2023 World Champs Previews: The Aussies Look To Take Over the Men’s 400 Freestyle


By The Numbers — Men’s 400 Freestyle

  • World Record: Paul Biedermann, Germany — 3:40.07 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Petar Mitsin, Bulgaria — 3:44.31 (2023)
  • Championship Record: Paul Biedermann, Germany — 3:40.07 (2009)
  • 2022 World Champion: Elijah Winnington, Australia — 3:41.22

The Aussie 1-2 Punch

It’s been a while since Australia has had a legitimate two-pronged attack in the 400 freestyle at an international level. Well, they have one now, as 19-year-old Sam Short had a breakthrough spring and joins Elijah Winnington as a medal contender for Worlds.

Sam Short, Elijah Winnington Courtesy: Stephen Thomas/Sharpfocuspics

The 400 free is the shorter end of Short’s range (no pun intended) and he had standout swims in the 400/800/1500 freestyle at Australian Championships and Australian Trials. At the former, Short ripped a 3:42.46 in the 400 free to vault up to #10 on the all-time performers list and #4 among Australians. Though he was slower at Australian Trials (3:43.38), he still held on to out-touch Winnington (3:43.48), the defending world champion.

As Winnington said in his post-race interview, “now it’s about replicating it again on the Worlds stage.” Short swam at Worlds last year (and won silver for his part on Australia’s 4×200 free relay) but this will be the first time he’s a medal threat in an individual event. His 3:42.46 tops the world rankings this season and he’s coming into the meet with lots of momentum. So, the key for him will be to replicate–or better–his spring swims in a much faster field. If he can do that, he’s got a good chance at a medal.

Winnington knows first hand how hard it can be to replicate on the international stage. In the lead up to Tokyo, he posted the world’s fastest 400 free, but failed to win a medal at the Games. He rebounded well in 2022 though, and is the favorite heading into Fukuoka. He won gold in Budapest with a 3:41.22, becoming the #5 performer all-time  and added another gold to his collection by winning at Commonwealth Games.

Winnington has learned how to go fast at the right time and it’s safe to assume he’s got more in the tank than a 3:43.

Medal Contenders

Lukas Martens (photo: Jack Spitser)

One of the biggest breakouts of 2022 was Germany’s Lukas Märtens. Now 21 years old, Märtens broke out last spring, throwing down head-turning times in the 400/800/1500 freestyle, much like Short did this year.

Even though Märtens didn’t replicate his times at 2022 Worlds, he gave Winnington a race, pushing the pace through the middle 200 meters. For his efforts Märtens earned silver. He won gold at August’s European Championships, setting a new championship record of 3:42.50–faster than he went at Worlds.

A year removed from his breakout, Märtens seems to have approached this season differently. He holds a season best of 3:43.32; up there in the world rankings at #2 but off the 3:41.60 personal best he swam at the Stockholm Open in April 2022.

Now, he knows his speed and he seems to have saved it for Worlds, making him a serious threat to earn a medal for the second year in a row.

Felix Auboeck posted the fastest time out of prelims last year. In finals though he lowered his Austrian record for the second time that day, he ended up just outside the medals as Guilherme Costa tore home for bronze. He looks set to be back in the heart of the race again this year; he owns a season-best 3:44.71, just over a second off his personal best 3:43.58.

The 26-year-old was fourth both at the 2020 Olympics and 2022 Worlds. He’ll be eager to take that next step and stand on the podium.

In On The Action

Marco De Tullio

Marco De Tullio, courtesy of Fabio Cetti

Italy’s Marco De Tullio has been 5th at the last two long-course World Championships. The 22-year-old has had a solid spring, coming within .55 seconds of his personal best as he swam 3:44.69 at April’s Italian Championships. That leaves De Tullio sitting #6 in the world this year.

Though he’s often been overshadowed, De Tullio has been incredibly consistent over his career–he’s now gone sub-3:45 for the last four years. His best is 3:44.14 from 2022 Worlds. The fact that he’s already gotten so close to it could be a sign that he could ready to move up from fifth, but it will be difficult in such a crowded field.

2022 marked the first time since 2009 that an Asian nation didn’t win this event. The 400 free has suddenly become filled with Europeans and Australians, and Asia’s best chance at a medal is South Korea’s Kim Woo-Min. Kim finished sixth in last year’s final (3:45.64). This season, he’s already swum a personal best of 3:45.59, which shows that he’s ready to be back fighting it out in the final.

Another swimmer who had a big spring is Daniel Wiffen. The Irishman has been building towards this type of breakout for a while, and it’s all come together for him in the last few months. On the SwimSwam podcast, he said that he views the 400 free as a fun event and doesn’t necessarily train for it. However, he’s had success in it all the same–hitting 3:44.35 for an Irish record and #5 in the world this year. Wiffen didn’t race this event at 2022 Worlds and it does sound like he’s more focused on the 800/1500 free, but if he does race he’s an interesting pick for a potential medal upset.

Hey! What About…

The Tokyo Olympic champion? Ahmed Hafnaoui was one of the biggest surprises at the 2020 Olympics. The Tunisian became the first African of any nationality to win gold in the event, winning out of lane 8 in a personal best 3:43.36.

