2024 Worlds Previews: Sjostrom Seeks Six-Peat in 50 Fly, Curzan Set for Battle With Pudar

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! 

Swedish star Sarah Sjostrom returns in search of a six-peat in the 50-meter butterfly — a feat accomplished only by Katie Ledecky in the 800 freestyle — but the 100 fly and 200 fly are wide open with all of last year’s podium finishers absent from this year’s races. 

Claire Curzan and Lana Pudar top the entry lists in the 100 fly and 200 fly, respectively, but anything can happen at this oddly-timed World Championships in Doha, Qatar. 

Women’s 50 Fly

By the Numbers

  • World record: 24.43 – Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), 2014
  • World junior record: 25.46 – Rikako Ikee (JPN), 2018
  • Championship record: 24.60 – Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), 2017
  • 2023 world champion: 24.77 – Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)

The field:

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds Absent Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds
  1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) – 24.77
  1. Zhang Yufei (CHN) – 25.05
4. Farida Osman (EGY) – 25.65
  1. Gretchen Walsh (USA) – 25.46
8. Melanie Henique (FRA) – 25.80 5. Torri Huske (USA) – 25.64
9. Anna Ntountounaki (GRE) – 25.82 6. Sara Juvenik (SWE) – 25.74
10. Neza Klancar (SLO) – 25.83 7. Rikako Ikee (JPN) – 25.78
11. Angeline Kohler (GER) – 25.88 15. Ai Soma (JPN) – 26.18
12. Katerine Savard (CAN) – – 25.98
13. Maaike de Waard (NED) – 26.02
14. Kim Busch (NED) – 26.14
16. Yu Yiting (CHN) – 26.27 

Who’s Medaling Behind Sjostrom?

It would be a miracle if Sjostrom didn’t claim her sixth consecutive 50 fly crown in Doha. At 30 years old, the world record holder is still in her prime. Not only did she improve her time from 2022 Worlds (24.95) to 2023 Worlds (24.77), but she went sub-25 seconds again (24.97) at the World Cup stop in Berlin last October. No one else in history has broken the 25-second barrier. 

The likeliest candidate to join Sjostrom in the sub-25 club, Zhang Yufei, is skipping Worlds this year after earning a silver medal in an Asian record of 25.05 last year. With reigning bronze medalist Gretchen Walsh also skipping Worlds this year, the remaining two podium spots are up for grabs behind Sjostrom. There’s an extra element of unpredictability as many swimmers haven’t contested the 50 fly so far this season because it’s not an Olympic event.

Kate Douglass, who hasn’t contested the 50 fly at a major meet, has the highest ceiling among Sjostrom’s challengers. The 22-year-old American enters with a personal-best time of 26.27 from her 50 split at U.S. Nationals last summer. Who knows what she can accomplish with a full taper under her belt? Her main obstacle might be her own versatility as she’s currently entered in six events (50 free, 100 free, 100 breast, 200 breast, 50 fly, and 200 IM). 

Fellow American Claire Curzan is seeded 6th with a 25.74 from U.S. Trials last June, but there’s reason to believe the 19-year-old will be much faster in Doha. She had been hospitalized with severe illness the week before U.S. Trials, and had clocked a personal-best 200 back (2:06.35) just a couple events before her 50 fly. Curzan has been as fast as 25.43 at the 2022 World Championships, where she placed 5th. 

Melanie Henique entered last year’s Worlds as a podium favorite after firing off a 25.24 at French Nationals, but she ended up placing 8th in 25.80. However, the 31-year-old posted a promising 25.69 at December’s Hortillons Meet that gives hope for a bounce-back performance this time around. Henique owns an impressive lifetime best of 25.17 from 2021.

Also looking to bounce back at this year’s Worlds is Maaike de Waard, a 27-year-old Dutchwoman who missed the Fukuoka final (26.02) after tallying a personal-best 25.62 at the 2022 European Championships. Like Henique, de Waard seems to be on track this season with a 25.74 at December’s Rotterdam Qualification Meet. 

