2022 Commonwealth Games Previews: The Aussie Women Have Sprint Freestyle On Lock

2022 Commonwealth Games

  • Friday, July 29 – Wednesday, August 3, 2022
  • Birmingham, England
  • Sandwell Aquatic Center
  • Start Times
    • Prelims: 10:30 am local / 5:30 am ET
    • Finals: 7:00 pm local / 2:00 pm ET
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central
  • Event Schedule

When you think about Australian swimming in today’s era, likely the first thing that comes to mind are the country’s female sprint freestylers. This is the nation that beats everyone by a mile in the 4×100 free relay and has greater depth in the 200 free than anyone else in the world. And when many of Australia’s freestyle stars opted not to swim at the World Championships, their absence was heavily felt. 

At these Commonwealth Games, you’re about to witness the best freestyle nation on the planet at their “focus” meet for the year. So expect to see stars like Emma McKeon, Mollie O’Callaghan, Shayna Jack, Meg Harris, and Ariarne Titmus, some of whom we didn’t get the opportunity to watch at Worlds, tear up the field and put up some incredible times.

Women’s 50 Freestyle 

In the shortest event of the meet, three Aussies look to go 1-2-3.

As the defending Olympic champion and fifth-fastest performer ever, Emma McKeon seems like an easy favorite. She’s the only swimmer in this field to go sub-24 with her best time of 23.81, and has years of international experience. However, having skipped both Australian trials and World Championships, we haven’t seen her swim long course since the Olympics. She also took a long break from competition following the 2021 ISL season, which means there’s a possibility that she could be “off-form” come time for the Commonwealth Games.

However, McKeon is known to get back into the groove of things super quickly, shown by the fact that she swam multiple best times in September ISL matches and October World Cup series stops immediately after the Olympics.

If McKeon isn’t at her best, Meg Harris could be a potential title contender. She set a best time of 24.50 at Australian Trials, and proceeded to go faster than that at Worlds, taking home the bronze medal with a 24.38. Then there’s Shayna Jack, whose season-best time of 24.11 is tied for the second-fastest in the world this year. She didn’t have the opportunity to race individually at Worlds this year, as she injured her hand before the 100 free prelims and had to be out of the water for a while. If she’s fully recovered, she could be scary. If she’s not, there’s still a chance she could medal, but it will be difficult for her to defeat some of her teammates like Harris and McKeon.

The biggest disruptor to an all-Aussie podium in this event is England’s Anna Hopkin. She finished seventh at Worlds with a 24.71 this year and has been as fast as 24.34, a time she went back in 2019. South Africa’s Emma Chelius and Cyprus’s Kalia Antoniou have also been sub-25 this year with season-best times of 24.87 and 24.94 respectively, and could be in the mix as well.

Notably, Kayla Sanchez, the #5 ranked Commonwealth swimmer in the 50 free, will not be competing. She was released by Swimming Canada right after Worlds, as she decided to represent the Philippines internationally in future competitions. She was the fastest Canadian swimmer this year with her Trials time of 24.82. 

Top 5 Picks

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Emma McKeon Australia N/A 23.81
2 Meg Harris Australia 24.38 24.38
3 Shayna Jack Australia 24.11 24.11
4 Anna Hopkin England 24.60 24.34
5 Emma Chelius South Africa 24.87 24.64

Women’s 100 Freestyle 

The blue ribbon event of swimming will be headlined as a battle between two Australians at the top: A veteran and a newcomer.

Just like in the 50, 27-year-old Emma McKeon would be our definite pick to win this event under most circumstances. She’s the defending Olympic champion, and the time of 51.96 that she put up to win the 100 free last year is the second-fastest time anyone has ever gone. But as we said before, there’s a small chance that she’s not going to be in peak top shape like she was in Tokyo.

Mollie O’Callaghan. Photo: Fabio Cetti

And if that’s the case, Mollie O’Callaghan will be right there, ready to prove that her World Championship title wasn’t a fluke. The 18-year-old took advantage of the absence of McKeon and the Campbell sisters at Australian Trials, winning the 100 free in a time of 52.49—which still stands as the fastest in the world this year. She was a little slower at Worlds, but still clocked a 52.67 to win gold. O’Callaghan also took a page out of McKeon’s book and threw down some crazy relay splits at Worlds, including a 52.03 anchor that helped Australia break the world record in the mixed 4×100 free relay.

Sure, McKeon is a closer. In fact, up until May 2022, she had the fastest back-half in the history of the 100 free when she closed in 26.58 last year. O’Callaghan has since surpassed that twice, including when she even split a 52.85 100 free in 26.43/26.42 and recorded the quickest last 50 ever. This race is going to come down to who has the stronger front half, which McKeon does. As of now, we still have her winning this race, but anything can happen in a year like this one.

The second-fastest time in the world this year belongs to Shayna Jack, who went a best time of 52.60 at Australian Trials. As explained in the 50 free preview, she’s coming off a hand injury and was out of the water for a long time, which might hinder her performances. However, there isn’t too much depth in these races at the Commonwealth Games, so she could still add a substantial amount of time and still land on the podium.

