2023 World Champs Previews: China’s 1-2 Punch Lead Men’s 50 Breast Field Into Fukuoka


BY THE NUMBERS — MEN’S 50 Breaststroke

  • World Record: Adam Peaty, Great Britain — 25.95 (2017)
  • World Junior Record: Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy — 26.97 (2017)
  • Championship Record: Adam Peaty, Great Britain — 25.95 (2017)
  • 2022 World Champion: Nic Fink, United States — 26.45

Last year, the men’s 50 breaststroke was an event defined by its absences. In some ways that’s still true: Arno Kamminga is focusing on the 100/200 breast. Adam Peaty is absent, as is the season’s fastest performer Ilya Shymanovich.

However, despite missing some prominent names this is still shaping up to be a good race. We’ll get a rematch between Nicolo Martinenghi and Nic Fink injected with some new stars that are looking to steal the show.

China’s 1-2 Punch

Qin Haiyang, courtesy of Mike Lewis

Yan Zibei has long been a staple in the final of this event, but there’s been a sort of changing of the guard on the Chinese roster this year. After explosive performances at Chinese Nationals, it’s Qin Haiyang and Sun Jiajun who’ll represent China in the 50 breaststroke in Fukuoka.

Now 24-years old, Qin has been on an absolute tear this season. At Chinese Nationals, he blasted 26.63/57.93/2:07.55 in the 50/100/200 breaststroke. That 50 breaststroke time (and 100 breast) was a new Asian record, getting under Yan’s mark of 26.86 from the 2019 World Championships.

However, he didn’t hold that record for very long. About six weeks later, Sun bettered the mark by two-hundredths, turning in a 26.61 performance at May’s Chinese Championships. So, the record is Sun’s for now but it seems fair to expect that it might trade hands a couple more times as we move through the rounds in Fukuoka.

Those two times are #2 and #3 in the world this year, and top two among swimmers competing at 2023 Worlds. If Martinenghi and Fink are both on last summer’s form, both will need to drop if they want to get in the fight for gold, but that doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Plus, Michael Andrew earned bronze last year in 26.72, so they’re clearly already two of the the main threats for a medal.

Previous Worlds Medalists

In Budapest, Nic Fink who got his hands on the wall first, out-touching Nicolo Martinenghi by three-hundredths. That was Fink’s first individual world title (he’d collected his first individual Worlds medal earlier in the meet with a bronze in the 100 breast). His gold medal time was 26.45, a new American record.

The 200 breast was the event Fink qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in, and he had success in it this past SCM season, sweeping it (and all the breaststroke races) at the 2022 World Cup. Despite that, it seems like the 30-year-old American has shifted his focus to the sprint breaststrokes. That theory’s reflected by the fact that he only qualified for the 50/100 at 2023 Worlds. So, will this heightened focus on the sprints put him back on top of the podium?

Martinenghi has established himself as one of the best sprint breaststrokers in the world. He still holds the junior world record, and he’s won multiple senior international level medals in long-course and short-course meters.

Now 23-years-old, Martinenghi earned silver at Worlds in 26.48. At the 2022 European Championships, he rocked a 26.33 to win, lowering his own Italian record. Both that swim and his pre-2022 Worlds season best (26.39) would’ve earned gold in Budapest. That’s sure to be a sore point for Martinenghi, and we’ve seen him take a different approach this season. So far, his season best is a 26.76 from Sette Colli, which ties him for #6 in the world rankings.

Joao Gomes Jr has been a staple of the Brazilian national team since 2009, when he attended his first World Championships. He’s the 2019 Worlds bronze medalist, and his most recent podium appearance was at 2021 SC Worlds, where he again won bronze in the 50 breast.

As a former medalist in a field marred by absences, Gomes Jr was one of the favorites for a medal heading into 2022 Worlds. However, he was disqualified in the semifinal so he did not get a chance to defend his medal. He’s back in the field this year and will be looking for redemption. He’s sitting at #5 in the world rankings this year (26.75) so he’s made a solid case for himself to be a contender again this year.

