2022 Swammy Awards: World Championships — Women’s Edition

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

After a week of fast racing at Worlds, we wanted to recognize some of the best women’s swimmers at the meet for their performances. So we decided to do it here via our Swammy awards for the 2022 World Championships.

Swimmer Of The Meet: Katie Ledecky (USA)

Despite winning two golds and two silvers last summer, Katie Ledecky left the Tokyo Olympics hungry to prove more. Hence why she left her college home of Stanford to move to the University of Florida, where she began to practice in a group with some of the best male distance swimmers in the world such as Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith.

Photo: Fabio Cetti

That training in Florida clearly paid off, as she had a performance at this year’s World Championships that was even better than what she did at the Olympics.

Ledecky started off her meet by winning the 400 free. And although she couldn’t take back the 400 free world record that Ariarne Titmus broke this May, her time of 3:58.15 was still a championship record. But that was just the beginning for her. In the finals of the 1500 free, she clocked a time of 15:30.15, which was her fastest time since 2020 and the sixth-best performance of all time.

But perhaps Ledecky’s best individual performance came in the finals of the 800 free, where she won in 8:08.04. Not only was that time her quickest since 2018 and the fifth-fastest of all time, but it also was her fifth 800 free world title in a row. With her win, she became the first swimmer to ever win five consecutive World championship golds in the same event, and continues her ten-year win streak in the event at major international meets.

To add on to her 400/800/1500 free win, Ledecky also put on an incredible showing for Team USA in the 4×200 free relay. On a team that wasn’t even favored to reach the podium, Ledecky produced a split of 1:53.67 to put Americans in the lead after the third leg of the relay. That time was the fastest she’s been on a relay, the third-fastest 200 free split of all time, and was pivotal in helping her country take gold in a championship record time.

With four golds, Ledecky was the only swimmer at this meet to have more than two individual wins. Her performances further cemented herself as one of the greatest of all time in the sport, as her 14 individual World Championships titles is more than any swimmer besides Michael Phelps, who has 15. In addition, she also won her 21st and 22nd World Championship medals at this meet, which made her surpass Natalie Coughlin as the most decorated female swimmer in World Championship history and become the third-most decorated overall behind Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Summer McIntosh (CAN)—McIntosh won gold in the 200 fly and 400 IM, and in her silver medal performance in the 400 free, she became just the fourth woman to break the four-minute barrier. In addition, her 1:54.79 time leading off Canada’s 4×200 free relay would have been fast enough to win gold in the individual 200 free, which she did not swim. And while most of the marvel about her performance was due to how good she is at such a young age, her times and medals alone are impressive for a swimmer regardless of how old they are.
  • Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)—With golds in the 50 free/fly and a silver in the 100 free, Sjostrom now has 19 individual medals, just one away from tying Michael Phelps as the swimmer with the most individual medals World Championship history. Her dominance in the 50 fly is comparable to Ledecky’s in the 800/1500 free and Adam Peaty in the 100 breast, and she continued her win streak in the event when she clocked a time of 24.95, which ties as the eight-fastest performance of all-time and is still quicker than any other woman has gone.

Swim Of The Meet: Claire Weinstein, Leah Smith, Katie Ledecky, Bella Sims (USA), 4×200 Free Relay

courtesy of Fabio Cetti

This relay is our swim of the meet not because of times or splits, but because of the amazing narrative behind it.

Prior to the meet, the story surrounding America’s women’s 4×200 free relay was that nobody other than Katie Ledecky was capable of breaking 1:57. We predicted them to finish off the podium in our preview, and that was pretty much the common consensus amongst the swimming community. Even when Olympic champions China began to look “off” at Worlds and the Americans had an outside shot at medaling, nobody thought that they were capable of winning the whole thing. But as Ledecky told SwimSwam’s Gold Medal Mel right after U.S. trials, the American women shouldn’t be doubted, and they will always find a way to achieve success.

