2024 Worlds Previews: A Nearly-Full Field Rides Wave of Excitement in the Men’s 400 Free


  • February 11th – February 18th (pool swimming)
  • Doha, Qatar
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central

In the strangest World Championships in several generations, we’re going to do our best to pick the medalists and finalists for the 2024 World Championships. It’s going to be weird. There are going to be swimmers in finals that most of us have never heard of. We’re going to miss someone obvious who we didn’t expect to race. The list at the top is as valuable as the list at the bottom. Let us know in the comments, and we reserve the right to update picks if y’all inform us of an entry we missed! Thanks to SwimSwam reader Troyy for his help in organizing the entries with no official psych sheets released.

The men’s middle-distance freestyles will be among the most-complete events at the 2024 World Championships, and on paper, should counter the fears of no good racing at this year’s meet.

That’s especially true of the 400 free, where all of the finalists from last year’s World Championships aside from the World Champion Samuel Short of Australia are entered. In fact, in that race, only #1 Samuel Short and #9 Kieran Smith are not entered from among the top 16 at the last World Championships, and with a few bonus entries like Petar Mitsin of Bulgaria, Daniel Wiffen from Ireland, and David Johnston from the USA add even more depth to that event.

Men’s 200 Free

The slightly-thinner of the two middle-distance fields in this preview, the top two from last year’s World Championships are at this meet, but aren’t racing.

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships Absent Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships
3. Hwang Sun-woo, South Korea – 1:44.42 1. Matt Richards, GBR – 1:44.30
5. Luke Hobson, USA – 1:45.09 2. Tom Dean, GBR – 1:44.32
6. Lee Ho-joon, South Korea – 1:46.04 4. David Popovici, Romania – 1:44.90
8. Felix Auboeck, Austria – 1:46.40 7. Kieran Smith, United States – 1:46.10
8. Katsuhiro Matsumoto, Japan – 1:45.97 13. Alexander Graham, Australia – 1:46.61
10. Marco De Tullio, Italy – 1:46.05
10. Pan Zhanle, China – 1:46.05
12 Rafael Miroslaw, Germany – 1:46.30
14. Antonio Djakovic, Switzerland – 1:46.66
15. Lucas Henveaux, Belgium – 1:46.77
16. Fernando Scheffer, Brazil – 1:47.35

The primary purpose for the presence of the Brits Matt Richards and Tom Dean is to get Britain a 400 free relay qualifying time, so while they will be racing in Doha, they won’t be swimming this race.

That doesn’t mean that Great Britain won’t be well-represented in Doha, though. Duncan Scott is entered in the 200 free. Since winning a silver medal in this event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, he hasn’t raced this event at either long course World Championships. He was still 1:45.42 on a relay leadoff in Fukuoka, though, and is still very much a threat to medal in the event this year.

Scott allegedly went 41.7 in a 100 yard free last week training at altitude at Northern Arizona University, and while altitude isn’t recognized as having a huge impact in a 100 yard free swim, we’ve in the past seen swimmers come down from altitude and hit big marks. If he catches that wave, gold is his.

By-and-large, top-end of this field is very, very young:

  • the 20-year-old South Korean Hwang Sun-woo, who won bronze at last year’s World Championships;
  • the 20-year-old American Luke Hobson, who was 5th in 1:45.09;
  • the 19-year-old Chinese Pan Zhanle, who was just 10th at Worlds but who peaked for the Asian Games where he won silver in 1:45.28 (behind Hwang’s 1:44.40);
  • the 22-year old German Lukas Maertens, who scratched the individual 200 free but swam 1:44.79 on the leadoff leg of his country’s 800 free relay

In fact, 5 swimmers in this field were under 1:45 last year. Besides the four listed above, the 2019 Worlds silver medalist Katsuhiro Matsumoto of Japan, 26, is also entered. He swam 1:44.98 last season.

As recently as the 2019 World Championships, a 1:44.93 won gold at the World Championships (Sun Yang). Now, even at a short-handed World Championship, that time might not finish on the podium.

There are plenty of established names in this field. Besides the above, Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys, who has a best of 1:44.38 but hasn’t been better than 1:45.69 since the Olympics, and Austria’s Felix Auboeck, who is training primarily at Loughborough in the UK, though he makes occasional stops in the US and was recently engaged to American swimmer Catie DeLoof. Auboeck was 1:46.70 at the Knoxville Pro Swim two weeks ago.

But who are the risers that could take advantage of the gaps here, and make a final, if they’re on?

Lee Ho-joon of South Korea is one. He split 1:45.36 on an 800 free relay for South Korea at the Asian Games as they broke the Asian Record (and Hwang wasn’t even the fastest split on that relay – Kim Woo-min was, and he’s swimming the 400/800 at this meet). There’s some pressure on Lee, because if he can get to a 1:44-mid split at the Olympics, South Korea could win gold.

