2022 World Champs Previews: Recent Breakouts Lead Men’s 400 Free 


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By the Numbers: 

  • World Record: Paul Biedermann (GER) – 3:40.07 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Mack Horton (AUS) – 3:44.60 (2014)
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) – 3:43.36
  • 2019 World Champion: Sun Yang (CHN) – 3:42.44 

Perhaps the biggest shock of the pool competition in Tokyo was Ahmed Hafnaoui’s 400 free win out of lane 8. But the field will be ready for him in Budapest.

This projects to be another close race, with an exciting mix of returning veterans and stars on the rise. 


In a personal best 3:43.36, Hafnaoui became the first African of any nationality to win gold in the event. He backed up that swim at SC Worlds in December, blasting a 14:10.94 1500 free to win silver and become the fifth fastest performer all time. Just 19 years-old, Hafanaoui has asserted himself as one of the world’s top distance swimmers. Now, he’ll look to follow up his Olympic gold by becoming World Champion. 

That’s easier said than done though, especially in this field. One of Hafanoui’s top challengers will be Germany’s own breakout star Lukas Märtens who has had an electric spring. He’s been dropping lifetime bests all over the place, including 7:41.43 and 14:40.28 in the 800 and 1500, respectively. Where he shone most though, was in the 400, where he dropped a 3:41.60 at the Stockholm Open. That swim cut over three seconds from his previous best. It also makes him the 8th fastest performer of all time, and the fastest since 2017. That time, combined with his recent successes in other freestyle events, makes him the man to beat in Budapest in an event where he missed the final in Tokyo.  


Mack Horton is back in the field after finishing third last year at Olympic Trials and missing the chance to defend his Rio Olympic gold. His time from trials (3:43.92) would have won bronze in Tokyo, so his miss says more about Australia’s depth in this event than it does his form. 

In a race that’s filled with up-and-comers, he’s the veteran presence with the fastest personal best of 3:41.55. At World Trials, he finished second to Elijah Winnington in 3:44.06. He’s won two straight silver medals at World Championships and will be looking to upgrade to gold this year. 

There are three men in the field who have been sub-3:43: Märtens, Horton, and Winnington. Winnington clocked 3:42.65 at Australia’s Olympic Trials, which broke him out of a crowd of 3:43s and put him in gold medal contention. However he couldn’t get close to that time in Tokyo, swimming 3:45.20 in prelims and finals to ultimately finish seventh. He’ll be looking to bounce back in Budapest and so far this season he’s been 3:43.10, second fastest in the world. If he can successfully translate his Trials speed to the big meet, he’ll be in the hunt for a medal.  


For the second year in a row, the University of Florida men swept the freestyle events. Kieran Smith was part of that effort again in Greensboro, winning both the 200 and 400 frees. In the 400, he saw 3:46.61, good for 11th fastest in the world this year. Smith won the bronze medal in Tokyo in a lifetime best 3:43.94, which shows that he is capable of a lot more than his Trials swim. As he heads into his first LC Worlds, he’s immediately made himself part of the medal conversation. 

Trey Freeman finished second to Smith at Trials, locking up the second U.S slot in a personal best 3:46.93. This will be Freeman’s first senior international team. Florida’s third entry into this event is Venezuelan Olympian Alfonso Mestre. Mestre dropped a best time of 3:47.95 at the Atlanta Classic in May, knocking 1.21 seconds off his time. Both Freeman and Mestre will likely need to drop again to make the final, but one thing this last year has taught us is to never underestimate Florida freestyle.


The Europeans will be out in force in this event. Behind Märtens, the next fastest of them this season is Austria’s Felix Auboeck, who finished fourth in Tokyo. He’s been 3:44.26 this season, putting him within a second of his lifetime best 3:43.91. He’s geared more towards the 400 than the other distances of late, which paid off when he won the event at SC Worlds. 

Hennig Bennet Muhlleitner tied with Auboeck for fourth. He went a personal best 3:43.67 during the heats. This season, he’s lurking with the 17th fastest time in 3:47.62. The 24 year-old will need to find his form quickly if he wants another chance at a medal. 

Marco De Tullio has often been overshadowed by his countrymen Gabriele Detti and Gregory Paltrinieri on Italy’s distance freestyle scene. However, he’s a talent in his own right, and a consistent one–he’s gotten under the 3:45 mark for the last three years in a row. He’s also still improving; at the Italian Spring Championship, DeTullio dropped a lifetime best 3:44.47. He missed the final at the Olympics, finishing 10th, but don’t be surprised to see him fighting it out in the final this year. 