Be on the lookout for English swimmers Anna Hopkin and Freya Anderson, who both made the semifinals of the 100 free at worlds. They have season-best times of 53.45 and 53.92 respectively, and are the two highest ranked swimmers competing at Commonwealths aside from the Aussies. Hopkin has also been as fast as 52.75 individually and 52.00 on a relay, meaning that she could potentially go significantly faster than her season-best.

The lack of a Canadian presence in the 100 free will have a huge effect on the race, as they are arguably the second-strongest nation in the 100 free. Penny Oleksiak, Canada’s best sprint freestyler and Worlds fourth place finisher, pulled out of Commonwealths just a few days before Worlds. Kayla Sanchez, who won this race at Canadian Trials and has been as fast as 53.45 this year, also won’t be present for the reasons stated above. And Taylor Ruck, the 2018 bronze medalist, will be absent from these games, too. 

Top 5 Picks

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Emma McKeon Australia N/A 51.96
2 Mollie O’Callaghan Australia 52.49 52.49
3 Shayna Jack Australia 52.60 52.60
4 Anna Hopkin England 53.45 52.75
5 Freya Anderson England 53.92 53.31

Women’s 200 Freestyle

It’s been well-established that defending Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus is the heavy favorite to win the women’s 200 free. The 1:53.31 she swam at the Aussie Trials still remains the fastest time in the world this year, and nobody was able to come within a second of that time at the World Championships. She holds three out of the four fastest performances in the history of the event. The only thing that she’s missing is the world record.

In this 200 free race, Titmus will attempt to take down the oldest women’s world record in the books—Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98. After missing it so many times in the past, such as last year’s Olympic Trials when she was just 0.11 seconds off of it, the Commonwealth Games could be Titmus’s opportunity to finally break through. She already has the momentum from setting the 400 free world record earlier this year, and the fact that the 200 free is on the first day of this meet is a huge advantage, allowing her to come into the race fresh.

Behind Titmus, there’s a batch of (mainly Australian) swimmers fighting for the minor medals. Mollie O’Callaghan and Madi Wilson finished second and third at Trials with times of 1:54.94 and 1:55.85 respectively, and those times still remain their season bests. Although neither of them were faster at Worlds, O’Callaghan did take home the silver medal in the event with a time of 1:55.22, while Wilson was fifth in 1:56.86. Both of these swimmers are stronger in the shorter distance events, but look to see them contending for medals here as well.

But the favorite for silver in the 200 free is not O’Callaghan or Wilson, it’s 15-year-old Summer McIntosh. At Worlds, she led off Canada’s 4×200 free relay in a time of 1:54.79, which was faster than what it took to win gold in the individual 200 free. Her time was also a World Junior Record, beating out O’Callaghan’s 1:55.11 from the Tokyo Olympics. 

McIntosh, being extremely versatile, will probably take on a very heavy event schedule. She actually dropped the 200 free individually at Worlds to focus on other events, but the lack of semifinals at the Commonwealth Games might open the door for her to do more races.

Other potential medal contenders in this event include Great Britain’s Freya Anderson, who set a best time of 1:56.05 and finished sixth at Worlds, and 18-year-old New Zealander Erika Fairweather, who was 11th in Worlds semifinals in 1:57.43. Fairweather was diagnosed with COVID-19 on day five of that meet, but the start of the Commonwealth Games should be far enough from Worlds for her to fully recover.

Just like the 100 free, Olympic bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak will be a notable absence from this race. We didn’t get to see her swim the 200 free individually at Worlds, since she was DQed in the semifinals, but she’s been as fast as 1:54.70 before and would’ve been a medal contender had she been racing in Birmingham.

Top 5 Picks

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Ariarne Titmus Australia 1:53.31 1:53.09
2 Summer McIntosh Canada 1:54.79 1:54.79
3 Mollie O’Callaghan Australia 1:54.94 1:54.94
4 Madi Wilson Australia 1:55.86 1:55.68
5 Freya Anderson England 1:56.05 1:56.05

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Dinuka
4 months ago

It is impossible to beat the Aussie 4×1 free team even till 2028 Olympics. They will win for unprecedented 5th straight time in LA.!

Admin
Reply to  Dinuka
4 months ago

That would not be unprecedented. The U.S. won 5 straight from 1960-1976.

Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 months ago

Assume they probably would have won in ‘80 too?

U turn
4 months ago

Australia women winning 50,100,200,400 free, and 1,2 and mixed free relays. Quite boring actually shame Canada and England not full strength.

Sub13
Reply to  U turn
4 months ago

Australian women could possibly sweep every freestyle event including relays and mixed relay. McIntosh is likely the only one that would stand in the way.

Tracy Kosinski
4 months ago

Summer vs. The Aussies.

