2024 Worlds Previews: Meilutyte and Douglass On The Hunt For Breaststroke Gold

2024 World Aquatic Championships

  • 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 World Championships will commence on February 11th in Doha, Qatar, and the women’s breaststroke fields are filled with several Olympic, World Championship, Commonwealth, and European Championship medalists. Ruta Meilutyte, Kate Douglass, Tes Schouten, Benedetta Pilato, and Lara Van Niekerk are among the swimmers combining for those respective titles.

The women’s 50 breast will feature 10 of the 16 semifinalists from the most recent Fukuoka World Championships, and three of the four fastest swimmers in the world last season will compete. The 100 meter distance will showcase half of the semifinalists from Fukuoka, and the 200 will feature two of the three medalists.

The sprint breaststrokes are particularly loaded, with several swimmers entered in the 50 with entry times under the 30-second barrier, and several in the 100 who have swum in the 1:05-range.

The Sprint Breaststrokes

Women’s 50 Breast 

By the numbers:

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships Absent Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships
1. Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania – 29.16 2. Lilly King, United States – 29.94 (29.72 in semis)
3. Benedetta Pilato, Italy – 30.04 (29.60 in prelims) 7. Satomi Suzuki, Japan – 30.44 (30.29 in prelims)
4. Lara Van Niekerk, South Africa – 30.09 (29.91 in semis) 8. Eneli Jefimova, Estonia – 30.48 (30.22 in semis)
5. Anita Bottazzo, Italy –30.11 (30.02 in prelims) 9. Lydia Jacoby, United States – 30.40
6. Tang Qianting, China – 30.22 (30.08 in prelims) 12. Anna Elendt, Germany –30.55 (30.33 in prelims)
9. Sophie Hansson, Sweden – 30.40 15. Florine Gaspard, Belgium – 30.55
11. Mona McSharry, Ireland – 30.54 (30.45 in prelims)
13. Veera Kivirinta, Finland – 30.56 (30.33 in prelims)
14. Dominika Sztandera, Poland – 30.59
16. Fleur Vermeiren, Belgium – 31.26 (30.73 in prelims)

Women’s 100 Breast 

By the numbers:

  • World Record: Lilly King, United States – 1:04.13 (2017)
  • World Junior Record: Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania – 1:04.35 (2013)
  • Championship Record: Lilly King, United States – 1:04.13 (2017)
  • Defending Champion: Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania – 1:04.62
Returning Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships Absent Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships
1. Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania –1:04.62 2. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – 1:05.84 (1:05.53 in semis)
5. Mona McSharry, Ireland – 1:06.07 (1:05.55 in prelims) 3. Lydia Jacoby, United States – 1:05.94
7. Sophie Hansson, Sweden – 1:06.61 (1:06.19 in semis) 4. Lilly King, United States – 1:06.02 (1:05.45 in semis)
10. Tes Schouten, Netherlands – 1:06.53 (1:06.46 in prelims) 6. Eneli Jefimova, Estonia – 1:06.36 (1:06.18 in semis)
12. Macarena Ceballos, Argentina – 1:06.75 (1:06.69 in prelims) 8. Satomi Suzuki, Japan – 1:06.67 (1:06.20 in prelims)
13. Lisa Mamie, Switzerland – 1:06.97 (1:06.87 in prelims) 9. Reona Aoki, Japan – 1:06.32
15. Abbey Harkin, Australia – 1:07.11 (1:06.86 in heats) 11. Martina Carraro, Italy – 1:06.56
16. Dominika Sztandera, Poland – 1:07.13 (1:06.42 in heats) 14. Lisa Angiolini, Italy – 1:07.03 (1:06.28 in prelims)

The women’s 50 breaststroke field is highlighted by none other than world record holder Ruta Meilutyte. Meilutyte is the two-time defending World Champion and set the world record twice at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships. Her world record entry time of 29.16 situates her about half a second ahead of the next nearest competitor. She is the clear favorite to challenge for the gold medal, and perhaps another world record, at this World Championship meet. She is also the defending champion in the 100-meter distance, as she posted the fastest time in the event since 2017 en route to Fukuoka gold.

