2022 Short Course Worlds Picks and Previews: Women’s Butterfly

2022 FINA SHORT COURSE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

The women’s sprint butterfly events at the 2022 FINA World Short Course Championships are kind of a fickled discipline. That’s because they will be absent Sarah Sjostrom, the best female butterflier in history, because she’s skipping the meet to prepare for next summer’s long course season.

But that absence is probably not as impactful on this meet as it feels like. Sjostrom has not won an individual butterfly gold medal at the Short Course World Championships since 2014, when she won the 50 and 100 fly. In Doha in 2021, she was 2nd in the 50 fly, behind the since-retired Ranomi Kromowidjojo, and didn’t swim the 100 fly.

The races will also be without the Short Course World Record holder in the 100 fly Kelsi Dahlia, who also retired earlier this year. She won the 100 fly title in 2018, but didn’t race at 2021 Worlds.

That still leaves a strong field led by three swimmers who are in the middle of their NCAA seasons: American Claire Curzan (Stanford), Canadian Maggie MacNeil (LSU), and American Torri Huske.

The field also includes a former NCAA great Louise Hansson (Sweden) and China’s Zhang Yufei, the only swimmer who will seriously bridge the gap from the sprint fly to the 200 fly medal chasers.

In spite of some hugely-relevant absences, the fields are deeper than they feel on paper. Interestingly, that does not include the Australians, who have sent a much bigger and better contingent this year generally than they did in 2021. Emma McKeon would be a medal contender in the 50 and 100 fly, but is focused only on the sprint freestyles for this meet.

Let’s get into it.

Women’s 50 Fly

2022 Long Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

2021 Short Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

While the top two finishers from last year’s World Short Course Championships, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Sarah Sjostrom, aren’t returning this year, the 3rd-7th place finishers are all back.

That includes the World Junior Record holder Claire Curzan, who was 3rd last year, but only .11 seconds away from winning the final.

It was a big gap in that final down to Torri Huske, her US and Stanford teammate, who placed 4th in 24.88, and China’s Zhang Yufei, who was 5th in 24.91.

Curzan has begun training with Huske at Stanford since then, but a new best time in the 200 back at the Wolfpack Invite two weeks ago says that the training is going pretty well for her.

A clue about Greg Meehan’s opinion on who the better 50 butterflier is right now came at that meet. He used Curzan on the fly leg and Huske on the backstroke leg. That’s very circumstantial though: while Curzan is known more for her backstroke than is Huske (Curzan is swimming backstroke races at this meet, Huske is not), Huske’s split leading off that relay was better than Curzan’s.

But it wasn’t better by a lot, and that indicates to me that Meehan feels a little better about Claire’s 50 fly at the moment than he does about Torri’s. Or maybe not – but all we have to read is between the lines here.

Claire has more races than Torri at this meet, but this event is very early, so that shouldn’t be a factor at this point of the meet.

The wildcard is, of course Maggie MacNeil, who is the fastest yards butterflier in history. She didn’t swim the 50 fly at last year’s Short Course World Championships, but she did swim, and win, the 100 fly and 50 back – including a World Record in the latter.

After an injury this summer, MacNeil is back training with Rick Bishop at LSU and has been back to her old MacNeil ways. That leads me to believe that this is her race to lose.

In my mind, that’s the three for the podium, but there are a ton of wildcards here. We don’t know where the NCAA swimmers will be relative to their training.

China’s Zhang Yufei always hangs around the podium, even in these sprint fly events, and was within two-tenths of her best time (25.10) at the Chinese Championships a few weeks back.

Dutch swimmer Maaike de Waard has also continued a late-career surge this year now as one of her country’s top two active female swimmers. That includes long course bests in the 50 and 100 fly earlier this year. She has been as fast as 24.94, though she was a bit off that time in 25.12 in last year’s Short Course Worlds. I don’t think a 24.94 will medal, but a 24.8 might – and a tenth is about what she dropped in the long course 50 fly this year.

France’s Melanie Henique has been 24.56, but that was back in 2019. She hasn’t been better than 24.91 in the last two years. That makes her a medal contender, as does the fact that her short course has been relatively-better than her long course later in her career, but Henique feels like she’s generally on the back-side of her career, so getting back to that 24.56 feels like a longshot.

Silvia Di Pietro, 29, went a best time in November 2021 and has been really improving her speed as she approaches 30 years old, is part of a big group of 25-lows who might see a breakthrough. But aside from Curzan and Huske, nobody seeded in the top 16 of this event is younger than 22 – so don’t look for any huge surprises here.

SwimSwam’s Top 5 Picks:

Predicted Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Maggie MacNeil Canada 24.75 24.75
2 Claire Curzan USA N/A 24.55
3 Torri Huske USA N/A 24.88
4 Zhang Yufei China 24.91 25.1
5 Maaike de Waard Netherlands 25.02 24.94

Women’s 100 Fly

2022 Long Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

2021 Short Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

We can again revert to the results of the Wolfpack Invitational for some insights into where the two Americans are, in relative terms, in this race.

Huske won the 100-yard fly there in 49.25, and Curzan was 2nd in 49.93. While a 100-meter fly is only slightly longer than a 100-yard fly, Huske generally becomes better in this event relative to Curzan the more over-the-water swimming there is.

All of the data (recent results, best times, course, fewer races midway through the meet) leads to one conclusion: Huske ahead of Curzan. But Curzan did beat Huske at this meet last year. I still like Huske over her teammate, but that one nagging data point is enough to give me pause.

Huske was also slightly better than MacNeil mid-season: the Canadian swam 49.40 in the 100-yard fly at the Art Adamson Invitational, but I think MacNeil has more freedom from a coaching and training and mentality perspective to be fast whenever she wants to at LSU than Huske does at Stanford.

