2023 WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
- July 23 to 30, 2023
- Fukuoka, Japan
- Marine Messe Fukuoka
- LCM (50m)
- Meet Central
BY THE NUMBERS — WOMEN’S 50 BREASTSTROKE
- World Record: Benedetta Pilato, Italy – 29.30 (2021)
- World Junior Record: Benedetta Pilato, Italy – 29.30 (2021)
- Championship Record: Benedetta Pilato, Italy – 29.40 (2017)
- 2022 World Champion: Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania – 29.70
The women’s 50 breast features one of the deepest fields at the top as we have in any event currently. Five swimmers have already been under 30 seconds this year, which is noteworthy because it only took a 29.90 to earn a medal last summer in Budapest. This field is a little better than last year’s, however, as the continued rise of swimmers like American Lydia Jacoby and Estonia’s Eneli Jefimova has raised the standards in the event all around the world.
Of course, World Record holder Benedetta Pilato is still in the field as well, along with Lilly King, Ruta Meilutyte, and Lara Van Niekerk. Given the depth of this field, there is one thing we know: no swim, whether in prelims, semifinals, or finals, can be taken lightly.
All-Time Top 6 in the women’s 50 breaststroke
- Benedetta Pilato, Italy – 29.30
- Lilly King, USA – 29.40
- Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania – 29.44
- Yulia Efimova, Russia – 29.52
- Molly Hannis, USA – 29.71
- Lara van Niekerk – 29.72
Names in bold are competing in Fukuoka
LAST YEAR’S PODIUM RETURNS
Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte stood atop the podium in Budapest last summer, having swum a 29.70 for Gold. Italian Benedetta Pilato grabbed silver in 29.80, while South Africa’s Lara Van Niekerk earned bronze in 29.90.
Having returned to the sport in 2021, Ruta Meilutyte immediately reasserted herself as one of the premier sprint breaststrokers in the world. She hasn’t skipped a beat and is back to winning races left and right, both SC and LC. Last summer in Budapest, Meilutyte won a very tough final to claim her first LC World title since coming out of retirement.
While 29.70 is a bit off Meilutyte’s career best of 29.44, which she swam later last summer at the European Championships, it was still a very solid performance for her. Perhaps most notably, Meilutyte’s 29.70 in the World Champs final last summer was the fastest time any swimmer posted out of prelims, semifinals, and finals. So, while Meilutyte herself, Pilato, and Lilly King had all been well under that mark before, her gold medal performance still marked the fastest time of the meet.
Moving into this summer, Meilutyte is in very good shape. She clocked a 29.79 at the Settecolli Trophy in Rome a few weeks ago, which stands as her season best in the event. Moreover, her 29.79 makes her the 3rd-fastest swimmer in the world this year in the event, though she’s only trailing the leader, Van Niekerk, by 0.04 seconds.
Meilutyte is a proven champion who has a talent for showing up in the biggest moments. There are a ton of swimmers in this field who could plausibly win the event, but Meilutyte deserves to be at the top of that list. She has as good a chance as anyone in the event.
Winning the silver medal last summer was Italy’s Benedetta Pilato. Her 29.80 wasn’t her most amazing race of her career, as she holds the World Record at 29.30 from the 2021 European Championships. However, any time Pilato is in the field in a women’s 50 breast, she must be treated as the threat that she is.
She’s consistently well under 30 seconds in the event. At the same 2021 European Championships she set the World Record at 29.30 at, Pilato also went 29.35 and 29.50 in the other phases, which currently stand as the 2nd and 6th-fastest performances respectively all-time.
In all, Pilato holds four of the ten fastest performances in history, the most of anyone in the top ten. She qualified for this World Championship via a 29.84 at the Italian Swimming Championship in April, which also marks her top time of the season. That puts her a bit off her pace from last year, as she swam a 29.58 at the 2022 Italian Swimming Championships last April, however, her 29.84 still puts her 5th in the world this year in the event.