World junior record holder Benedetta Pilato will also make the trip to Doha, and is the defending bronze medalist in the 50m race. Pilato has a rich history in this breaststroke distance, as she is the current world junior record holder and former world record holder. Pilato held the world record in this event from June of 2021 until Meilutyte equaled (and then broke) the record in Fukuoka.

Pilato has not touched her best 50 time since her record swim, and has a history of being at her best in only one of the sprint breaststroke events over the other in a given year. It is important to note, however, that Pilato posted a swift 29.58 on November 30th. She only just turned 19 a few days ago, so she is still very young and could be hungry to take her world record back.

In addition to her 50 capabilities, she is the World Champion in the 100m distance from the 2022 Worlds. She owns a best time of 1:05.70 in the event, and broke the World Cup record in Budapest this past October in 1:05.75. Doha could be the meet where she is finally at her best in the 50 and 100 at the same international meet.

Lara Van Niekerk of South Africa has been one of the most consistent swimmers in the 50 over the past two years. The South African star swept the sprint breaststroke events at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, securing a Games record en route to both victories. She also bagged a bronze medal at the 2022 Budapest World Championships in the 50 breast, and placed 4th at the 2023 edition in Fukuoka.

Van Niekerk finished the 2022 season with the third fastest 50 time of the year, and the 2023 season as the fourth fastest ranked swimmer. Given her ability to post a consistent 29-high to 30-flat swim at seemingly any meet, she will be a fierce contender for another World Championship medal in the event.

Her 100 has been much less consistent, but she has been fast enough to be a clear medal contender in the event. Van Niekerk placed 13th and 18th in this distance at the last two World Championship meets, but clocked 1:05.47 for Commonwealth gold between those two World Championship appearances. That time would have been good enough for gold at 2022 Worlds and silver in 2023, so she’s a clear medal contender if she’s on form in Doha.

Besides the big three, who are some of the other contenders to make the finals, or even snag a medal?

One of the big names is China’s Tang Qianting, who was 6th in the 50 breast at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships. She posted a time of 30.22 in the final, but her prelim effort of 30.08 would have earned her 4th in the final. At the Asian Games two months later, Tang snuck under the 30-second barrier for the first time in the heats. She hit the wall in 29.92, a new national record in the event. She backed it up with a slightly slower 29.96 gold medal winning swim in the final, cementing herself in Chinese swimming history as the first female to dip under 30.

Perhaps the only question mark with Tang is her history of posting faster times in this event in the earlier rounds. Just as she did at the 2023 Asian Games and 2023 World Championships, the same is true for the 2022 Budapest World Championships. This has been more of a recent issue for her, as she dropped time through the rounds at the 2021 Short Course World Championships to earn 100 breast gold.

Tang will also feature in the 100 breast, and owns a best time of 1:05.82. She has not focused on this event much over the past year, but will have to shift focus to the event for the Paris Olympics. She is entered with a time of 1:07.00.

Anita Bottazzo of Italy is another name to keep an eye on in the heats of the 50 breast. Last summer, Bottazzo hit a mark of 30.02 to win her prelim heat, before placing 5th in the final. Her time in the prelims would have been fast enough for bronze ahead of teammate Benedetta Pilato. Bottazzo has only been 30.76 so far this year, but has medal potential if she can crack her best time with a sub-30 performance in Doha.

Ireland’s Mona McSharry is another big name to watch out for in both the 50 and 100 distances. She placed 11th in Fukuoka to miss the 50 final, but has a best time of 30.29 in the event. A time of 30.29 should easily make the final in Doha if she is able to replicate the mark. In Fukuoka, McSharry fired off her best swims in the heats before swimming slower in the semi-finals in the 50 and 100 breast events. She placed 8th in the 100 breast final, but her prelim time (and national record) of 1:05.55 would’ve cleared the field for silver comfortably.

