racing at Worlds.

Czech swimmer Jan Micka and Italy’s Domenico Acerenza are entered with a 14:32.21 and 14:32.56, respectively, meaning they’ll need to see some improvement if they want a spot in top 3. Rounding out the top 8 entrants here is the aforementioned Ahmed Hafnaoui. Hafnaoui may have won gold in the 400 free, but his Olympic 800 wasn’t bad, having finished in 10th place with a 7:49.14. If he can extend the endurance up to the 1500, he could become a multi-event threat in the coming years.

Top 3 Picks:

  1. Mykhailo Romanchuk, UKR (SB: NA)
  2. Florian Wellbrock, Germany (SB: 14:09.88)
  3. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy (SB: 14:13.07)

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