2022 World Champs Previews: Ledecky In Line For Historic Five-Peat In 800 Free


  • June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Duna Arena
  • LCM (50-meter format)
  • Meet Central

By The Numbers:

Even when she’s not at the top of her game, Katie Ledecky has been dominant in the women’s 800 freestyle.

Since 2012, no woman besides Ledecky has stood at the top of the podium in this event at either the Olympic Games or World Championships. Even with her illness and hospitalization at the 2019 World Championships, Ledecky managed to pull out a win in this race, claiming her fourth consecutive World Championship gold medal in the process.

At last month’s U.S. International Team Trials, Ledecky posted a blazing time of 8:09.28, the sixth-fastest performance in history and her first time under the 8:10 barrier since 2018. With her new training regime under Anthony Nesty in Florida, one thing looks pretty clear: Ledecky will be scary fast this summer, and may even challenge her world record in this event for the first time since setting it in 2016.

If Ledecky does come out on top, and there’s no evidence to suggest that won’t be the case, she’ll become the first swimmer in history to win the same event at five consecutive World Championships. Only two other swimmers, Michael Phelps (men’s 200 fly) and Katinka Hosszu (women’s 400 IM), have won the same event five times, though not consecutively.

Key Absences

If she was racing, Ariarne Titmus would have been the strong choice for second behind Ledecky after recently breaking Ledecky’s world record in the 400 freestyle. However, the 2021 Olympic silver medalist in this event will not race at the World Championships, instead electing to focus on the Commonwealth Games.

There will be several other finalists from Tokyo that will not be competing at Worlds. American Katie Grimes, who finished fourth in Tokyo, will not be swimming this event after failing to qualify for it, instead swimming the 400 IM and 1500 Freestyle.

Fifth-place finisher Wang Jianjiahe did not appear on the Chinese World’s roster that was leaked by Chinese media outlets last month.

Seventh-place finisher Sarah Wellbrock (née Kohler) of Germany will also be absent as she is focusing on her studies at Law school this year. In addition, Russian Anastasiia Kirpichnikova, who finished eighth in Tokyo, will not be allowed to compete due to the ban enacted on Russian athletes as a result of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. With all of these absences, there will definitely be many new faces making an appearance in the final at Worlds.

Other Contenders

Simona Quadarella. Photo: Andrea Staccioli/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Italian distance star Simona Quadarella remains a top threat in this event after taking the bronze medal in Tokyo and finishing second to Ledecky in a hard-fought battle at the 2019 World Championships. Quadarella owns a lifetime best of 8:14.99 from those 2019 Worlds and went a time of 8:17.32 last summer in her bronze medal performance. Her lifetime best stands well beyond anyone in the field with the exception of Ledecky, setting herself up for another international medal in 2022.

The second American in the field, Leah Smith, also has a strong international resume, having medaled in this event at the 2017 World Championships and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Though she missed the U.S. Olympic Team last year after struggling at Trials, Smith has since changed her training, moving to Texas to train under Carol Capitani.

Smith’s move appears to have paid off as she bounced back to qualify for Worlds in multiple events, throwing down a time of 8:17.52 at the U.S. Trials in April. With that time, she would have placed fourth at the Olympics, ahead of fellow American Katie Grimes. Given Smith’s recent progress, she certainly has the potential to medal here, especially if she can replicate her performance from Trials.

In the absence of Titmus, the Australians will be led by Lani Pallister and Kiah Melverton, both of whom could find their way to the podium as well.

The 19-year-old Pallister recently set a best time in the 800 freestyle at the 2022 Australian Championships to make her first World Championships Team, swimming a time of 8:17.77. She also recorded personal bests in the 200, 400, and 1500 freestyles, setting herself up for a strong summer of racing. Melverton, the sixth-place finisher in this event from Tokyo, looks to improve upon her performance from last summer. At Australian Trials, she swam a time of 8:22.64, finishing second to Pallister. Though it appears this event may be slower than it was in Tokyo, she’ll most likely have to improve upon her time in order to make it to the final at Worlds.