Farida Osman should be hungry for a medal this year after finishing within two tenths of the podium last year in Fukuoka (25.62). The 29-year-old Egyptian has been as fast as 25.38 at 2022 Worlds, but her 100 fly performances this season at the U.S. Open (59.34) and the Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville (1:00.29, 26.99 split at 50) have not been very encouraging so far.

Keep an eye on 25-year-old South African Erin Gallagher, who will be competing at her first Worlds since 2019. Last August, she came out of nowhere to blaze a personal-best 25.66 at the World University Games, 2nd only behind only Zhang (25.20).

SwimSwam’s Picks – 50 Fly

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Sarah Sjostrom SWE 24.97 24.43
2 Kate Douglass USA N/A 26.27
3 Claire Curzan USA N/A 25.43
4 Melanie Henique FRA 25.69 25.17
5 Maaike de Waard NED 25.74 25.62
6 Erin Gallagher RSA N/A 25.66
7 Farida Osman EGY N/A 25.38
8 Yu Yiting CHN 26.07 25.71

Women’s 100 Fly

By the Numbers

The field:

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds Absent Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds
5. Angeline Kohler (GER) – 57.05
  1. Zhang Yufei (CHN) – 56.12
7. Brianna Throssell (AUS) – 57.34
  1. Maggie MacNeil (CAN) – 56.45
9. Louise Hansson (SWE) – 57.29
  1. Torri Huske (USA) – 56.61
10. Lana Pudar (BIH) – 57.34
  1. Emma McKeon (AUS) – 56.88
12. Anna Ntountounaki (GRE) – 57.97 6. Marie Wattel (FRA) – 57.13
13. Katerine Savard (CAN) – 58.18 8. Gretchen Walsh (USA) – 57.58
15. Amina Kajtaz (CRO) – 58.49 11. Wang Yichun (CHN) – 57.74
16. Helena Bach (DEN) – 58.54 14. Ai Soma (JPN) – 58.27

Curzan’s Redemption Tour

Just about seven months after missing the 2023 U.S. Worlds team by the slimmest of margins, Curzan arrives in Doha as the favorite to claim her first individual world title in the 100 fly. Her time of 56.61 from U.S. Trials last year — when she was hospitalized with severe illness the week before the meet — would have tied Torri Huske for bronze last year. Fortunately for Curzan, the top four finishers from last year — Zhang (56.12), Maggie MacNeil (56.45), Huske (56.61), and Emma McKeon (56.88) — will not be in Doha. 

With Douglass not contesting the 100 fly, Curzan’s toughest challenger could be 18-year-old Bosnian standout Lana Pudar. She got slower as the summer went on last year, but it’s hard to blame her given how busy her racing schedule was. Pudar clocked a 56.95 to win European Juniors in early July before placing 10th at Worlds later that month in 57.34. A couple months later, she won the world junior title in 57.77. 

The top returning finisher from last year’s Worlds final is 23-year-old German Angelina Kohler, who’s aiming to break 57 seconds for the first time in Doha. At last October’s World Cup stop in Berlin, she placed 2nd in the 100 fly with a time of 57.18. That was only about a tenth off her personal-best 57.05 from Worlds last year, where she placed 5th. 

Alexandria Perkins established herself as a podium contender in Doha after blasting a personal-best 57.48 at December’s Queensland Championships. The 23-year-old Australian edged 28-year-old veteran Brianna Throssell (57.53) by just .05 seconds in that race. Throssell placed 7th at Worlds last year in 57.43, about half a second shy of the Aussie’s personal-best 56.95 from the 2022 World Championships. 

South Africa’s Erin Gallagher is a wild card in the 100 fly, just like the 50. The 25-year-old’s lifetime best stands at 57.64 from the World University Games last August, but she hasn’t contested the event so far this season.

Other veterans such as 27-year-old Swede Louise Hansson (57.43 at Rotterdam Qualification Meet in December), 28-year-old Greece native Anna Ntountounaki (12th at Worlds last year in 57.97), and 30-year-old Canadian Katerine Savard (13th at Worlds last year in 58.18) should also be vying for a spot in the final this year. 