Two additional swimmers that have a seed time in the 30.3-range for the 50 are Veera Kivirinta (FIN) and Sophie Hansson (SWE). Hansson will contest both the 50 and 100, while Kivirinta is focusing on just the 50. Both swimmers posted those 30.3 marks in Fukuoka, and both look to have the ability to challenge for a finals spot in Doha.

Hansson is more known for her 100 speed, as she finaled at the Tokyo Olympics and the last two World Championship meets in that event. Her best time in the 100 (1:05.66) could challenge for Doha hardware, but she hasn’t quite matched her best since Tokyo.

Kivirinta on the other hand is a pure 50 specialist, and given this event is not contested at the Olympics, there is a good chance she could be all-in on a full taper to challenge for a national record. Finland’s national record is held by Ida Hulkko, who posted a time of 30.19 at the 2021 European Championships.

50 breaststroke 9th seeded entrant Dominika Sztandera of Poland is another name that should contend for the 50 final. She comes in with an entry time of 30.59 and has already been 30.61 this season. A time around that mark should earn her a berth in the final.

Besides all of the names mentioned above, 11 additional swimmers enter the meet with sub-31 entry times in the 50 breast.

There are 3 additional swimmers to mention for the 100 breast: Tes Schouten (NED), Siobhan Haughey (HKG), and Kate Douglass (USA). Both Schouten and Douglass have been more tuned to the 200 distance over the past year, but are still on a trajectory to challenge for the final. Schouten enters the meet as the 3rd seed, but several swimmers ranked below her have been faster than her 1:05.71 entry time.

Douglass recently clocked a best time of 1:06.67 at the Knoxville Pro Swim Series, and took out her 200 breast in 1:07.05 on the final day of that meet. It seems she has more room to drop than the 1:06.67 she produced, as she swam (and won) the 100 free just 10 minutes before that personal best performance. While her stroke is clearly more suited to the 200 distance, all signs post to her having the ability to swim around the 1:06-low range (if not a 1:05-high). It’s also notable that Douglass was not originally slated to swim this event when the initial U.S. roster was released, so her mind clearly changed after her recent personal best performance.

Haughey has broken onto the scene as more than just a freestyle threat over the past year, showcasing her freestyle range (50-400), breaststroke abilities, and even butterfly talents. She recently snagged the U.S. Open title in the 100 breast (1:06.05) in December, breaking the Hong Kong national record in the process. She enters the meet ranked 5th, but it is unclear if she will even swim the event due to its conflict with the 200 free.

50 Breast Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Ruta Meilutyte LTU 29.56 29.16
2 Benedetta Pilato ITA 29.58 29.30
3 Lara Van Niekerk RSA N/A 29.72
4 Tang Qianting CHN 29.92 29.92
5 Mona McSharry IRL 30.41 30.29
6 Anita Bottazzo ITA 30.76 30.02
7 Sophie Hansson SWE 30.68 30.31
8 Dominika Sztandera POL 30.61 30.59

Darkhorse: Letitia Sim of Singapore is another name to watch in this event. While she is not even seeded in the top 16, she has been on a tear as of late. More known for her 100 (1:06.36) and 200 (2:24.15) capabilities, her 50 (30.92) time has yet to quite catch-up. She took out her personal best 100 in 31.21, but swam 30.92 at the same meet (Japan Open) just a day later. It’s clear that she has more potential in the 50 distance, and it could earn her a berth in the Doha final if she continues to drop (as she has done in all her events over the past six months).

100 Breast Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Ruta Meilutyte LTU 1:06.70 1:04.35
2 Mona McSharry IRL 1:06.23 1:05.55
3 Benedetta Pilato ITA 1:05.75 1:05.70
4 Tes Schouten NED 1:06.29 1:05.71
5 Siobhan Haughey HKG 1:06.05 1:06.05
6 Lara Van Niekerk RSA N/A 1:05.47
7 Sophie Hansson SWE 1:07.24 1:05.66
8 Letitia Sim SGP 1:06.36 1:06.36

UPDATE: Kate Douglass recently spoke to USA Swimming and stated that she intends to not swim all six of her events. She noted that the 100 breast would be a likely scratch. Siobhan Haughey‘s coach, Tom Rushton, stated that she does intend to swim the 100 breast/200 free double. Our picks have been updated to reflect this new information.