My money is on Sunmer ❤️❤️❤️

commonwombat
Reply to  Tracy Kosinski
4 months ago

She wins 200fly …. easily; no one else within 2 sec unless Dekkers makes a quantum leap forward.

Would expect her to win 400IM comfortably should she swim it. Only potential hurdle may be McKeown should she go “all in” for 400IM but she may also decide to set down some fast backstroke times instead after this aspect disappointed in Budapest.

Could conceivably win 400FR …… if Titmus is really off her game, otherwise she wins … silver

Likewise, a similar case could be made for 200FR but the same “qualifier”. At this point, I ‘m not seeing her beating a healthy Titmus over this distance this year.

Gheko
4 months ago

Well the Aussie women have the World sprint freestyle on lock at the moment so they should do ok here, Don’t think Emma would be going unless she was in shape, Mollie will probably be her toughest test in the 100m with Shayna in the mix as well🇦🇺🥊🇦🇺

Virtus
4 months ago

Seeing an on form Mckeon would be hype, easily one of the most entertaining swimmers atm

Stephen
4 months ago

I’m interested in who swims what relays for Australia.
Do they drop Madi for Emma in the 4 x 1 Mixed Free?
Does Emma swim the 4 x 2 free relay (WR watch)?
Does Australia just win the 4 x 1 free W or test the WR?

Torchbearer
Reply to  Stephen
4 months ago

Emma’s 200m may not be so strong now she focuses on the shorter events,, we shall see.

commonwombat
Reply to  Stephen
4 months ago

Schedule for all relays is as follows:

MFR – night 1
both 4X100 – night 2
W4X200 – night 3
M4X200 – night 4
MMR – night 5
both 4XMED – night 6

Would surprise if McKeon swims either individual 200 or 4X200

Am sceptical if we’ll see any WRs in the women’s relays with CAN being decimated by absentees. Not saying impossible but they would essentially be time trials for AUS.

They would need to drop 1.25 from Budapest in 4X100 and the only clear avenue for that is via McKeon being Tokyo level. Likewise with 4X200; Titmus would need to split well below 1.54 and someone else sub 1.55.

The most likely… Read more »

Robbos
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

Titmus going well under 1.54 is not impossible since she went 1.53.5 at trials & MOC also went 1.54.94 add rolling start & you have easy a sub 1.55 swimmer.
So not beyond the realms of possibility.

Troyy
Reply to  Stephen
4 months ago

Anyone noticed if Neale or Cartwright are still with the team?

Miss M
Reply to  Troyy
4 months ago

Neale’s last insta post was tagged T1-Barcelona Airport …

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
4 months ago

Emma McKeon is not the second-fastest performer ever in the 50FS. She is in the 100 but in the 50 I believe she is fifth behind Sjostrom, Steffen, Blume and Cate Campbell.

commonwombat
4 months ago

Had this been a standard CommGames year; these WOULD’ve been legitimately competitive races given the strength of AUS, CAN and to a lesser degree ENG. The withdrawal of the best Canadians (bar McIntosh) however removes the majority of interest from at least the shorter events plus both female freestyle relays.

Talk of AUS sweeps, whilst realistic scenarios, are however hinged on a few assumptions. The first being McKeon’s form … she hasn’t raced since ISL. The second is how well have AUS been able to hold their Worlds tapers and how well have those with COVID recovered.

We certainly COULD see some fast times but in all honesty, they will most likely not be needed; at least in the… Read more »

Robbos
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

Funny MOC is 0.15 slower than McIntosh, yet you only consider McIntosh as a threat to Titmus.
I find hard to gauge why you don’t rate MOC in the 200. Her upside in this event is huge.

commonwombat
Reply to  Robbos
4 months ago

A fair question to ask. My rationale is as follows.

She does look to have a significant upside but in her SS interview from last week, she admitted this is a race that’s still very unsure regarding how to pace/race it. I will grant you that I WOULD like to see what McIntosh’s actual race schedule is before making any “hard” calls but at this point, I lean slightly her way ahead of MOC.

MOC may indeed make some major progress in this event but I’m not sure we’ll see that major break-out swim here whereas I think that is more likely from McIntosh …. admittedly, that may be seen in one of her other events rather than this.

Robbos
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

She doesn’t know how to race it, but swims a 1.54.94, imagine the upside when she learns how to pace it, her back 50 is faster then Titmus.
I’m totally not discounting MOC, she is a 100/200 freestyler more then a 50/100.

commonwombat
Reply to  Robbos
4 months ago

Can agree to a large extent regarding her potential in this event; however I think this event is likely to be a “work in progress” between now and Paris. Therefore, I’m tending to moderate my expectations for her in this event. Medalling in Budapest was honestly a nice bonus; aided admittedly by the absences of some key “big hitters”.

Stephen
Reply to  Robbos
4 months ago

The Wombat keeping a lid on it as per normal.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming through scoring countless dual meets, being a timer, and keeping track of her teammates' best times for three years as a team manager. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in …

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