Once again, the field in the women’s 50 breast this year is incredible, which makes it a bit more difficult to predict. There are at least five swimmers who could win the event and it wouldn’t be a surprise, while there’s another handful who could have a breakout swim and upturn the apple cart. That being said, Pilato is the World Record holder, and she’s been under 30 seconds in the event more times than anyone else in history, so she’s absolutely one of the favorites here.
The reigning bronze medalist in the event, South Africa’s Lara Van Niekerk swam a 29.90 to finish 3rd last summer in Budapest. While Van Niekerk’s career best of 29.72 is a bit off those of Pilato, Lilly King, and Meilutyte, she’s been posting sub-:30 performances left and right since December of 2021.
Van Niekerk enters this World Championship as the fastest swimmer in the world this year, having swum a 29.75 at the Monaco stop of the Mare Nostrum Tour in May. Though she leads the world this year, she only comes in 0.02 seconds ahead of Lilly King, who has been 29.40 before in her career.
It puts Van Niekerk in an interesting position coming into this meet, wherein she won a medal last year, but there are still three swimmers in this field who have been considerably faster than her in the event. She could absolutely win a medal again this year, even win gold, but there’s a good chance it would take a career best to do so.
LILLY KING AND LYDIA JACOBY: THE AMERICAN DUO
Outside of the three returning medalists from last summer, there are two other swimmers who have been under 30 seconds in the event this year, and they happen to be the two swimmers representing the U.S. in the event. Lilly King comes into this World Championship as the 2nd-fastest swimmer in the world this year, having won the 50 breast at the U.S. Trials a few weeks ago in 29.77. The performance was a solid one for King, especially if she has a little more in the tank for Worlds.
King’s career best in the 50 breast is a 29.40, which she swam at the 2017 World Championships and stood as the World Record in the event until Pilato broke it. Of course, King has been the preeminent women’s 100 breaststroker in the world for some time now, though the rise of Pilato and the return of Meilutyte as well as Van Niekerk and Lydia Jacoby, have severely loosened her grip on the 50 breast, as well as the 100 breast to a degree.
King was a bit flat in her events at the World Championships last year, finishing 7th in the 50 breast final with a pedestrian (for her) 30.40. She also was off the podium in the 100 breast last summer, swimming well off her personal best in the event. That being said, swimmers, even the great ones, have off meets sometimes.
If there was any concern King had lost it, she put those questions to bed at the U.S. Trials last month. Not only did King win the 50 breast in 29.77, she also clocked a 1:04.75 to win the 100 breast, and 2:20.95 to win the 200 breast. For reference, King swam a 1:06.01 in the 100 breast at Worlds last summer, and though she did win gold in the 200 breast, she only swam a 2:22.41 to do so.
All that is to say we should be careful not to read too much into King’s swims last summer in Budapest. She’s still clearly one of the best women’s breaststrokers in the world in all three events, and is in great position heading into Fukuoka.
Joining King on Team USA in Fukuoka is Lydia Jacoby. The defending Olympic champion in the 100 breast, this will be Jacoby’s first LC World Championships of her career, as Annie Lazor denied her a spot on the roster last summer.
Jacoby is absolutely someone to keep a very close eye on in Fukuoka. She’s coming off an incredible freshman season at the University of Texas, wherein she improved dramatically in her yards breaststroke racing. While yards improvement doesn’t always translate directly into LCM, the prospect that Jacoby could have a big LC improvement in her is a scary one.
At the U.S. Trials, Jacoby clocked a 29.81 for second, marking a new career best for the 19-year-old. Additionally, that time makes Jacoby the 4th-fastest performer in the world this year, as well as the 8th-fastest performer of all-time in the event.
While this is Jacoby’s first LC World Championships, she is the reigning Olympic Champion in the 100 breast, so we know the stage won’t be too big for her. As a still young swimmer on an upward trajectory, Jacoby is in excellent position heading into this meet.
OTHER RETURNING FINALISTS
China’s Tang Qianting came in 4th in the 50 breast last summer in Budapest, swimming a 30.21. That performance came after she clocked a 30.10 in semifinals, which stands as her career best in the event, as well as the Chinese and Asian Records.