And that’s exactly what happened. First, 15-year-old Claire Weinstein led off in 1:56.71 to put the Americans in second, setting a new best time that was faster than what she went in the 200 free individually. Leah Smith continued the momentum with a 1:56.47 split, but the U.S. was still trailing Canada and Australia at the halfway mark.

But then came Katie Ledecky and her 1;53.67 split, her best in history and the third-fastest split of all time. There was controversy over the U.S. coaches putting her third on this relay, since usually a team’s fastest swimmer leads off or anchors. But the decision ended up being the right one, as Ledecky’s lead over the rest of the field at the 600-meter mark gave Bella Sims the momentum to anchor. And what Sims pulled off was perhaps the biggest shocker of this entire race.

The 17-year-old split a 1:54.60, nearly three seconds faster than her flat start time of 1:57.53. And not only did she keep America’s lead, but she also extended it, causing her team to win by 2.41 seconds in a championship record time of 7:41.45.

The combination of a perfect lineup order, veterans and juniors working together, and the story of underdogs makes this relay one of the best stories of the World Championships.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Summer McIntosh (CAN), 400 Free—After several years of seeing Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky battle it out in the 400 free, people sometimes fail to recognize how major a 3:59 is in this event. With her 3:59.35, McIntosh becomes just the fourth woman alongside Titmus, Ledecky, and Federica Pellegrini to join the sub-four minute club in the 400 free. In addition, the way that she never got too far from Ledecky during the race is reminiscent to when Titmus first seriously challenged Ledecky at the 2018 Pan Pacs, and we all know what happened after that.
  • Torri Huske (USA), 100 Fly—In a meet where no women’s individual world records were set, it’s only fair that we recognize the swimmer who got the closest to one. Huske opened this swim in 25.72, a whole 0.29 seconds ahead of world record pace. She then came home in 29.92 and let the world record line escape her in the last 15 meters of the race, but her final time of 55.64 was just 0.16 off Sjostrom’s world-best mark of 55.48 from 2016.
  • Alex Walsh (USA), 200 IM—it’s been a long, long, time since we’ve seen a 200 IMer who has come remotely close to what Katinka Hosszu is capable of. And then came Walsh, who ripped a 2:07.13 to win by 1.44 seconds and become the fifth-fastest performer of all time. To add along, her time also makes her the fastest 200 IMer not-named Hosszu since 2016. Dropping over a second from her Olympic silver-winning time of 2:08.65 from last year, it’s safe to say that Walsh is going to be favorite in this event for many years to come.

Nation Of The Meet: United States

Courtesy of Fabio Cetti

The American women dominated every aspect of this meet, winning seven out of the 17 individually contested events and reaching the podium in all but four events. And while part of this was because many international swimmers opted not to swim at Worlds, there’s no denying that the majority of this World Championships’ stars were American. They had the usual medal winning forces such as Katie Ledecky, Regan Smith, and Lily King, but there were also other emerging swimmers who made a name for themselves here such as Alex Walsh, Katie Grimes, Leah Hayes, Claire Curzan, and Torri Huske.

In addition, after not winning a single relay at last year’s Olympics, the American women took home gold in both the 4×100 medley relay and the 4×200 free relay (which they were not expected to win), as well as bronze in the 4×100 free relay. Many of these relays came at the hands of Huske and Curzan, who probably had the heaviest schedules out of anyone at this meet, and still managed to pull up time and time again for their country.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Australia—The Aussies came into this meet knowing that they weren’t going to be the full-force team that they were last year, missing big names such as Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon, Emily Seebhom, and Cate Campbell. However, they still did great under the circumstances, with Kaylee McKeown and Mollie O’Callaghan earning indvidual golds. They were also still able to show off their freestyle depth even without their best, winning the women’s 4×100 free relay and playing a part in the world record-breaking mixed free relay. In addition, there were also stars who broke out either at Worlds or Australian trials that took home minor medals, such as Lani Pallister, Jenna Strauch, and Meg Harris.