Note that while the American Douglass is entered in the 50 fly, she’s not entered in this 100 fly, which may be one of her Olympic Trials events in June.

SwimSwam’s Picks – 100 Fly

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Claire Curzan USA 56.76 56.20
2 Lana Pudar BIH 58.26 56.95
3 Angelina Kohler GER 57.18 57.05
4 Alexandria Perkins AUS 57.48 57.48
5 Louise Hansson SWE 57.43 56.22
6 Brianna Throssell AUS 57.53 56.96
7 Erin Gallagher RSA N/A 57.64
8 Anna Ntountounaki GRE 59.71 57.25

Women’s 200 Fly

By the Numbers

  • World record: 2:01.81 – Liu Zige (CHN), 2009
  • World junior record: 2:04.06 – Summer McIntosh (CAN), 2023
  • Championship record: 2:03.41 – Jessicah Schipper (AUS), 2009
  • 2023 world champion: 2:04.06 – Summer McIntosh (CAN)

The field:

Returning Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds Absent Semifinalists – 2023 Worlds
4. Lana Pudar (BIH) – 2:07.05
  1. Summer McIntosh (CAN) – 2:04.06
6. Helena Bach (DEN) – 2:07.15
  1. Elizabeth Dekkers (AUS) – 2:05.46
7. Laura Stephens (GBR) – 2:07.27
  1. Regan Smith (USA) – 2:06.58
12. Maria Jose Mata (MEX) – 2:09.33 5. Airi Mitsui (JPN) – 2:07.15
13. Boglarka Kapas (HUN) – 2:09.56 8. Lindsay Looney (USA) – 2:07.90
16. Anja Crevar (SRB) – 2:11.65 9. Hiroko Makino (JPN) – 2:08.40
10. Emily Large (GBR) – 2:08.66
11. Yu Liyan (CHN) – 2:08.78
14. Abbey Connor (AUS) – 2:10.35
15. Zsuzsanna Jakabos (HUN) – 2:11.23

Pudar Poised for Podium

Pudar should have two main challengers trying to keep her from claiming her first LCM Worlds medal (she took bronze in the SCM 200 fly in 2021). She was within half a second of the podium last year in Fukuoka with her 4th-place finish (2:07.05) behind bronze medalist Regan Smith (2:06.58). 

Pudar comes in as the favorite this year with her personal-best 2:06.26 from Euro Juniors last July, but Denmark’s Helena Bach (2:07.15) and Britain’s Laura Stephens (2:06.62) aren’t far behind with their lifetime bests. Bach tied for 5th last year in Fukuoka with a new Danish record while Stephens took 7th in 2:07.27. 

Bach showed impressive consistency by clocking sub-2:08 times in prelims, semifinals, and finals. Pudar, by comparison, went slower in last year’s Worlds final (2:07.05) than she did in semis (2:06.60). 

SwimSwam’s Picks – 200 Fly

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Lana Pudar BIH 2:08.19 2:06.26
2 Helena Bach DEN 2:08.74 2:07.15
3 Laura Stephens GBR N/A 2:06.62
4 Boglarka Kapas HUN 2:09.55 2:06.50
5 Ma Yonghui CHN 2:09.20 2:09.13
6 Dalma Sebestyen HUN 2:10.09 2:08.97
7 Maria Jose Mata MEX 2:10.25 2:09.31
8 Sujin Park KOR 2:09.36 2:08.70

 

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Eli
5 months ago

klinker

Splash
5 months ago

So Hansson has a quicker SB and PB than both Perkins and Pudar but will finish behind them? She also won Europeans SC recently beating Kohler.

gitech
5 months ago

My predictions
50 fly
🥇 sjostrom
🥈henique
🥉osman/curzan/douglass

100 fly
🥇Köhler (i think she Will go down her Mark 56.5)
🥈hansson
🥉Curzan (pudar)

200 fly (same)
🥇pudar
🥈bach
🥉stephens

Last edited 5 months ago by gitech

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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