2023 World Champs Previews: Léon Marchand and the Quest for the 400 IM World Record

2023 World Championships

By The Numbers — Men’s 400 Individual Medley

  • World Record: Michael Phelps, United States — 4:03.84 (2008)
  • World Junior Record: Ilya Borodin, Russia — 4:10.02 (2021)
  • Championship Record: Leon Marchand, France — 4:04.28 (2022)
  • 2022 World Champion: Leon Marchand, France — 4:04.28

Think back to last June and the opening night of the 2022 World Championships. After a sensational first year in the NCAA training at Arizona State, Leon Marchand walked out to lane four for the championship final of the men’s 400 IM. In prelims, he’d cracked his own French record and had put himself in position to claim his first senior international medal.

LEON MARCHAND

Leon Marchand, courtesy of Fabio Cetti

In an absolutely shocking performance, Marchand dove into the water and put a serious scare into one of the oldest world records on the books. He scorched a 4:04.28, the second fastest swim all-time for gold, setting new championship and European records.

It feels like Marchand has been riding a wave of momentum since that swim. He won two more individual medals in Budapest (one gold, one silver) en route to being named the male swimmer of the meet. Back in yards and the college scene, he went undefeated for the 2022-23 season. On the way to that achievement, he broke NCAA records in the 200 breast, 200 IM, and 400 IM, bringing the latter’s mark to a jaw-dropping 3:28.82.

Now, he returns to the World Championships stage having fully broken out and with his eyes on Michael Phelps‘s world record. At the French Elite Championships, he posted a world-leading 4:07.80, even though he hadn’t shaved and was “about 50% prepared,” according to his coach Bob Bowman.

With the 400 IM final back on the first night of the championships, Marchand has a perfect shot at breaking the record. He was ahead of Phelps’ pace after the breaststroke leg in 2022, but fell off during freestyle. He made big improvements in his backstroke in the yards season, which should help close the gap to Phelps’ 1:01.57 split.

We’re well past March, but it seems like there’s more Marchand Madness in store.

The Americans

Marchand was in a world of his own in the Budapest final. He won the race by over two seconds. Though it was overshadowed by Marchand’s swim, silver medalist Carson Foster had an impressive swim in his first Worlds final. He dropped nearly two seconds from his personal best and moved up to #8 all-time with a 4:06.56.

So, while Marchand is the clear favorite for gold as he chases history, Foster also looks like a good bet to be on the podium. Since making the 2022 Worlds team, he’s finally emerged as the versatile long-course weapon many were expecting him to be. And, in his own words, he swims his best races when he’s next to Marchand.

At 2023 U.S. Trials, Foster was running second to Chase Kalisz after the breaststroke leg. But, he didn’t panic and chipped away at Kalisz’ lead over the last 100 meters to take the win in a season-best 4:08.14. That’s the third-fastest time in the world this year, putting Foster in a strong position.

There were rumors last year that Kalisz–the reigning Olympic champion–was done with the 400 IM. However, he put them to rest at Worlds, where he fired off a 4:07.47 for bronze: his fastest time since 2017 and third-fastest ever.

Since that swim, Kalisz moved to ASU, reuniting with Bowman and becoming one of Marchand’s training partners. He’s been swimming well since that move, particularly in the 200s of stroke.

The 29-year-old veteran finished just behind Foster at U.S. Trials, hitting 4:08.22. That’s over two seconds faster than he went to make the Worlds team last April. And, after almost a year of training in a both new and familiar environment, Kalisz seems set to get even closer to his 4:05.90 personal best from 2017.

In 2022, the medalists were well ahead of the rest of the field. Kalisz earned bronze by over three seconds. But, it doesn’t seem like that will be the case this year, as their competitors are catching up quickly.

Final Factors

Besides Marchand, there’s only one swimmer who’s been sub-4:08 this season: Daiya Seto. At the 2023 Japan Swim, Seto blazed a 4:07.92–one of the best 400 IM performances of his career. After a disappointing home Olympics, Seto rebounded nicely in SCM, winning the 400 IM at both 2021 and 2022 SC Worlds, bringing his SC world title streak up to six.

In Budapest, he was slower in the 400 IM final than he was in prelims and finished 6th (4:11.93). He did climb the podium in the 200 IM later in the meet, grabbing bronze ahead of Kalisz.

But, his performance at the Japan Swim suggests that he’s rounded back into form in the long-course 400 IM. For the first time in years, it looks like the 2019 World Champion is ready to compete for the medals at a Worlds/Olympic level meet.