MacNeil swam a new Canadian Record of 54.78 at the Toronto World Cup, stepping off a redeye flight from Atlanta the night before racing began. That’s scary-resilience.

Again, it feels like this race should be down to those three, but it’s far from that, even further than the 50 is. Huske, after all, is only the 5th seed.

That’s because Louise Hansson is the 2nd seed after finishing 2nd in this race at last year’s World Championships. She swam a best time in this event of 55.02 at the Toronto World Cup, which would have won the race at last year’s World Championships. I think it’s going to take a 54 to win, and MacNeil was a 54.78 at the Toronto World Cup, but I think Hansson can get there too (and Huske for that matter).

Hansson has depth on her side: she has six of the eight fastest swims in the 100 fly this season.

Zhang Yufei swam 55.46 at the Chinese Championships earlier this year, which ranks her 3rd in the world this season behind MacNeil and Hansson. In 2022, it’s a pretty steep drop to #4 Beryl Gastaldello of France, who isn’t swimming this event.

Her best time in the 100 fly is 55.32, swum in 2020 during the ISL.

This race has a lot more youth in it than does the 50. Lana Pudar, the history-making swimmer from Bosnia & Herzegovina, which has a population of just 3 million, is the 6th seed at just 16-years old. She has a best time of 56.28 from this meet last year, and over the summer continued to drop time in long course the way we’d expect a 16-year-old to drop time in long course. This field is probably too deep for her to get into the top 5 still (the top 5 are very, very good), but we could see her drop well into the 55-mids or even 55-lows and make it dangerous, especially if she gets better at peaking in senior international finals, which has been a challenge for her so far.

Yufei’s understudy in China Wang Yichun is only 17 and is the #7 seed in 56.57. She hasn’t dropped much over the last four years, and didn’t race the 100 fly internationally in 2021, but that is a new best time for her.

SwimSwam’s Top 5 Picks:

Predicted Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Maggie MacNeil Canda 54.78 54.78
2 Louise Hansson Sweden 55.02 55.02
3 Torri Huske USA 49.25 (yards) 55.75
4 Zhang Yufei China 55.46 55.46
5 Claire Curzan USA 49.93 (yards) 55.39

Women’s 200 Fly

2022 Long Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

2021 Short Course Worlds Finalists Participating:

  • #3 Lana Pudar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (2:04.88)
  • #6 Zsu Jakabos (2:06.82)
  • #6 Ilaria Cusinato, Italy (2:06.82)

Take all of those discussions about the 50 and 100 fly, and throw all of the names away, aside from one, who also happen to be the highest-returning swimmers from last year’s Short Course World Championship meet.

With defending champion Zhang Yufei skipping this race, to focus on the 50 fly, 100 fly, and 50 free, the only real triple threat at this meet is Lana Pudar, the aforementioned BIH swimmer who is on a dramatic career upswing. This 200 fly is the best event for the 16-year-old, and the best example of her hitting a peak in a senior international final.

It’s also the event where she had the biggest long course drop this summer – 2.7 seconds.

With so many of the top 8 finishers from last year not returning, and the other two who are (Jakabos and Cusinato) appearing past the point of their careers where they’re going to drop two seconds to land on a podium, that makes the minor medal positions in this race wide open.

One of those interlopers is American Hali Flickinger, who is competing at her first Short Course World Championships this year. The 28-year-old Bob Bowman-trained athlete is the #2 seed behind another Chinese swimmer Zhang Yifan, in 2:03.73 and is the defending long course World Championship silver medalist.

In spite of never having raced at this meet, Flickinger has a lot of experience in short course meters via the ISL series, in which she was an active participant (neither Zhang nor Pudar participated in the ISL). Flickinger has been 2:04.00 this year at the Toronto stop of the FINA World Cup Series.

Zhang Yifan, not to be confused with the defending champion Zhang Yufei, is a few years younger than her countrymate, and has the fastest time in the world so far this year (and the top seed) at 2:03.35. Previously a relay-focused 200 freestyler for China on the international stage, she now has an opportunity to move into her own individually in this 200 fly.

Then there’s a group of young swimmers seeded at 2:04. Besides Pudar, there’s Liu Zhitong of China (18 years old, 2:04.26), Airi Mitsui of Japan (2:04.35, 18 years old), and Karin Uchida of Japan (2:04.74, 22 years old). Those three all swam personal best times at their recent national championship meets.

The other major interloper into this field is Elizabeth Dekkers of Australia. The 18-year-old is only the 11th seed in a best time of 2:05.65, but because her rise in long course came through the COVID-19 pandemic, she hasn’t had much chance to race in short course. In August, at the Australian Short Course Championships, she knocked almost two seconds off her lifetime best. Already a Paris 2024 medal contender in long course, I expect her to drop to a point where she challenges for medals at this meet as well.

Overall, this is one of the softer events of the meet. Of this field, only two are ranked in the top 25 performers of all-time: Zhang and Flickinger, who are tied at #18 of all-time. I think Pudar joins that list, and challenges Zhang for gold, making more history for her country.

SwimSwam’s Top 5 Predictions:

Predicted Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Lana Pudar Bosnia & Herzegovina 2:06.25 2:04.88
2 Hali Flickinger USA 2:04.00 2:03.35
3 Zhang Yifan China 2:03.35 2:03.35
4 Elizabeth Dekkers Australia 2:05.65 2:05.65
5 Ari Mitsui Japan 2:04.35 2:04.35

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Sherry Smit
1 month ago

Dakota Luther for the medals in the 200 fly

Splash
1 month ago

Louise isn’t entered in the 50. She’s racing 50/100 back, 100 fly & 100 IM

Mic
1 month ago

Zhang Yufei is not going to compete 200fly this time. She’s entering 50, 100fly and 50free.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner 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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