The Longer Distance

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

By the numbers:

  • World Record: Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia – 2:17.55 (2023)
  • World Junior Record: Viktoria Gunes, Turkey – 2:19.64 (2015)
  • Championship Record: Rikke Moller Pedersen, Denmark – 2:19.11 (2013)
  • Defending Champion: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – 2:20.80
Returning Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships Absent Semifinalists – 2023 World Championships
2. Kate Douglass, United States – 2:21.23 1. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – 2:20.80
3. Tes Schouten, Netherlands – 2:21.63 4. Lilly King, United States – 2:22.25
6. Kotryna Teterevkova, Lithuania – 2:24.22 (2:24.12 in semis) 5. Thea Blomsterberg, Denmark – 2:22.42
7. Abbey Harkin, Australia – 2:24.55 (2:23.65 in semis) 8. Kelsey Wog, Canada – 2:25.21 (2:24.16 in semis)
11. Lisa Mamie, Switzerland – 2:24.84 9. Runa Imai, Japan – 2:24.68
12. Gabrielle Assis, Brazil – 2:25.56 (2:25.18 in prelims) 10. Ye Shiwen, China – 2:24.76
13. Sophie Hansson, Sweden – 2:25.63 14. Martina Carraro, Italy – 2:25.76
15. Mona McSharry, Ireland – 2:26.27
16. Macarena Ceballos, Argentina – 2:26.68 (2:26.18 in prelims)

The women’s 200 breast was set to be a showdown between the 2023 World Champion Tatjana Schoenmaker and the 2024 world leader Kate Douglass. However, Schoenmaker has recently pulled out of the meet, and specific reasons are unknown at this time. Schoenmaker has been swimming lights out, posting her two fastest 200 breast times since the Tokyo Olympics at the recent South African World Trials. There, she posted a pair of 2:20.3 swims in the 200 breast, times that were half a second faster than her winning effort from Fukuoka.

However, Douglass fired back at the Knoxville Pro Swim Series just a few weeks ago, posting a sizzling 2:19.30 in the event. Her swim obliterated her previous best time by two seconds, and lowered the decade old American record of Rebecca Soni (2:19.59).

With the showdown being canceled, the race will still showcase two of the best five active swimmers in the event: Douglass and Dutch star Tes Schouten. 2021 Olympic Champion and 2023 World Champion Schoenmaker, world record holder Evgeniia Chikunova, and American sub-2:20 swimmer (and 2022 World Champion) Lilly King will not make the trip to Doha.

Schouten will be a major medal contender in Doha, as she medaled last July in Fukuoka with a swift 2:21.63 effort. She lowered that time, and national record, at the Budapest World Cup stop in October (2:21.52). She continued to prove that this event is her main focus later in the year at the European Short Course Championships, winning by over three seconds in a time of 2:16.09. Although this Doha meet is in the long course format, her swim in Otopeni is further evidence of her forward-moving trajectory heading into Paris.

Kotryna Teterevkova, Abbey Harkin, and Sydney Pickrem are three additional names that could challenge for a podium spot.

Teterevkova was 6th at the Fukuoka Worlds and 5th in Budapest a year prior, and looks primed to move up with a slightly depleted field. As of late, she has been training with the Indiana Hoosiers under one of the best breaststroke coaches in the world, Ray Looze. She recently clocked a time of 2:24.22 at the U.S. Open in December, equaling the time she recorded in the Fukuoka final. Indiana swimmers are known to perform much better with a full taper, and assuming Doha is more of a target, she could be in store to near her 2:22.86 best time from 2022. If she matches that time, she is a safe bet to challenge for bronze.