Junior Of The Meet: Summer McIntosh (CAN)

Summer McIntosh

19th FINA World Swimming Championship, Budapest, 2022
courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Summer McIntosh first caught the of eyes swimming fans when she took fourth in the women’s 400 free at the Tokyo Olympics at just 14 years old. But she wasn’t satisfied with just fourth. A few months after that Olympics showing, she went on to become the third-fastest performer in the history of the 400 IM (4:29.12) and break the world junior record in the 200 fly (2:05.81).

But could she perform under the pressure of a big international meet at such a young age? The answer she gave us after two golds, two silvers, and a bronze medal at the World Championships was yes. McIntosh first finished second in the 400 free, swimming a time of 3:59.35 to become the fourth woman under the four-minute barrier. She also was the youngest to break that barrier at 15 years and 304 years old.

Then, McIntosh took down her 200 fly world junior record in both the 200 fly semifinals and finals, winning the event in a time of 2:05.20. And then in that same session, she broke another world junior record, this time in the 200 free leading off Canada’s 4×200 free relay. Her time of 1:54.79 in that event was also faster than the time it took to win the individual 200 free event, which she opted not to swim. Finally, to close off her meet, McIntosh won the 400 IM in an official world junior time of 4:32.04 (her 4:29.12 was never ratified by FINA) to take her second individual gold.

With her times and her medal haul, McIntosh doesn’t just establish herself as the best junior swimmer in the world, but also as one of the best female swimmers in the world in general.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Katie Grimes (USA)—Just like McIntosh, Grimes’s fourth-place finish in the 800 free at the Olympics raised discussion about her potential in the future. A year later, at this World Championships, that talk about potential turned into reality when she won silver in the 1500 free and 400 IM, establishing herself as a contender on the international stage. Her time of 15:44.89 was nearly a seven second drop from her trials time of 15:31.36, and her 400 IM time of 4;32.67 was an improvement from her trials time of 4:36.17 by nearly four seconds. In addition, she also broke Elizabeth Beisel‘s 13-year old 15-16 National Age Group record time of 4:32.87 in the 400 IM. Being just 0.63 seconds behind McIntosh in this race, these two teens have set up an incredible rivalry between themselves for many years to come. Being just 16 years old, Grimes has proven to be strong in events aside from the ones she swam at Worlds such as the 200/400/800 free and the 200 back, and her versatility is going to be a serious threat towards other swimmers in the coming years.
  • Benedetta Pilato (ITA)—The 17-year old Pilato first garnered international attention when she broke the 50 breast world record in a time of 29.30. She then had a disappointing showing at the Olympics, getting DQed in the 100 breast and not being able to show the world what she was truly capable of. She finally got that chance this year, and ended up winning gold in the 100 breast and silver in the 50 breast. And while she didn’t set best times in either event, she delivered under the pressure of having to live up to her world record last year and established herself as a major breaststroke powerhouse,

Clutch Relay Performer Of The Meet: Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS)

O’CALLAGHAN Mollie
Courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Last year, Mollie O’Callaghan put on phenomenal performances on three Australian prelims relays, but was kept off for finals due to the country’s depth in sprint freestyle. With Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell not here this time around, the Aussies needed a woman to step up as successor so they could continue their dominance in freestyle relays. And O’Callaghan fit that role perfectly.

She started off her meet by leading off Australia’s gold-medal winning women’s 4×100 free relay in a time of 52.70, giving her team an early lead. She also had the fastest split of the field on anchor when she swam the freestyle leg of the women’s medley relay in 52.30. In addition, she also anchored Australia’s 4×200 free relay that took silver.

But her most memorable relay showing came on the mixed freestyle relay, where she threw down a scorching-fast 52.03 anchor leg to break the world record alongside Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, and Madi Wilson in a time of 3:19.38. And that record had been broken without the likes of anyone on last year’s world record breaking women’s 4×100 free relay OR the world’s current #2-ranked 100 freestyler Shayna Jack, largely due to O’Callaghan’s anchor leg.