Italy’s official Worlds roster lists Detti as only qualified for the 4×200 freestyle relay, though it is possible he may be given the opportunity to add an individual event. If he’s in the field, expect him to be a factor. 

Danas Rapsys had a disappointing Olympics and missed this final, where his lifetime best from 2019 3:43.36 would’ve tied for gold with Hafnaoui. In our Olympic preview, we talked about how Rapsys’s greatest strength is his front-end speed, and that perhaps his best strategy would be to take it out fast and try to hang on. 

It seems like he tried that in Tokyo, going out in 1:50.56. However, he came home in 1:55.76, almost two seconds slower than Hafnaoui, who had the slowest back half (1:53.99) of the men who made the final. The answer for Rapsys might be to save a bit more for the end of the race, especially with competitors who have strong back halves. He took silver at SC Worlds, so now he’ll look to translate that success back to meters. 

Great Britain’s Daniel Jervis dropped a best time of 3:46.44 at British World Trials. Especially if he wasn’t fully tapered, that sets him up nicely to vie for a finals lane. 

Swiss record-holder Antonio Djakovic broke 3:50 for the first time this season at the Barcelona stop of Mare Nostrum in 3:49.51. His lifetime best is 3:45.82 from the heats in Tokyo, where he finished 9th, missing out on the final by .14.  He’ll need to be much closer to his best to have a chance to make it this year.  


There’s also Brazil’s Guilherme Costa looking to make some noise. Costa will likely be more of a factor in the 800 and 1500, but he shouldn’t be discounted here. Costa is the Brazilian national record holder in the 400 – 1500. His 400 record is 3:45.85, which he set at Brazil’s Olympic trials, and he was .14 away from breaking it again in Tokyo. This season, he’s been 3:47.42 to break the Brazil Trophy’s Championship record. 

China’s Ji Xinjie and Zhang Ziyang, if present, could also shake things up in this race. Ji’s been 3:47.05 this season and his best is 3:45.64 from 2019. At the National Games last September, Zhang set a new best in 3:48.08. As it stands now, he’s a long shot for the final but like Scheffer, he could surprise us. 

Place  Name Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Lukäs Martens 3:41.60 3:41.60
2 Elijah Winnington 3:43.10 3:42.65
3 Ahmed Hafnaoui 3:43.36
4 Mack Horton 3:44.06 3:41.55
5 Kieran Smith 3:46.61 3:43.94
6 Felix Auboeck 3:47.60 3:43.91
7 Marco De Tullio 3:44.47 3:44.47
8 Daniel Jervis 3:46.44 3:46.44

DARK HORSE: Fernando Scheffer (Brazil) — Scheffer is the 200 free bronze medalist and just cracked the FINA ‘A’ cut by two hundredths with a 3:48.13 to qualify here. That swim was also less than half a second off his lifetime best 3:47.77. Currently, he’s on the outside looking in in terms of qualifying for finals, but he’s certainly capable of a drop.

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2 years ago

My prediction:
De Tullio


2 years ago

Interesting there’s so little hype about Maertens relative to the magic man, McIntosh and Mollie O.
3:41.60 at the age of 20 is quite something, not to mention he has an impressive range.

2 years ago

Am I the only one betting Ahmed (no time yet this season), dropping time again for the W? We know he’s done it before…

2 years ago

Martens 3:40.9

Steve Nolan
2 years ago

You could’ve given me an infinite number of guesses and I never would’ve come up with Fernando Scheffer as the bronze medalist in the 200 free last year.

2 years ago

I’m secretly hoping that Martens has an additional 1.5 secs to drop to break the WR

Armstrong 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  iLikePsych
2 years ago

If he could drop so much time in 400, he would do something really special in 800 & 1500 too with the same scale of improvements.

2 years ago

If Martens can repeat that 3.41 then its near certain that he wins.

Horton has a 3.41 on his CV but whilst he has to be respected, I’m not sure he’s got another one left in his armoury.

Winnington is probably his closest challenger, not only on PBs but also potential for upset but this is contingent on him actually bringing his A game outside AUS domestic waters.

If this ends up being a matchrace, then our rugby scrum of 3.43-44s enter the equation and Mr Hafnaoui may indeed follow up his Tokyo success.

2 years ago

Martens gets the gold if he replicates his PB cos no one else is gonna get near that time.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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