2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
- July 23 – 30, 2023 (pool swimming)
- Fukuoka, Japan
- Marine Messe Fukuoka
- LCM (50m)
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BY THE NUMBERS — WOMEN’S 400 IM
- World Record: Summer McIntosh, Canada – 4:25.87 (2023)
- World Junior Record: Summer McIntosh, Canada – 4:25.87 (2023)
- Championship Record: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary – 4:29.33 (2017)
- 2022 World Champion: Summer McIntosh, Canada – 4:32.04
We were treated to an exciting showdown between two of the sport’s up-and-coming talents last year in the final of the women’s 400 IM at the World Championships, as 15-year-old Summer McIntosh held off 16-year-old Katie Grimes to win the title by six-tenths of a second.
One year later, both swimmers are favored to land on the top two spots on the podium once again, but the gap between them figures to be much wider.
McIntosh’s winning time of 4:32.04 could be looked at as an aberration of sorts given what she did before and after. She went 4:29.12 in March 2022, and then one month after Worlds, won the Commonwealth Games crown in 4:29.01.
She’s only gotten better since, dropping an in-season 4:28.61 in December before stunningly breaking Katinka Hosszu‘s seven-year-old world record of 4:26.36 by half a second in 4:25.87 at the Canadian Trials on April 1.
Long story short, McIntosh is simply on another level in this event. Sure, it comes on the last day of a busy eight-day schedule for the 16-year-old, but she’s proven she can handle the heavy workload in the past. Her world record swim did come on the fifth night of action at the Canadian Trials, for what it’s worth. And unless she gets called on for the mixed free relay, she would have two days completely off prior to the 400 IM.
THE U.S. CONTINGENT
The gap between McIntosh and Grimes could be a bit smaller if Grimes didn’t have such a wide-ranging focus—she recently became the first U.S. athlete to qualify for the Paris Olympics after winning bronze in the women’s 10km open water event in Fukuoka.
After clocking 4:32.67 to win silver behind McIntosh last summer, Grimes got down to 4:31.81 in April in the midst of a busy schedule, putting her within striking distance of Katie Hoff‘s American Record (4:31.12) from 2008.
And despite appearing to be off form at U.S. Nationals in June, Grimes still walked away with a decisive victory in the 400 IM in a time of 4:33.80, and a good taper could see her under Hoff’s 15-year-old U.S. mark.
After winning back-to-back NCAA titles in the event, Alex Walsh finally put her focus on the 400 IM in the long course pool this year, and it paid off in a big way as she dropped a massive best time to take second to Grimes at U.S. Nationals in 4:35.46.
That time is faster than what Emma Weyant went to win bronze at last summer’s Worlds and puts her firmly in the medal hunt in Fukuoka, with only McIntosh, Grimes and Australian Jenna Forrester faster this season among those racing the event (Aussie Kaylee McKeown has also been quicker, but won’t race the 400 IM at Worlds).
Walsh is strong across the board and is particularly better on breaststroke than Grimes, so she’ll need to make a move there and have a gap over her teammate if she wants to challenge for the silver medal.
Forrester is the leading candidate to join McIntosh and Grimes on the podium, as not only does she have a faster best time than the likes of Walsh and others, but she’s also got an array of international experience under her belt in the event.
The Aussie, who turned 20 earlier this year, was a finalist at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games last year, but has made big strides so far in 2023, starting off with a 4:35.05 PB in April before getting down to 4:34.89 at World Trials in June.
Forrester had a breakthrough swim in May 2022, clocking 4:36.77, but was unable to recreate that later in the summer. This year, she’s reeled off back-to-back best times, indicating she’s dialed in her taper and should be in that range (or better) in Fukuoka.
Colbert, who won bronze at the Commonwealth Games last summer, came into 2023 with a best time of 4:39.80, but dropped more than four seconds to win the British title in April in 4:35.50, and was also under her old PB at the Sette Colli Trophy in June (4:38.56).
Franceschi, who despite being just 24 is the oldest swimmer among the top 10 seeds by two years, has been on career form in 2023. She was ninth in this event at the Tokyo Olympics, missed the 2022 Worlds team, but took off more than a second at the Italian Championships in April in 4:35.98 while also downing the Italian Record in the 200 IM in June.
However, it’s worth noting that in 2021, Franceschi went 4:37.06 at the Italian Trials before adding nearly three seconds at the Olympics and missing the final.
Given that she didn’t race at the 2022 Worlds, Yu is the biggest unknown among the three, though she did go 4:35.94 in 2021 at the age of 15 and was even better at the Chinese Championships in May (4:35.61).