At just 18-years old, O’Callaghan had to step up and fill the shoes of some of her country’s biggest legends. Completing that task by nearly breaking 52 seconds on a relay and helping Australia take down a world record in the process is truly the definition of clutch.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Bella Sims (USA)—Sims didn’t even qualify for the 200 free individually, finishing fifth at this year’s U.S. trials. But then when it came time for Worlds, she proved herself big time. First, she earned a spot on the finals squad by anchoring America’s 4×200 free prelims relay in 1:55.91, which was the fastest in the field. But she did even better in finals. In her first ever international finals relay, she had the immense pressure of maintaining the lead that Katie Ledecky gave her team, and she had to go up against elite 200 freestylers like Olympic bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak and Worlds silver medalist Mollie O’Callaghan. Sims did not falter, and she ended up throwing down a 1:54.60 anchor leg to extend America’s lead and help them win gold. This relay was Sims’ only chance to swim at this meet, and she certainly made the most out of it.
  • Claire Curzan (USA)— Curzan doesn’t get an honorable mention because of one of her specific relay swims, but due to the fact that she swam on four different relays and consistently threw down 52-point freestyle anchors on every single one of them. And this all came on top of the sixteen individual swims that she had to do as well. If Curzan had not shown up for the U.S. time and time again, they may not have had won the two golds and two bronzes in relays that she swam on.
  • Penny Oleksiak (CAN)—Just like Curzan, Oleksiak doesn’t receive her honorable mention solely because of one phenomenal relay swim. But her respective splits of 52.51 and 52.11 in the women’s and mixed 4×100 free relays had helped Canada overtake the U.S. twice for silver, and her anchor leg on the women’s 4×200 free relay played a part in Canada winning bronze. In addition, due to her now nine world relay medals, she is now the most decorated Canadian swimmer in World Championship history.

Breakout Swimmer Of The Meet: Leah Hayes (USA)

Leah HAYES 19th FINA World Swimming Championship, Budapest, 2022 courtesy of Fabio Cetti

courtesy of Fabio Cetti

At the 2022 U.S. International Team Trials, defending Olympic silver and bronze medalists Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass were the ones expected to go 1-2 in the 200 IM and make the Worlds team. Then, Douglass withdrew from the event, opening the door for someone new to come along. Originally, that “someone new” wasn’t going to be Leah Hayes, as she had been DQed in the prelims of the 200 IM at trials. However, that DQ ended up getting overturned, and Hayes went onto finish second in the finals behind Walsh and break the 15-16 National Age Group record in a time of 2:09.99.

But Hayes wasn’t just going to stop dropping time after trials. In the prelims of the 200 IM here at Worlds, she reset her NAG, clocking a time of 2:09.81. She cruised her way through semifinals, and then went on to throw down a monster time of 2:08.91 to take the bronze medal. By that point, she wasn’t just setting National Age Group records, as her time was also a new World Junior record. In addition, it was also faster than Douglass’s 2:09.04 which won Olympic bronze last year.

