This weekend saw the conclusion of the 2019 International Swimming League’s regular season with the European derby meet in London, England. There, Energy Standard and the London Roar finalized their tickets to the Las Vegas finale that will be held on December 20th and 21st in Las Vegas, USA.
Much like we did last week after the U.S. derby, we wanted to look at the athletes whose stars are glowing much brighter in the ISL format than they have in the traditional international schedule. The ISL really shifts the dynamics of what it means to be a ‘star.’ For example, swimmers like Katie Ledecky and Adam Peaty, who are about as big-as-big-can-be in the traditional world of swimming, are more solid top-end performers in the ISL format than they are dominant must-have names on a roster.
On the other end of the spectrum are athletes who haven’t yet, or might not ever, win an Olympic medal, but who are proving to be among the most important swimmers for their teams in the ISL format.
The reasons for this morphing varies depending on the athlete. For some, the ISL might simply coincide with a breakout in their careers. For others, they might specialize in 50 meter races that aren’t held in the Olympics but that carry full points in the ISL format. For others still, they might carry a special ability to ‘race’ full speed multiple times in a session at a level relative to their peers that doesn’t show up over an 8 day World Championship or Olympic Games.
For others the explanation is more simple: they are very good in short course, and short course meters are now getting more attention than they have in recent memory (as is evidenced by Peaty going from “short course is dead to me” to “all-in” on the ISL and the London Roar).
We knew that Katinka Hosszu would be a huge point scorer, which a he’s proven with an MVP trophy in Budapest. We knew that Vlad Morozov would rack up big points with his all-4-strokes ability over 50 meters.
But below, we look at a list of 5 swimmers from European teams who have been brilliant for their teams in this format and who, at least in periods where the ISL is the dominant force in the sport, must now enter our lexicons as bona fied stars.
1. Kayla Sanchez, Energy Standard
This feels very much like a ‘just not yet’ waiting to happen, as Sanchez is next-in-line for a Canadian women’s swimming group that has begun to pump out star-after-star with regularity over this Olympic cycle. After solid performances in Energy Standard’s first two meets of the season, Sanchez bounced into prominence this weekend in London. There were a few signs pointing at her pending stardom. For example, in the women’s 400 free relay, she split 51.60 on a rolling (but slow) relay start. Sandwiched between two legends, Sarah Sjostrom (51.45) and Femke Heemskerk (51.44) in Energy Standard’s winning relay, the 18-year old held her own. Individually, her big pop came in the 200 free, where she won in 1:52..72 – beating by half-a-second a list of stars including Femke Heemskerk, Federica Pellegrini, Emma McKeon, and Great Britain’s new National Record holder Freya Anderson. She can range from 50 to 200 in the freestyles, and has a very good 200 IM as well (she was the Canadian SCM record holder until last weekend). Sanchez was a relay-only swimmer at the World Championships after scratching the 50 free, and that led to a pair of bronze medals. In Tokyo, she’s going to have serious ambitions in individual races as well.
2. Guilherme Guido, London Roar
It’s not often that a 32-year old gets their big break, but that’s been the case in the 2019 ISL season so far for the Brazilian Guido. This season, he’s undefeated in the 50 backstroke, and has the 3 best times in the ISL (and world). He’s also held his own in the 100 backstroke, winning in Lewisville and Budapest, and has the ISL’s top time in that event as well.
Guido didn’t even advance out of the semi-finals in the 50 backstroke at this summer’s World Championships, and now he’s arguably the league’s best sprint backstroker. The difference for him might be “none of the above” – the Brazilians credit his sudden breakout to something different altogether: he doesn’t run into the laneropes as much as he used to.
Whatever gets it done.
3. Breno Correia, Aqua Centurions
Brazilian Breno Correia was 8th in the finals of the 100 free at the World Championships, and couldn’t even make it out of prelims in the 200 free. But here, in the ISL, he’s become one of the really cool stories. At the league’s debut in Indianapolis in October, Aqua subbed him in to the 200 free for Travis Mahoney, and he went on to win that race.
A week later, he won again.
To be fair, his winning times were the 2 slowest winning times of the season, but this is a league about placement, and in a high-pressure situation, he stepped up for a struggling Aqua team that finished 4th in all of its meets this season.
4. Alexander Graham, London Roar
The only man to beat Breno Correia in a 200 free this season, Australian Alexander Graham is one of a number of young Australian swimmers who have really come through this season. He has some World Championship medals on relays, but didn’t swim any individual events this summer in Gwangju.
In the ISL season, he won all 3 of his 200 freestyle swims, which were the 3 best winning times in that event of the ISL season. His big statements came in Lewisville and Budapest, when he comfortably beat, among others, his countrymate Clyde Lewis – who was the 2nd-fastest swimmer in the world in long course last season.
This will be one of those opportunities to learn about whether success in the ISL can springboard a swimmer into a successful Olympic season. With Chalmers and Lewis ahead of him, the Olympic team will not be easy to crack in the 200 free.
5. Elijah Winnington, London Roar
Winnington was one of the most dominant junior-aged swimmers in Australia of his generation, winning 26 National Age Championships medals in his home country, as well as setting a World Junior Record in the 200 free in 2018.
He made the Australian Commonwealth Games team, and in 2019 was his first Australian open National Title in the 400 free.
But he wasn’t on the roster for Gwangju. Australians have been waiting for him to come through and show his mettle on the international stage.
His story very much echoes that of Graham (see #4). In Lewisville and Budapest, he beat out his countrymate Jack McLoughlin, who was 6th in this event at the World Championships. Winnington also has the 2 fastest times in the world this season, being the only swimmer to dip under 3:39. Like Graham, Winnington will have to tip a Worlds finalist to make the Olympic team (McLoughlin or silver medalist Mack Horton). But, could the ISL be the confidence he needs to get there?