Chinese star Li Bingjie currently ranks second in the world this season with her time of 8:17.39 from last September. Though she hasn’t competed since the 2021 Short Course World Championships, she’s coming off of a big year that saw her sweep the distance events at those SC Worlds and earn two medals at the Olympics, including an individual bronze in the 400 freestyle.

Although it’s hard to tell where her times will be, Li has shown that she is a tough competitor across all of the distance disciplines. German Isabel Gose and China’s Tang Muhan are also ranked within the top 20 in the world this season, giving themselves room to potentially push into the final.

Canadian distance superstar Summer McIntosh is a wildcard here. If she elects to race this event, she should be in the final given her recent breakout performances across the distance and IM events. However, McIntosh has shied away from swimming the 800 freestyle at any of her recent competitions, and only holds a lifetime best of 8:25.04.

The 15-year-old also already has a loaded events schedule for Worlds that includes the 200 and 400 free, 400 IM, 200 butterfly, and potentially multiple relays. The 800 free doesn’t directly coincide with any of her events, but it does come during the seventh night of finals in Budapest, with McIntosh’s best shot at a gold medal, the 400 IM, coming on the final day. So with that in mind, we’re going to leave her out of the picks.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Katie Ledecky USA 8:09.27 8:04.79
2 Leah Smith USA 8:17.52 8:16.33
3 Simona Quadarella ITA 8:24.23 8:14.99
4 Lani Pallister AUS 8:17.77 8:17.77
5 Li Bingjie CHN 8:17.39 8:15.46
6 Kiah Melverton AUS 8:20.45 8:20.45
7 Tang Muhan CHN 8:25.24 8:25.24
8 Isabel Gose GER 8:23.88 8:21.79

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

My prediction:


Fobby Binke
1 year ago

Ledecky is🐐

1 year ago

Last time Ledecky didn’t win an 800m race: July 7, 2010. She was 13.

Reply to  NMQ
1 year ago

*insert shocked gif here*

didnt realize it was THAT long ago… jeez

Sherry Smit
1 year ago

1. Ledecky 8:07.75
2. Smith 8:16.95
3. Quadarella 8:17.05

Last edited 1 year ago by Sherry Smit
Sherry Smit
Reply to  Sherry Smit
1 year ago


1 year ago

Ledecky will obviously win but I don’t think she’ll go under 8:10 because it’s too late in the meet. If she’s gonna lay down a really fast time (by her standards) it’ll be in the 400 when she’s fresh.

1 year ago

Looking forward to seeing Pallister goes here, she was the 2019 World junior champion & was making huge strides, but had illness in 2021 & swam poorly in the Olympic trials last year.
This year big come back to form in a big way swimming PBs in 200, 400, 800 & 1509 in a very condensed meet.
I’m expecting that she will improve greatly on her 8.17.77 from trails & hence will be on the money for a minor medal.

Queen Ledecky will do the 5 peat, what a Legend.

Reply to  Robbos
1 year ago

What makes you think Pallister will significantly improve her times from trials? In Tokyo, only a few of the Aussie swimmers significantly improved their times, most were pretty similar, but our distance swimmers in particular got a fair bit slower. Is this the effect of late trials? I guess it’s something SA will have to consider going forward.

Reply to  Jamesabc
1 year ago

She’s young, she’s still improving, the Olympic trials was a bigger meet.
The WC/Comm Games trials were only 5 days, pretty tough for a 200,400,800 & 1500 metres swimmer.

Tracy Kosinski
1 year ago

I wish Titmus and McIntosh were in there to push her to a WR. I think the 8:25 by Summer was a warm down, lol. She can do way better than that.

1 year ago

Average age for the last 10 or so WR’s in each women’s event

50m 25.83
100m 24.28
200m 20
400m 19.9
800m 17.44
1500m 17.33

50m 21.83
100m 20.28
200m 21.28

50m 19.11
100m 19.6
200m 22.77

50m 26.57
100m 22
200m 20

200m 20.66
400m 19.5

Honest Observer
Reply to  Stephen
1 year ago

Interesting statistics, thank you.

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

Read More »