2024 Worlds Previews: Can Anyone Challenge Haughey And Fairweather In Mid-Distance Free?

2024 World Aquatic Championships

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! 

The women’s 200 and 400 freestyle events are missing many of the heavy-hitters from the past few years, including the world record holders in both events. The entire podium from the 200 and the top two in the 400 from Fukuoka will not be present in Doha, opening up some big opportunities for swimmers that finished outside the medals last year.

The 200 will still feature 2021 Olympic silver medalist Siobhan Haughey, along with multi-world record holder Shayna Jack, and 1:55 swimmers Erika Fairweather, Marrit Steenbergen, Barbora Seemanova, and Li Bingjie.

The 400 will feature SwimSwam’s 2023 Breakout Swimmer of the Year, Erika Fairweather of New Zealand. She enters the event as the only person to have cracked the elusive 4:00-barrier, and is also the only individual to have ever dipped under 4:01. She will face a challenge from Li Bingjie of China for the gold medal, with Germany’s Isabel Gose, Australia’s Kiah Melverton, and Hungary’s Ajna Kesely all in the hunt for medals as well.

Women’s 200 Free

By the numbers:

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships Absent Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships
4. Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong – 1:53.96 1. Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia – 1:52.85
5. Marriott Steenbergen, Netherlands – 1:55.51 2. Ariarne Titmus, Australia – 1:53.01
9. Barbora Seemanova, Czech Republic – 1:56.50 3. Summer McIntosh, Canada – 1:53.65
10. Nikolett Padar, Hungary – 1:56.55 6. Bella Sims, United States – 1:56.00 (1:55.45 in semis)
11. Erika Fairweather, New Zealand – 1:56.87 7. Freya Anderson, Great Britain – 1:56.33 (1:55.85 in semis)
13. Valentine Dumont, Belgium – 1:57.97 8. Liu Yaxin, China – 1:56.97 (1:56.34 in semis)
15. Janna Van Kooten, Netherlands – 1:58.12 12. Claire Weinstein, United States – 1:57.03
16. Janja Segel, Slovenia – 1:58.18 (1:58.02 in prelims) 14. Snæfríður Jórunnardóttir, Iceland – 1:57.98

The women’s 200 free in Doha will be one of the more depleted fields, with the entire Fukuoka podium (Mollie O’Callaghan, Ariarne Titmus, and Summer McIntosh) missing from the entry lists. The 4th place finisher from Fukuoka is the top seed at this meet: Siobhan Haughey. After Worlds last summer, she went on to win the Asian Games title (1:54.12) and swept the event at the World Cup circuit, culminating in a 1:54.08 World Cup record in Budapest.

At the U.S. Open this past December, Haughey took the title in a swift 1:54.20. Given she dipped under 1:54 in Fukuoka (1:53.96) and has since posted 1:54-low swims like clockwork, she looks to be on a trajectory to challenge her best time from the Tokyo Olympic Games (1:53.92). She is the only swimmer entered in Doha that has swum below 1:55 in the event, and she is the clear favorite to claim gold.

The battle for the other two medals is much less clear cut. Shayna Jack (1:55.37) of Australia, Erika Fairweather (1:55) of New Zealand, Dutch star Marrit Steenbergen, and distance ace Li Bingjie of China come in as the next fastest entrants. These swimmers are comfortably ahead of the field to comprise the top 5 with Haughey, and only two of the four will likely win a medal.

Jack is a member of the Aussie record breaking 4×200 relay from Fukuoka, with her split of 1:55.63 on the second leg. This is probably Jack’s weakest event of her main three (50/100/200 freestyles), but is one that she has made more of a focus since moving to train under Dean Boxall in 2019. Prior to that, her previous coach (Simon Cusack) focused her talents strictly on the 50 and 100 meter distances.

It’s important to note, however, that Jack is most consistent in the 50 and 100 meter distances. When it comes to the 200, she has been a bit inconsistent over the past year:

December 2022 – Queensland Championships: 200 Free (1:59.25)

March 2023 – NSW Championships: 200 Free (1:57.29)

April 2023 – Australian Championships: 200 Free (1:55.37)

June 2023 – Australian World Championship Trials: 200 Free (1:56.82)

December 2023 – Queensland Championships: 200 Free (1:57.51)

Jack’s 200 seems to peak towards the end of the season, around April through July – and this is probably by design. This has proven true in several instances, one being in 2019 when she first took on the event as a serious focus. It also proved to be true last year, when she began to swim the event again after focusing on the sprints during her first full season following suspension.

She has also only cracked the 1:56-barrier once, but did so in a big way (1:55.37) last April. How Jack performs in this 200 is ultimately dependent on how much rest she is undertaking for this meet, but at her best she is the clear favorite to claim a silver medal. Given Dean Boxall’s heavy emphasis on the upcoming Paris Olympics and how competitive Jack’s individual events will be at the Aussie Olympic Trials, we think it’s unlikely that Jack will fully taper for Doha.