Daiya Seto courtesy World Aquatics

At the same meet, his teammate Tomoru Honda also had a big swim, clocking a personal best 4:10.37. Honda finished 6th in this event last year. He’s much more of a 200 butterfly specialist and as the defending silver medalist and SCM world record holder, is one of the favorites for gold there in the absence of Kristof Milak. He likely won’t be a medal threat here, but could make another final appearance.

A potential threat to shake up the podium is New Zealand’s Lewis Clareburt. The 24-year-old Kiwi had a breakout meet at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, winning gold in the 200 fly and 400 IM. He swam 4:08.70 en route to win in the IM, breaking the Oceanic, Commonwealth, and championship records.

One of the keys to that swim was an improved breaststroke leg, which was a primary training focus for him. He split 1:11.60 on breaststroke, which he’ll need to keep improving in Fukuoka if he wants to challenge for a medal.

Clareburt hasn’t had much reason to show speed so far this season, and sits further back of the main competitors with a season-best of 4:14.78.

Watch For…

The entire 2022 Worlds final is slated to race in a few weeks in Fukuoka. That includes Brendon Smith and Balasz Hollo, the two finalists we haven’t touched on yet. Smith, the Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, wound up fifth in Budapest (4:11.36). That was well off his personal best 4:09.27. However, he’s gotten closer to that standard this year, hitting 4:10.64 at the 2023 Australian Trials.

While 4:10 should be enough to make the final, based on the speed young stars like Marchand and Foster have injected into this race, he’ll need a big PB to get back on the podium.

For his part, Hollo swam a personal best 4:10.87 during Worlds prelims last year to qualify for the final. Then, he added over four seconds and finished 8th. He’ll need to be back on his best form during prelims, because there are plenty of swimmers itching for a lane in the Worlds final. Chief among them is Alberto Razzetti, who missed the final last year and wound up 9th.

The Italian got his revenge later in the summer, claiming the 2022 European Championship title in 4:10.60. He owns a lifetime best sub-4:10, as he swam 4:09.91 at the Tokyo Olympics. After missing out last year, he’ll be eager to not make that same mistake.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Leon Marchand France 4:07.80 4:04.28
2 Carson Foster United States 4:08.14 4:06.56
3 Chase Kalisz United States 4:08.22 4:05.90
4 Daiya Seto Japan 4:07.92 4:06.09
5 Lewis Clareburt New Zealand 4:14.78 4:08.70
6 Brendon Smith Australia 4:10.64 4:09.27
7 Alberto Razzetti Italy 4:13.58 4:09.91
8 Tomoru Honda Japan 4:10.37 4:10.37

Dark Horse: Wang Shun, China — The Tokyo Olympic gold medalist in the 200 IM has reportedly “found [his] motivation and purpose again.” He’s much more of a factor in the 200 IM, but could this renewed drive extend to the 400 IM? In Budapest, he tied for 14th in 4:17.85. Since then, he’s posted a 4:13.96 at this season’s Chinese Nationals. He still has a ways to go before nearing his 4:09.10 national record from 2013, but he could surprise for a finals spot. 

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saltie
7 months ago

sub 4:00??

Absolutely absurd to even think about but maybe Paris? 2025 WCs?

Two years ago I would have thought -4 was insane, if not impossible, but Marchand just seems to stun us time after time so now I’m not putting limits on anything….

mds
7 months ago

Kos a factor for the final if he swims it.

Facts
7 months ago

Marchand gets the record with a 4:02 high/4:03 low, Foster goes 4:05 low to challenge Lochtes PB, and Kalisz returns to the 4:06s

Christine Breedy
7 months ago

Title??? World record🤑

Drewbrewsbeer
7 months ago

Remember how the last time this WR changed owners that TWO swimmers went under the old record?

Well, I wonder….

saltie
Reply to  Drewbrewsbeer
7 months ago

Would be cool to see but it’s just not likely. I’m predicting Marchand 4:02 low and Foster second with a 4:05 mid

Marklewis
7 months ago

So Marchand is only better than Phelps in one stroke, the breaststroke. His other strokes are close, but without that huge breast advantage he wouldn’t be a threat to break the WR.

Lochte had a chance in London, but couldn’t finish the job in the freestyle.

If Marchand becomes the new WR, his record is going to be the new Mount Everest of swimming to conquer. Then someone will have to match his huge breaststroke leg.

Carson I think tops out about a 4:05. His breaststroke isn’t strong enough.