European Holiday

In the 2022 Worlds final, Bernhard Reitshammer swam 26.94, setting a new Austrian record en route to his #4 finish. That was his first time breaking the 27 second barrier. One of Reitshammer’s strengths at Worlds last year as how he moved through the rounds: he got faster from heats to semis to finals, resetting his national record each time he dove in.

Reitshammer has yet to go sub-27 seconds this season, as his best so far this season is a 27.05 from April. He may stay in that range for the early rounds, but expect him to be involved in the heart of the final’s action.

Simone Cerasuolo is tied with his countryman Martinenghi for #6 in the world this year at 26.76. For Cerasuolo, it’s a personal best, undercutting the 26.85 he’s swum twice, most recently at the 2022 European Championships. At that meet, Cerasuolo took silver in the 50 breaststroke behind Martinenghi.

He’s the world junior record holder in the SC 50/100 breast, and has made solid progress transitioning that speed from SCM to LCM. Not only did he earn silver at 2022 Euros, but earlier in the summer he finished #5 at Worlds. Given Qin and Sun’s explosion onto the scene, he’s going to have to work to hold that position. The key to that will be maintaining the speed he’s shown so far this season.

Lucas Matzerath cracked 27 seconds for the first time in his career at 2022 Worlds. The German hit 26.99 in semis, qualifying for the final. However, he was off that time in the final and ended up sixth with a 27.10. He’s already been 27.01 this season, which is a positive sign for him.

The field is riddled with 27-low seed times though, which means Matzerath will need to be at his best to move through the rounds. Some 27-low swimmers to watch for are Reitshammer’s countryman Valentin Bayer, Yuya Hinomoto, Michael Houlie, Caspar Corbeau, and SCM world record holder Emre Sakci. While these men are long shots for the final, the 50 breast is a hard race to recover if you make a mistake. If any of the main contenders do, they will be ready to pounce.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Nicolo Martinenghi Italy 26.76 26.33
2 Nic Fink United States 26.74 26.45
3 Qin Haiyang China 26.63 26.63
4 Sun Jiajun China 26.61 26.61
5 Joao Gomes Jr Brazil 26.75 26.42
6 Simone Cerasuolo Italy 26.76 26.76
7 Bernhard Reitshammer Austria 27.05 26.94
8 Lucas Matzerath Germany 27.01 26.99

Dark Horse: Sam Williamson, Australia — Williamson was one of the more surprising swimmers to make Australia’s Worlds roster. His first big international meet was last year’s Commonwealth Games, where he won silver in the 50 breast and bronze in the 100. In that silver medal outing, he broke 27 seconds for the first time with a 26.97. He’s only been 27.17 this season, so while we know he’s capable of making the final it remains to be seen if he’s on that form. 

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4 months ago

Cannot really argue against Swimsam’s picks here to be honest. I would personally give Fink the edge over Martinenghi just based on how duels between these two have previously played out, but it will be close either way between them.

Gomes getting dq’d for the third world’s running is a safe bet.

Sam Williamson is a good pick for the dark horse. I can see him dropping some time on his PB and making the final.

4 months ago

Qin went a 57.93?
I completely missed that, had to fact check tbh
That’s nuts

4 months ago

One of the few chances for the male contingent of USA Swimming to win an individual gold medal at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.

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

50-100-200 back are always promising. The relays are all promising. Fink could surprise and get gold in the 100 after he notched a new PB at trials a few weeks ago. Finke is absolutely in contention for the both the 800 and 1500.

I really wouldn’t consider the 50 breast as “one of few chances”…

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
4 months ago

Finke could get gold in the 100 you say?

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
4 months ago

Nevermind, Mixed Fink up with Bobby finke.

Nick fink can definitely win the 100 breast.

Last edited 4 months ago by Carlo
Reply to  Carlo
4 months ago

So easy to mix up. There will be jokes to be made if Fink(e) are the only two to bring home gold.

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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