Steenbergen has showcased a career resurgence over the past few years, as she struggled a bit after breaking through in the 100 free (53.97) at the age of 15 at the 2015 Baku European Games. Not only has she surged, she has emerged as a multi-event talent in the 50-200 free distances and 200 IM.

Steenbergen has been as quick as 1:56.19 this season already, which is less than a second shy of her 1:55.51 marker from the 2023 World Championship final. She was 5th in Fukuoka, and is the 2nd fastest returner in the event behind Haughey. She clocked her fastest performances of the meet in the 100 and 200 freestyles in the championship finals, which is something we took into heavy consideration with these picks. She has proven that she performs at her best when the pressure is on in this particular event, and is one of the most consistent performers among the Doha entrants.

Fairweather is known most for her prowess in the 400 and 800 distances, but the 200 is where she broke onto the scene as a junior swimmer. She won the World Junior title in the event back in 2019, defeating the likes of Lani Pallister (AUS) and Emma O’Croinin (CAN) in the process. It was her only medal of that meet, but she has since excelled in the longer distances. Still, however, she enters this event with a best time of 1:55.44 from March.

Fairweather did not match her best in the event at any of the big international meets this past year, as she posted a 1:56.87 in Fukuoka to miss out on the final. Her fastest time out of the three World Cup stops was 1:56.08, so if she can dip under 1:56 again she will be right in podium contention.

Czech mid-distance swimmer Barbora Seemanova is another name to watch for in Doha. The 23-year-old recently put up a near best time of 1:55.59, just off her 1:55.45 Tokyo marker.

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Siobhan Haughey HGK 1:54.08 1:53.92
2 Marrit Steenbergen NED 1:56.19 1:55.51
3 Erika Fairweather NZL 1:56.08 1:55.44
4 Shayna Jack AUS 1:57.51 1:55.37
5 Barbora Seemanova CZE 1:55.59 1:55.45
6 Li Bingjie CHN 1:55.73 1:55.62
7 Nikolett Padar HUN 1:56.17 1:56.17
8 Brianna Throssell AUS 1:56.99 1:56.34

Dark Horse: Janna Van Kooten of the Netherlands comes into this event seeded 17th, with her entry time of 1:58.12. She swam her 1:58.12 best time in the semifinals at the Fukuoka World Championships, where she placed 15th overall. Of note, she posted additional times of 1:58.16 and 1:58.48 throughout the meet. Van Kooten is on a strong trajectory, having only broken the 2-minute barrier for the first time in May.

Women’s 400 Free

By the numbers:

Returning Top 16 – 2023 World Championships Absent Top 16 – 2023 World Championships
3. Erika Fairweather, New Zealand – 3:59.59 1. Ariarne Titmus, Australia – 3:55.38
5. Li Bingjie, China – 4:01.65 2. Katie Ledecky, United States – 3:58.73
7. Isabel Gose, Germany – 4:05.27 (4:03.02 in prelims) 4. Summer McIntosh, Canada – 3:59.94
9. Ajna Kesely, Hungary – 4:07.08 6. Lani Pallister, Australia – 4:05.17 (4:03.49 in prelims)
11. Gabrielle Roncatto, Brazil – 4:07.99 8. Bella Sims, United States – 4:05.37 (4:04.25 in prelims)
12. Maria Fernanda Costa, Brazil – 4:08.67 10. Waka Kobori, Japan – 4:07.48
14. Anastasiia Kirpichnikova, France – 4:09.43 13. Freya Colbert, Great Britain – 4:09.02
15. Valentine Dumont, Belgium – 4:10.09 16. Miyu Namba, Japan – 4:10.23

Erika Fairweather of New Zealand is the indisputable favorite for Doha gold in the 400 freestyle. Her entry time of 3:59.59 clears the field by nearly 1.5 seconds, and she clocked that performance in the Fukuoka World Championship final. With all eyes on Summer McIntosh, Ariarne Titmus, and Katie Ledecky in Fukuoka, Fairweather swam over the top of McIntosh in the closing stages to snag the bronze medal.

Fairweather has been nothing short of consistent in this event over the past year, being able to swim in the 4:00-4:02 range seemingly every time she hits the water.

Li Bingjie of China, at only 21, is a veteran of the field. She first appeared in the 2017 World Championship final at 15-years-old, where she claimed a bronze medal. She has been consistently swimming 4:01-4:03 in this event over the past several years, and is a safe medal bet.

The third podium spot is fairly wide open, but Isabel Gose comes in with the hot hand. In the heats of the event in Fukuoka, Gose roared to a time of 4:03.02. Her time represented a best time and new national record, before she fell to 7th (4:05.27) in the final. To be fair, several high profile athletes added significantly from heats to finals in that particular event.