There’s also Kai Taylor of Australia, who missed the semis at Worlds last year by swimming 1:46.94 in prelims, though he swam much better with a 1:45.79 leadoff in finals for Australia.

There are also a lot of guys in the 1:46 range who are looking through a breakthrough. Denis Loktev, Israel’s only male entrant at this meet, dropped half-a-second last year to go 1:46.17. Lucas Henveaux, who was golfing until a few years ago, has a huge ceiling and dropped two seconds in 2023. He’s already been 1:47.84 at the Knoxville Pro Swim, and racing for Belgium doesn’t have the same pressure of a selection meet as others in this field, so could afford to use more of a taper at this meet.

Australia’s Elijah Winnington didn’t have a great 2023 (his best time of the calendar year came at the Queensland Championships in 1:46.36), but he’s been 1:45.5.

Even as deep as someone like Nandor Nemeth of Hungary, who had a breakthrough in the 100 free last year, perhaps to the detriment of his 200 free.

This is a really good field, and not an easy one to pick. It feels like Pan wouldn’t have committed to this meet, with many top Chinese swimmers skipping it, if he didn’t plan to swim fast. Hwang has had some consistency problems but at his best is the best 200 freestyler in this field. Scott seems hungry and ready to do some damage, though he does have a brutal domestic qualification to worry about not long after these Worlds.

Hobson the American has the advantage of four months until worrying about any domestic selections, but a 1:49.5 in Knoxville was not totally inspiring, but he has a record of big tapers in a short time (17 days before a 1:45.12 at US Trials to make the team, he was 1:50.16 in the 200 free at a local meet).

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Hwang Sun-woo South Korea 1:45.68 1:44.40
2 Pan Zhanle China 1:46.72 1:44.65
3 Luke Hobson USA 1:49.50 1:44.87
4 Lukas Maertens Germany N/A 1:44.79
5 Katsuhiro Matsumoto Japan N/A 1:44.65
6 Duncan Scott Great Britain N/A 1:44.26
7 Lucas Henveaux Belgium 1:47.84 1:46.31
8 Kai Taylor Australia 1:46.42 1:46.25

Men’s 400 Free

Returning Top 16 – 2023 World Championships Absent Top 16 – 2023 World Championships
2. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 3:40.70 1. Samuel Short, Australia – 3:40.68
3. Lukas Maertens, Germany – 3:42.20 9. Kieran Smith, USA – 3:45.77
4. Guilherme Costa, Brazil – 3:43.58
5. Kim Woo-min, South Korea – 3:43.92
6. Antonio Djakovic, Switzerland – 3:44.22
7. Elijah Winnington, Australia – 3:44.26
8. Felix Auboeck, Austria – 3:44.43
10. Kristof Rsovszky, Hungary – 3:46.56
11. Alfonso Mestre, Venezuela – 3:46.61
12. Marco de Tullio, Italy – 3:47.23
13. Lucas Henveaux, Belgium – 3:47.88
14. Matteo Ciampi, Italy – 3:48.12
15. Marwan Elkamash, Egypt – 3:48.31
16. Kregor Zirk, Estonia – 3:48.43

Not going to lie – for most of my career at SwimSwam, there hasn’t been a ton to be excited about in the men’s 400 free. Nobody came within a second of Paul Biedermann’s World Record for years, or for that matter, Ian Thorpe’s textile suit record. Sun Yang was within a tenth of it in 2012, but had a career marred by anti-doping shenanigans that limited the excitement of it.

But the 400 free is back, and that excitement is captured by how deep this field is.

All of the finalists aside from the World Champion Sam Short are back from last year. A few new names are joining the crowd too, making this one of the deepest races in the meet.

The odds-on favorite is Ahmed Hafnaoui, who last year came .02 seconds away from a historic 400-800-1500 triple at the World Championships. Hafnoui trained at Indiana University in the leadup to those World Championships, but has since left that program to train with Mark Schubert at The Swim Team, and doesn’t appear to be heading back any time soon.

We don’t know what California-Hafnaoui looks like, given that he hasn’t competed since making the move after Indiana’s October tri meet with Missouri and Auburn. He was entered in the US Open but scratched because of illness.

Barring that, on paper, he’s the best of the field. While Mark Schubert doesn’t seem like the kind of guy historically who would go full-taper this close to the Olympic Games, Hafnoui also has virtually no in-country competition in this event, so there’s no selection procedure to worry about either.

The two guys in this field who have been close to him are Australia’s Elijah Winnington, who was only 4:34.48 last year but who was 3:41.22 at 2022 Worlds and is the 7th-best performer in history; and Germany’s Lukas Maertens, who likewise hit his peak in 2022 at 3:41.60 but in 2023 was slower in 3:42.20.

While Hafnoui’s rest is uncertain, I’m fairly confident that Winnington won’t go full taper. Maertens, on the other hand, has been really fast mid-season in the past (sometimes to the detriment of his championship taper).