Before the 2021-22 season, Hayes’s best time was a 2:12.89. She wasn’t expected to make any senior international teams, let alone medal at one of the biggest meets in the world. However, in a year, she dropped nearly four seconds to become one of the best in the World in her event.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Yang Junxuan (CHN)—Yang isn’t recognized as an honorable mention by virtue of her times, but because of her role on the Chinese team at this meet. Last year at the Olympics, Yang got a gold and silver medal for swimming in the finals of two relays. However, she was largely overshadowed by her teammates that won individual medals, such as Li Bingjie, Wang Shun, and Zhang Yufei. Even coming into this meet, it was Tang Muhan that had the fastest Chinese time in the 200 free for the 2021-22, and not Yang. However, when all was said and done, Yang ended up being the one to take home China’s only gold medal when she won the 200 free at this meet. In addition, she continued to be a relay superstar, first splitting 52.79 on China’s women’s 4×100 free relay to bring them from seventh to fourth, and then anchoring their 4×200 free relay in 1:54.18—a time that was the second-fastest rolling split of the field and faster than any of the splits on China’s world record relay from last year. China will remember this year’s World Championships meet as one where many of their best swimmers were affected by injuries and COVID-19 restrictions, but Yang will stand out as the one who gave her country a gold medal and some remarkable relay showings.
  • Jenna Strauch (AUS)—After Chelsea Hodges didn’t make the team this year, it was up to Strauch to become Australia’s lead breaststroker. She started off her meet by going a best time of 1:06.16 in the prelims of the 100 breast, but didn’t make finals. But her main breakout performance came in the 200 breast, where she dropped nearly a second off her trials time of 2:23.12 to go 2:22.22 in the semifinals. And while she was a bit slower in finals, she took a surprise silver medal to conclude her meet individually. In addition, she also split 1:05.99 on Australia’s women’s medley relay, meaning that with her and Hodges, the Aussies now have two 1:05-point breaststrokers in their hands.

Storyline Of The Meet: Rūta Meilutytė (LIT)

Ruta Meilutyte courtesy of Fabio Cetti

At only 22 years old, 2012 Olympic Champion and former world record holder Ruta Meilutyte had retired from the sport of swimming in 2019, having struggled through severe depression since the Rio 2016 Olympic games. In her time away from the pool, she also served a ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency for missing drug tests even though she was not competing.

Two years after her retirement, Meilutyte returned to competition at the 2021 Lithuanian Short Course Championships, swimming a time in the 50 breast that would have been fast enough to win the race at the 2021 Short Course World Championships. Then, at her first major international long course meet since 2017 this year, Meilutyte took bronze in the 100 breast in a time of 1:06.02. And while winning a world medal straight out of retirement is impressive enough, she then went onto become world champion when she won the 50 breast in a time of 29.70. That time was just 0.22 seconds off her former world record time of 29.48, which she set all the way back in 2013.

Meilutyte went from being an Olympic and world champion at a young age, then battling depression and being completely out of the sport, and finally coming back becoming world champion once more to bring her career to a full circle.

In This Story

20
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

20 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Robbos
4 months ago

Ledecky a legend, the GOAT
Sjrostrom also a legend, but no golds in Olympics or WC in 100 free, huge gap in her resume for the WR holder.
Summer McIntosh, future legend, all we can do is hitch along for the ride, it’s going to be amazing.
MOC, the sky is also the limit here, only 18 years old already a WC gold in 100 & silver in 200, she will get faster & stronger.
Bella Sims while that 200 relay leg broke my heart being an Aussie, what a gusty swim. Big things for her.

Marklewis
4 months ago

Titmus vs. Ledecky in the 400 free would have been the race of the meet.

Ledecky has had so many easy wins where she goes out fast and there isn’t much of a race. That’s what happened again this year.

Swimming fans will have to wait probably a whole year to watch another Titmus vs. Ledecky battle.

NJones
Reply to  Marklewis
4 months ago

Summer says….”🤔 what?”

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Marklewis
4 months ago

It’s a rejuvenated Katie Ledecky. Between the change of scenary (California to Florida), change of coaches (Meehan to Nesty), change of event schedule (dropping the women’s 200 meter freestyle), Katie Ledecky looked fresh as a daisy as opposed to a black-eyed susan.

https://youtu.be/yQU1XUC8hPM

2:33

Last edited 4 months ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
EBSteve
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
4 months ago

It’s not a difference in coaches! While swimming for Stanford, Ledecky’s swim & training hours were severely limited by NCAA rules. Then when the pandemic hit, Santa Clara County had likely the strictest rules in the country and Stanford swimmers did not even have access to their home pool. If you will remember, Ledecky and Simone Manuel were forced to swim in private pools. Now that there is no limit on her training hours and she is able to swim daily with the pro guys, she has advantages now that she didn’t have before as a NCAA swimmer.