(MORE) YOUNG RISERS
Following a very similar trajectory to teammate Colbert, Great Britain’s Katie Shanahan has now been 4:36 twice this year after coming into 2023 with a best time of 4:39.37.
She held off Colbert to win bronze at the Commonwealth Games last summer en route to that PB, and then went 4:36.74 at the British Championships in April before backing it up with a 4:36.92 showing at the Sette Colli Trophy, beating Franceschi and Colbert head-to-head in the process.
Ge swam back-to-back 4:38s at the 2022 World Championships to take sixth, clocking 4:38.37 in the final, and she was sitting third in the race through the first 200 meters. The 19-year-old owns a season-best of 4:40.08, so she’s on track to be back in the fight for a top finish this year.
Tanigawa, 20, and Narita, 16, will look to fill in the gaps left by reigning Olympic champion Yui Ohashi, who at 27, has seemingly moved on from the event.
Tanigawa owns a best time of 4:36.45, set in March 2022, but was unable to replicate that in Budapest (though 4:40.70 in the prelims was good enough to make the final). She was 4:37.90 earlier this year, so we’ll see if she can hit her taper right this time around.
As for Narita, she figures to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, as she not only won the World Junior title last year, but stormed to victory at Junior Pan Pacs by seven seconds and smashed the Championship Record in 4:36.79.
She was even faster earlier in 2022 at 4:36.71, and she added a third sub-4:37 swim to her resume in April, clocking 4:36.89 at Japanese Nationals.
Given that Narita is also a strong 200 backstroker, having nabbed silver at Junior Pan Pacs last year in 2:09.67, and that her splits in her 400 IM from that same meet on back were weak relative to the other three strokes (1:11.54), she should have time to drop from that alone, not to mention from the gains she’s made over the last 10 or 11 months.
Similar to how Tanigawa and Narita will be taking over for the legacy left behind by Ohashi, Viktoria Mihalyvari-Farkas will be the top Hungarian entrant after Katinka Hosszu‘s long reign as the best medley swimmer in the world. This will actually be the first time Hosszu won’t compete in the 400 IM at the World Championships since 2005, having won the title five times, including four straight from 2013 to 2019.
Mihalyvari-Farkas, another 19-year-old, broke through to make the Olympic final in Tokyo at 17, placing sixth after establishing a PB of 4:35.99 in the prelims. After missing the final at Worlds last summer, she bounced back to claim the European title in 4:37.56 two months later.
However, her fastest time this year comes in at a pedestrian 4:46.52, so she’s a bit of a wildcard coming in.
While Hosszu and Ohashi won’t be in action, there are some other experienced names who will try and hold off the next generation and earn a berth in the final.
Zsuzsanna Jakabos, 34, has long been in the mix in this event on the major international stage, and the Hungarian was the runner-up to Mihalyvari-Farkas at Euros last year. But given the form she’s shown of late, Jakabos will likely need the prelim field to be comparatively slower than their entry times and in the 4:40 range if she’s to slide into the top eight.
Australian Kiah Melverton, who at 26, maybe shouldn’t be considered a ‘veteran’ just yet, is known for her distance freestyle abilities but has shown some medley prowess in recent years, including claiming Commonwealth silver behind McIntosh last year in 4:36.78. She was 4:39.65 at Aussie Trials in June.
The French contingent of Fantine Lesaffre (4:37.55 season-best) and Cyrielle Duhamel (4:39.38 PB/season-best) will also be hunting down a spot in the final. Duhamel is an interesting case, as her sub-4:40 swim from June marked her first best time in the event in five years, and she’ll be looking to rebound after finishing a distant 13th last year in 4:52.24.
Lesaffre, the 2018 European champion, has also turned the corner this year, with her 4:37.5 marking her quickest time since 2019.
It’s also worth noting that Canadian Sydney Pickrem, the 2017 bronze medalist, has opted out of the entire competition. Ella Jansen will sub in as the second Canadian entrant, with her PB sitting at 4:40.17 from the Commonwealth Games
|Place||Swimmer||Nation||Season Best||Lifetime Best|
|7||Katie Shanahan||Great Britain||4:36.74||4:36.74|
|8||Freya Colbert||Great Britain||4:35.50||4:35.50|
Dark Horse: Anastasia Gorbenko, Israel – The two-time European champion in the 200 IM hasn’t yet fully committed to this distance in major competition, but is coming off of setting the Israeli Record in May (4:40.76), which was her first best time in three years.