But for now, I think I like Hafnoui (if he races) and Maertens over an unrested Winnington. Winnington was 3:44.4 in Queensland in December, while Maertens hasn’t raced since the World Championships (is this a red flag?).

Then there’s a big logjam in the 3:43-3:44 range, including Brazil’s Guilherme Costa, who was not overly-impressive in the first leg of Brazil’s Olympic Trials in October (3:48) or the Pan American Games (3:46). He probably then has some work to do to lock in his place, at least in this 400 free, for the Olympics.

Kim Woo-min is another piece of the South Korean mid-distance puzzle, and at 22 is in what seems to be that same prime age lately for the event as Hafnoui, Short, Winnington, Maertens, and others. He’s not swimming the 200 free, though he might be his country’s #2 in that race, and so will just focus on the 400 and 800 individually, which should help his chances here.

Along with Austria’s Felix Auboeck and Switzerland’s Antonio Djakovic, more guys who didn’t swim best times last season, there was a pretty clear leap from the finals swimmers to the non-finals swimmers at Worlds last year. Kristof Raszovszky, for example, was 3:46.5 – more than two seconds behind what Auboeck went in finals – for 10th place.

But there are some faces in this meet who didn’t swim the race at Worlds last year but who did have times in that 3:44-3:45 range, including:

This group is in many ways more interesting than the one above of back-end A finalists given their ages, their momentum, etc.

I think that we’ll see at least half of these guys in the final.

Doubly so for Wiffen, who since April has broken the World Record in the 1500 free (in short course) and dropped three seconds in the 400 free (also in short course) to go 3:35.47 – now ranking 13th best all-time. He doesn’t seem to have trouble going fast many times a year (or the fear to attempt it), so I like him for a medal at this meet.

Also in the mix is David Johnston, who was 3:45.75 at US Nationals in July after a 3:48 at Worlds, and Marco de Tullio, who was 3:44.69 at last year’s Worlds Trials but only 3:47 in Fukuoka. Johnston is part of that same TST/Mark Schubert training group as Hafnoui.

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Daniel Wiffen Ireland 3:52.98 3:44.35
2 Ahmed Hafnoui Tunisia 3:56.51 3:40.70
3 Lukas Maertens Germany N/A 3:41.60
4 Elijah Winnington Australia 3:44.43 3:41.22
5 Kim Woo-min South Korea 3:45.26 3:43.92
6 David Johnston USA 3:49.39 3:45.75
7 Petar Mitsin Bulgaria N/A 3:44.31
8 Zhang Zhanshuo China 3:45.11 3:45.11

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2 months ago

I could see the 200 not being very fast. A lot of 1:45-1:46s. A 1:44 high will probably win it here. The 200free is an especially hard race to be fast in-season because it combines speed and endurance perfectly. You normally only see fast times at the biggest taper meets.

Last edited 2 months ago by Hank
2 months ago

Wiffen in the 400 seems like a stretch… 800 and 1500 sure but his PB is far behind the front pack even if in his best state

Last edited 2 months ago by Tencor
Reply to  Tencor
2 months ago

That’s an insane pick. I would bet even if you ask Wiffen he wouldn’t think he’s going to win the 400.

2 months ago

Wiffen broke the world record in the 800 (article says 1500). Wiffen might podium in the 400 but gold?? Wouldn’t be my pick.

Nick the biased Aussie
2 months ago

Kai Taylor to medal in the 200

Nick the biased Aussie
2 months ago

I know how you picked Wiffen for the 400 but how did you pick Wiffen for the 400???

2 months ago

Having swum a faster time (1.44 high) in late ’23, surely 20yo Max Giuliani (Aust) should get at least a passing mention, given the inclusion of Kai Taylor?
Was interviewed by Coleman earlier this month.

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  SNygans01
2 months ago

giuliani isn’t going to doha

Reply to  Emily Se-Bom Lee
2 months ago

Oh…yeah – apologies. :/

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

No you didn’t. Taylor and Winnington are swimming the 200 for AUS. Giuliani isn’t going.

2 months ago

Märtens was sick for most of the autumn/winter; therefore, what he’s capable of remains to be seen, and it was communicated that his performance will be a bit of a black box.

2 months ago

I think we’re going to start seeing 1:43s/3:39s more regularly but not sure if that will happen here. Definitely in Paris.

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

Woah let’s get one person to swim a 3:39 before we start talking about getting them regularly

Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

“I think we’re going to start seeing 3:39s more regularly”

I don’t know about this.

Reply to  Imonar
2 months ago

Hafnoui might do it if he’s coming out of heavy training with Schubert onto a short taper.

Reply to  Imonar
2 months ago

“Regularly” is also weird phrasing in this context because we have never seen a 3:39 before, whereas we have seen a 1:43.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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