Jamesabc
Reply to  Marklewis
4 months ago

I think I agree that would have been the swim of the meet if Arnie broke the WR again. But I don’t think you can say it definitely would have been the swim of the meet just because of two people in it.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Marklewis
4 months ago

The swim of the meet was the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay. America loves a great underdog sports story.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
4 months ago

  • McIntosh’s 3:59 was her most impressive swim of the meet, even though she won two individual golds in other events.
  • Swim of the meet: I can understand the sentiment behind giving it to the US 4×2 relay. In terms of absolute best performance in a vacuum, the winner is surely one of Ledecky’s individual swims (probably the 800 for me).
  • Relay performer: Mollie swam 5 (!!!!) relays. 4 of them (the 100s) were great. The 200 was not so great. That’s definitely something worth mentioning. Not sure how you weigh 4 great performances, one mediocre swim vs Bella Sims’ single Lezak-esque overperformance.
  • Yang wasn’t really a breakout — remember she beat Titmus head-to-head leading off the 4×200
… Read more »

jeff

yeah I think Yang’s breakout would’ve been last year- 1:54.37 leadoff on the Chinese relay in Tokyo was a national record and was also the #2 Asian swim (I think), just after Haughey’s silver medal winning swim

Fraser Thorpe

Bella’s swim is definitely one of the biggest swims of the meet. Who knows what that could’ve unlocked in her sense of self belief.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

It’s always challenging to define “breakout swimmer”, but for me it’s MOC. Last year, buried behind names like McKeon, CI, C2, Wilson, etc. to this year individual gold and silver.

Samboys
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

I 100% get where you’re coming from, but I’m going to agree with the writer on this. Leah Hayes came from the clouds.

Aussie
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

If Mollie hadn’t of broken the WJR last year in the lead off 200 I think she would have gotten breakout swimmer but that record combined with the controversy of her being left out of the finals I think her name was too out there to really breakout at this meet. After all she had to top time in the world from trials as well!

DMSWIM
4 months ago

One of the most impressive story lines for me was Lilly King. She had a disappointing 100 breast and knew she wasn’t in top form due to recovering from COVID. Despite that, she swam a gutsy 200 breast and won that race through pure determination. It shows what a champion she is.

timos
4 months ago

Swim of the meet should be Alex Walsh 2:07.13. That’s faster than the time with which Hosszu won the last two versions of World Championships.
I don’t know why the 4×200 relay can be picked over Walsh and Huske. The US relay was SLOWER than last year. It’s just that China and Australia degressed more.

Last edited 4 months ago by timos
Justhereforfun
Reply to  timos
4 months ago

Walsh was only faster than Hosszu’s 2019 time, not 2017

Toby
4 months ago

THE USA were top 3…..you guys even had a poll on the 4x200free relay….your picks were Australia china USA someone else…..it’s irking doing this

Swimfan
Reply to  Yanyan Li
4 months ago

I honestly think the talk should be Bella sims split on the relay compared to ledecky (.46 sec faster at the 50) and (.26 sec faster at the 100) to (.26 sec slower at the 150) on the relay simply because Bella sims is a distance swimmer with sprint capabilities, Remanence of ledecky back In 2016

Her splits compared to titmus 2021 Olympic trials when she was only .11 secs off the world record (even tho it was a flat start compared to rolling start on relay) Sims split were actually faster at the 50 and 100 and almost dead even at the 150, I wonder when she is going to Florida to train, or is she gonna hold off… Read more »

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Yanyan Li
4 months ago

I would like to a see a post mortem on USA Swimming from the 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships. The strengths (stock up), weaknesses (stock down), and the potential future national teamers:

Dobler, Kaitlyn
Gemmell, Erin
Jacoby, Lydia

In addition, the potential expansion of resumes such as Alex Walsh adding the women’s 400 meter individual medley, women’s 200 meter butterfly to her event schedule (reference the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships for further details).

Last edited 4 months ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims

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 …

Read More »