If Ajna Kesely of Hungary can match her best time of 4:01.31, she could easily secure bronze if not silver. However, she has not neared her best time since the 2019 World Championships.

Australia’s Kiah Melverton is another name that needs mentioning. While she has only been 4:11.03 this season, she owns a best time in the 4:03-range. She has shown the ability to perform best when the pressure is on, highlighted by her gutsy 800 free silver medal performance in the 2022 Worlds final out of lane one.

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Erika Fairweather NZL 4:01.09 3:59.59
2 Li Bingjie CHN 4:01.96 4:01.08
3 Isabel Gose GER 4:07.90 4:03.02
4 Simona Quadarella ITA 4:07.23 4:03.35
5 Kiah Melverton AUS 4:11.03 4:03.12
6 Ajna Kesely HUN 4:06.55 4:01.31
7 Eve Thomas NZL 4:07.63 4:06.10
8 Gabrielle Roncatto BRA 4:06.88 4:06.25

Dark Horse: Hungary’s Nikolett Padar is more known for the 200 free at this point in her career, but enters the meet ranked 13th in the 400 free. Given her progression in the 200 distance over the past year, it’s possible she has a similar drop in the 400 to challenge for a spot in the final.

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Swim for happiness
2 months ago

I got a nice Arena shirt with Haughey’s name on the back last week. I think 2024 is going to be a very exciting golden year for HKG. Coaches Tom Rushton and James Gibson are going to be happy.

commonwombat
2 months ago

200: Haughey should have time for a coffee waiting for someone else to arrive

400: Fairweather v Li Bingje.

Hold a raffle for the minor medals in 200 and bronze in 400.

Gladi
2 months ago

Siobhan is on great form, looking forward to see her get PB in both 100&200m free, and double gold for sure🙌

Sub13
Reply to  Gladi
2 months ago

Gold for sure in the 200. Wouldn’t be so sure about the 100 yet

Robbos
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

Yep Jack is very close in the 100 free.

snailSpace
Reply to  Robbos
2 months ago

So is Sjostrom.

Robbos
Reply to  snailSpace
2 months ago

No doubt!!!! Just don’t know her schedule.

Leoyu
2 months ago

I think Bingjie can medal in the 200. She already went 1:55 two months ago and her time here could help qualify for the Olympics so she could go pretty fast.

snailSpace
Reply to  Leoyu
2 months ago

She should be definitely in the conversation for bronze, even silver. The picks ahead of her all have faster PBs though (albeit only minimally), that were swum pretty recently, so I understand the decision to exclude her from the projected podium. Nevertheless, she’s definitely a medal contender in the 200.

Leoyu
Reply to  snailSpace
2 months ago

I think she’s said she wants to try to go for 200-1500 at the Olympics. Given how qualification works for her I’m not surprised she’s going for 200, 400, and 1500 and skipping the 800 which was prob her best event last year. Yang and Liu Yaxin have mostly taken the mantle for this event in the last two years but Li has always been right there when they’ve raced together. I have a feeling she’s gonna go all in on those three events in Doha and take it easy in April.

snailSpace
Reply to  Leoyu
2 months ago

Damn, the Chinese 4×200 is gonna be really strong again come Paris. I’m assuming Zhang’s gonna be the fourth leg?

Leoyu
Reply to  snailSpace
2 months ago

I think there’s a decent chance she’ll be the 4th leg and that would make for a pretty strong relay on paper.

Chris
Reply to  Leoyu
2 months ago

Any word on Tang Muhan, who was on China’s Olympic gold medal 4×200 Free relay and was so dynamic for a short period of time in the 200 Free?

https://swimswam.com/watch-17-yr-old-tang-muhan-negative-split-15426-200free-chn-record/

Swim Fan
Reply to  Leoyu
2 months ago

Given the system in China, it is not up to the swimmer to decide what to race but the party committee.

Swimmka
2 months ago

Why Késely is so low? She has almost 2 second best in season than Gose…Plus she is still very young

snailSpace
Reply to  Swimmka
2 months ago

She certainly had the potential to go even sub 4:00 but that was a long time ago. Her best time since 2019 is almost 5 seconds slower than her PB, and Gose was much faster than that much more recently.

snailSpace
2 months ago

I think Padar is gonna final in the 400 as well. She was 4:08 at Euro Juniors and didn’t swim it at Worlds, she is consistently dropping in the 200 – and she’s still only 17.

torchbearer
2 months ago

Good luck Erica- NZ has never won a World Aquatics Gold Medal!!!

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  torchbearer
2 months ago

the pvdh of countries

Jackie O
Reply to  Emily Se-Bom Lee
2 months ago

It’s one of swimming stats that make me sad.

gitech
2 months ago

Barbora Will be bronze in 200 free ot she Will get a medal