Canadian Sydney Pickrem, who is more known for her 200 IM skills, enters the meet as the 4th fastest entrant. She recently won the 2023 Pan Am Games title in this event, stopping the clock in 2:23.39. She has been as fast as 2:22.63 in this event, which she logged all the way back at the 2019 Canadian World Championship Trials. If she can post a time somewhere between her best time and her winning time from the recent Pan Am Games, it should be a fun battle with Teterevkova for bronze.

Australian Abbey Harkin owns a best time of 2:23.59 in the event, which she recorded at the 2021 Australian Olympic Trials. If she is able to post a best time in the event, she will put herself in the conversation for a podium appearance.

Lisa Mamie of Switzerland is another name that must be mentioned. She enters the meet with an entry time of 2:24.84, but owns a best time of 2:22.05 from May of 2021. While she hasn’t quite neared her best time since then, she is a clear medal threat if she is able to swim in the 2:22-realm.

200 Breast Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Kate Douglass USA 2:19.30 2:19.30
2 Tes Schouten NED 2:21.52 2:21.52
3 Kotryna Teterevkova LTU 2:24.22 2:22.86
4 Sydney Pickrem CAN 2:23.39 2:22.63
5 Abbey Harkin AUS N/A 2:23.59
6 Lisa Mamie SUI N/A 2:22.05
7 Francesca Fangio ITA 2:24.19 2:23.06
8 Mona McSharry IRL 2:25.84 2:24.50

 

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Bill Lumberg
3 months ago

I think that Kate unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance to beat Ruta in the 100, nor do I think she will make the podium, but if she continues to do K Douglass things, she could snag a bronze. The 200, of course she can and will win gold.

Kevin
3 months ago

KD said on the most recent Kickset podcast that she might scratch the 100 breast, hopefully we get to she her swim it

Jackie O
3 months ago

My disappointment at not seeing Chikunova swimming in World Championship and Olympics is immeasurable.

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  Jackie O
3 months ago

I’m only disappointed because I wanted to see Douglass take her down.

Swimfast315
Reply to  Bill Lumberg
3 months ago

Maybe chikunova swim in paris
Or is it that we know for sure that she won’t swim?

Last edited 3 months ago by Swimfast315
KeithM
Reply to  Swimfast315
3 months ago

Nobody knows with definite certainty. But Salnikov has indicated that he thinks it’s unlikely Russia will have swimmers competing in Paris.

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  Swimfast315
3 months ago

I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t want Russia as a country to be recognized in any way on the world stage, but I also think that the athletes do not necessarily share the same genocidal feelings about other Nations as their leader. I struggle with it.

Aquajosh
3 months ago

SECs start the 20th. Is Mona McSharry still planning on swimming there too? That’s an awfully quick turnaround.

Steve Nolan
3 months ago

God I hope Haughey swims breast here.

Chris
Reply to  Steve Nolan
3 months ago

I reckon she’s testing the waters [pun intended] and seeing if she would have a capacity to replicate the (200 free & 100 breast) double in Paris.

Swimfast315
3 months ago

I think
50 breast 1Meilutyte 29,32 2pilato 3van nierkek
100 breast 1Meilutyte 1:05:14 2 schouten 3pilato
200 breast 1douglass 2:19:86 2schouten 3 Teterevkova

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  Swimfast315
3 months ago

Have to say… I think Doug goes 2:19 low and best time. She will swim the race the same way she swam it a few weeks ago. That said, if the time and travel mess her up, then maybe she wont crack the 2:20 mark.

PCB
3 months ago

Do we think the US swimmers are fully tapering for this meet?

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  PCB
3 months ago

I highly doubt it because I don’t think anyone going has a clear path to qualifying for the Olympics. If they could train straight through trials, then it would be a different story I think.

To me it would be a waste of time to fully train through Doha and skip tapering – you are at risk of missing the opportunity to race in an international finals setting. I bet most will have a “drop” taper, meaning they’re practicing near 100% until just a few days before the meet.

Last edited 3 months ago by RealSlimThomas
Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Douglass certainly has potential for a 1:05 in the 100 breast.

Tomek
Reply to  Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Her stroke is better suited for 200, she may win medal in 100 but I don’t think it would be gold