Since then, he had a strong showing at 2021 SC Worlds before withdrawing from 2022 Worlds. He’s been training at Indiana in the U.S., though he was academically a partial qualifier for the Hoosiers this NCAA season.He’s still been competing though, racing at a few stops of the Pro Series. He holds a season-best of 3:46.02 from the Ft. Lauderdale stop, which puts him #11 in the season’s world rankings.

The entire 2022 Worlds podium was faster than Hafnaoui’s Olympic gold time, and if Hafnaoui had swum that time in Budapest, he actually would have been 5th. And, the field has only gotten faster and more crowded–especially if Wiffen swims. If Hafnaoui wants a medal, he’ll likely need to drop a personal best, which is why we have him outside the medal picture.

The reigning Worlds bronze medalist? As we mentioned earlier, Costa blazed home on the final 50 meters in Budapest. He split a field best 26.38 on that final 50, which moved him up from fifth to third at the finish. He touched in 3:43.31, which stands as his personal best and the South American record. That was a big moment for him as it marked his first Worlds medal.

Of the main contenders, he’s sitting the furthest back in this season’s world rankings, having swum 3:47.31 at the Brazil Trophy. He showed last year that he’s capable of contending with the biggest players in this event–and actually is one of them. But, he’ll need to drop big from his season-best to get back into the final to have a chance at defending his medal.

The Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist? It’s no secret that the 400 freestyle has been a challenge for the American men for the last few years. However, Kieran Smith has been a bright spot for them, surprising with a bronze medal at the last Olympics. Smith swam a personal best 3:43.94 to win that medal but he hasn’t been sub-3:45 since.

He was back in the final at Worlds last year, but added from his prelims time and finished 7th in 3:46.43. This season, his best is a 3:46.11 from U.S. Trials, where he finished second to David Johnston. This is Johnston’s first long-course Worlds team, and he dropped almost four seconds to win his national title. Of the two, it’s Smith who’s likely got more left in the tank for Worlds, but he’ll need to get back to his 2021 form if he wants a chance at a medal.

The newly minted Junior World record holder? At European Juniors, Petar Mitsin broke Mack Horton‘s nine-year-old junior world record. Mitsin blazed to 3:44.31, cutting about three-tenths off Horton’s mark. The times puts #4 in the world this year. However, Bulgaria is only sending three swimmers to Fukuoka and Mitsin isn’t one of them.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Elijah Winnington Australia 3:43.32 3:41.22
2 Lukas Märtens Germany 3:43.48 3:41.60
3 Sam Short Australia 3:42.46 3:42.46
4 Felix Auboeck Austria 3:44.71 3:43.58
5 Ahmed Hafnaoui Tunisia 3:46.02 3:43.36
6 Marco De Tullio Italy 3:44.69 3:44.14
7 Guilherme Costa Brazil 3:47.31 3:43.94
8 Kim Woo-Min South Korea 3:45.49 3:45.59

Dark Horse: Oliver Klemet, Germany — Could we be about to see another German middle-distance swimmer break out? The 21-year-old swam a lifetime best 3:45.34 at the Berlin Open this year. That’s a time that would have safely qualified him for the Worlds final last year and ultimately would have finished sixth. If Klemet can replicate that swim, he could find himself right in the middle of the action in the final. 

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Add the 400 Back
10 months ago

I think Daniel Wiffen could get close to the podium, 3:44 as a fun event? He really goes after it at worlds, I think he could be a potential upset, slotting him to not make the final at all is very interesting.

Tommy Westerman
10 months ago

How do you delete a post?????

Last edited 10 months ago by Tommy Westerman
10 months ago

Australia had a two pronged attack in this event at Tokyo. Winnington was one of the favorites and McLoughlin won silver.

Nick the biased Aussie
11 months ago

“It’s been a while since Australia has had a legitimate two-pronged attack in the 400 freestyle at an international level.”
2 years isn’t very long. In 2021 there were 4 Aussie men top 10 in the world.

11 months ago

you know if the stars are TRULY TRULY TRUUUUULLLLYYYYYY aligned, a full australian podium could happen since kieran was born in australia

11 months ago

why y’all booing at me?

11 months ago

Wow, predicting neither American to make the final? I guess it’s not an outrageous take, because Smith and Johnston will likely need to be at or near their season’s best times in prelims just to make the final. But I still think at least one of them will make it.

Neither American appears to be a serious medal contender, unless Kieran Smith surprises us and hits a PB in the final.

11 months ago

Hafnaoui to win, Winnignton looks cooked. Too long being boiled by Boxall!

11 months ago

Klemet making the final would be “big” for Germany. They could have their best performance (based on the number of individual finals made in olympic events) at worlds/olympics since 2003. In order to achieve that, they would have to make at least 12 finals. Even “only” making 10 finals would be big for Germany, they achieved that only three times in the past 20 years at worlds/olympics (10 finals at 2022 worlds, 11 finals at 2004 olympics and 16 finals at 2003 worlds). Too bad that Leonie Märtens and Melvin Imoudu won’t compete. They both could have made the final in an olympic event, Märtens in the 1500 free and Imoudu in the 100 breast.

Last edited 11 months ago by Sawdust

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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