Still only 19 years old Qianting marks yet another young swimmer in this field who could make some noise. She wasn’t quite as fast as the Chinese Spring Championships earlier this year, swimming a 30.88 to win the 50 breast. Even so, Qianting proved last year that she’s not only a threat to make the final, but a fringe medal threat as well.
Anna Elendt, who is college teammates with Lydia Jacoby at Texas, will be representing Germany on the world stage once again this summer. Elendt has become one of the great yards breaststrokers of all time, and that has translated steadily into LCM improvement.
Last summer in Budapest, Elendt came in 5th in the 50 breast with a 30.22. On top of that, she earned the silver medal in the 100 breast last summer. Elendt holds the German Record in the event with a 30.10, which she swam at the Barcelona stop of the Mare Nostrum Tour last May.
This year, Elendt has been as fast as 30.58, which she swam at the German National Swimming Championship just a couple days ago. While 30.58 isn’t her greatest performance ever, it seems likely Elendt’s focus is on swimming fast at Worlds in a few weeks, not necessarily on swimming fast at German Nationals.
Estonia’s Eneli Jefimova took 6th in this event last summer in Budapest, swimming a 30.25. Now, Eneli, who is still only 16 years old, is fresh off winning gold in the 50 breast at the European Junior Championships last week. She swam a 30.33 in Belgrade to win her 2nd-straight European Junior Title in the event. That time also marks her fastest performance of the year.
At just 15 years old last summer, Jefimova posted what is still her career best and the Estonian Record in the event, 30.08. She put up that time in prelims last summer. Still so young, Jefimova is maybe the swimmer best positioned in this field to have a breakout performance. Either way, she’s proven she can swim low-30-points consistently, and that she can swim fast in the morning, so she’s in excellent position to be a finalist once again.
Brazil’s Jhennifer Conceicaois in here with an asterisk. Conceicao finished 8th in the event last year with a 30.45. While she is a returning finalist, we don’t know whether she’ll be racing in the event in Fukuoka. Conceicao was named to Brazil’s roster as a relay-only swimmer. That being said, Conceicao is under the World Aquatics qualifying standard in the event, and Brazil has the space to allow her to compete individually, so there’s a chance we see her race individually as well.
If Conceicao swims the event in Fukuoka, she would have a shot at making the final once again. Her career best is 30.28, which she swam in semifinals at last year’s World Championships to qualify for the final.
BEST OF THE REST
Anita Bottazzo earned the second spot on Italy’s roster in this event via her performance at the Settecolli Trophy a few weeks ago. She swam a 30.23, which also stands as her career best in the event. While you’ll certainly need to be under 30 seconds to earn a medal in Fukuoka, Bottazzo’s performance at Settecolli has her 7th in the world in the event this year.
Her 30.23 is right around where it will likely take to make the final, so Bottazzo has a real shot at becoming a finalist in Fukuoka.
Mona McSharry, the Irish Record holder in the event, is another name to watch in Fukuoka. McSharry didn’t compete at the World Championships last summer in Budapest, however, she would have stood a good chance of qualifying for the final if she had. She holds the Irish Record at 30.29, a performance which she clocked in April of this year at the Irish Championships in Dublin.
Her 30.29 makes her the 8th-fastest swimmer in the world this year, putting her in a favorable position heading into Fukuoka.
Great Britain’s Imogen Clark is the 6th-fastest performer in the world this year, having been 30.05 already in 2023. Though she would be a likely finalist and fringe medal contender in the event, Clark was not named to Great Britain’s World Championships roster this summer.
|RANK||SWIMMER||PERSONAL BEST||SEASON BEST|
|4||Lara Van Niekerk||29.72||29.75|
DARK HORSE: Sophie Hansson, Sweden – Sweden’s Sophie Hansson is an excellent sprint breaststroker. Last summer in Budapest, she qualified 7th for the semifinals of the 50 breast, but ended up taking 10th in the semis and failing to advance to the final. Though Hansson is a slightly better 100 breaststroker than 50 breaststroker, she’s still been as fast as 30.31 in the event, a time which she clocked at the 2021 European Championships. Hansson has already been 30.64 this year, having swum that time at the Stockholm Open in April.