Mike
7 months ago

I’d say he wins in a range 4:02.7-4:03.1

uwk
7 months ago

This is off-topic but I figured a Marchand article might be a good place to get some interesting answers: Who are the 10 best male swimmers of all time?
I’ve been trying to craft a list myself. Somewhat of a challenge because the historical memory in our sport is poor

PFA
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

Could tell you 4 names already in a non established order Thorpe, Lochte, Phelps, and spitz, there’s many others who should be considered HM’s but choosing some of the top 10 is definitely not easy because you have to consider multiple things. Like WR’s, Global medals, Olympic medals, dominance, longevity, and especially diversity in events too. Some are easier than others but this just won’t be too easy to make but go for it.

uwk
Reply to  PFA
7 months ago

those are definitely the guys who immediately come to mind. I’ve also got these four: Biondi, Popov, Piersol, Dressel

Last edited 7 months ago by uwk
JimSwim22
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

Dressel doesn’t have the longevity or World Records yet

Last edited 7 months ago by JimSwim22
uwk
Reply to  JimSwim22
7 months ago

Maybe but only 2 or 3 guys ever have had a greater peak

Lisa
Reply to  JimSwim22
7 months ago

He is the current world record holder in 100 fly and he also won the 50 free Olympics gold with the biggest margin by almost half a second and he’s probably off form right now but I wouldn’t dismissed him as the best male swimmer of all time cause I think he is on track to become one.

Rafael
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

I would take Piersol out and add Rolland Matthes
I would also add: Darnyi, Kitajima, Salkinov (Would be first to 3 peat if the boycott did not happen), Gross and maybe PVDH.

For the current Crop, Peaty, Milak can enter.. and Popovici might take PVDH out soon

Rafael
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

For Women Side I Think might be easier
Ledecky
Inge de Brujin
Dawn Fraser
Janet Evans
Krisztina Egerszegi
Mary T Meagher
Yana Kochklova
Katinka Hosszu
Natalie Coughlin
Sarah Sjostrom

PFA
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Despite the short time that she was on top Missy was scary during her dominance from 2012-2015 she was a force and should be considered for the women’s

Last edited 7 months ago by PFA
Lisa
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

I think the other one comes to mind is Rebecca Soni .

Jason
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Shane Gould also, held all free WR’s at the one time, and smashed the 1972 Olympics as a 15 year old.

frug
Reply to  Jason
7 months ago

Gould is also the only person going back to at least 1950 to have set WRs in 6 different individual events (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500 frees plus the 200 IM).

And she did all that despite retiring at the ripe old age of 17!

uwk
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Nice. Darnyi was a monster. Gotta be top 10. Kitajima is another great pick

mds
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Making it a non-american list kind of misses the point since America has been generally the dominant force in the sport for 75 years

Marklewis
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

There’s a book titled 100 Greatest Swimmers of All Time by John Lohn.

There are many great champions in the past you might not know about.

There used to be a lot of WRs broken every year. In 1976, there were over 50 WRs broken. The bar is so high now that we only get a handful in a good year.

uwk
Reply to  Marklewis
7 months ago

Thank you for the recommendation!
I think it’d be cool if SwimSwam came up with their own list kinda like the NBA top 75 all time that was released in 2021. Maybe not top 100 but top 50

Marklewis
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

It’s very difficult to rank after the top 25 or so. Some libraries have that book if you want to check it out.

Most of the swimmers are from USA, Australia, Japan and Hungary. The same countries that still dominate now!

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago
Bailey
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

Just based off resumes (ignoring doping) I think Phelps, Lochte, Sun Yang, Thorpe, Peirsol, Hackett, Spitz, Roland Matthes, Michael Gross, and Vladimir Salnilov would be a good list.

Dressel and Peaty knocking on the door as far as active swimmers go, Kitajima, Cseh, Popov, Tamas Danryi, Biondi, and PVDH could all probably have an argument as well

JimSwim22
Reply to  Bailey
7 months ago

May Biondi for sure

frug
Reply to  uwk
7 months ago

In addition to the names already mentioned, I’d like to add Johnny Weissmuller. Records are a little shaky back when he swam (1921-1928), but he won 5 Olympics Golds (and back then there were only 6 events contested at the OGs), 52 US national championships, and was the first person to ever break the 1 minute mark in the 100 free. He also widely believed to have set 67 WRs, never lost a race, and retired unbeaten in his career.

Plus, he was freaking Tarzan!

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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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