2023 World Aquatics Swimming World Cup – Athens
The second leg of three World Aquatics Swimming World Cups will kick off tomorrow, Friday the 13th, in Athens, Greece. This will be the first time that Greece hosts a World Cup, and the stacked field from Berlin has only grown. As reported earlier this week, Canada’s Maggie MacNeil and Rebecca Smith are entered, as well as some of Greece’s finest: Kristian Gkolomeev, Anna Ntountounaki, and Stergios-Marios Bilas.
You can view all of the entries here, but we’ve pulled out some of the more interesting storylines below for this meet. Several of these will overlap with those posted in the Berlin storylines article. Just consider them a sequel.
Qin you believe it!
After sweeping the breaststrokes at Worlds in Fukuoka, and sweeping the breaststrokes at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, Chinese star Qin Haiyang made it a perfect three for three in Berlin last weekend. All three swims represented new World Cup records. While clearly the best breaststroker in the World this year, Qin has proven remarkable consistency carrying over the success across multiple months.
Despite swimming against a field that contained the World Record holder, Adam Peaty, and the three silver medalists from Worlds this year, Nic Fink, Arno Kamminga, and Nicolo Martinenghi, Qin won the 100 breast by over a full second. What’s even more remarkable is that his winning time in Berlin,57.69, equaled the time he swam to win gold at Worlds, a time that also equals the Asian record.
Qin, unsurprisingly, finds himself as the top seed in all three breaststroke disciplines and, facing pretty much the same field as in Berlin, enters as the favorite to not only sweep again but to stay atop the prize money leaderboard.
No such thing as too much racing
Qin is not the only swimmer who raced at the Asian Games and made the trip to Berlin. While not atop their respective leaderboard, fellow Asian Games medalists, China’s Zhang Yufei and Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey, sit in 2nd and 3rd behind only Australia’s Kaylee McKeown in the prize money rankings.
Zhang, fresh off of sweeping the fly events in Hangzhou, won two out of three in Berlin, only being denied the title in the 50 fly, by the sprint queen herself, Sarah Sjostrom. She was only .08 behind the Swede, a much closer margin than the .28 difference between the pair in Fukuoka.
Haughey, for her part, has only somehow improved over the course of the summer/early fall. In Fukuoka, she placed 2nd in the 100 free with a time of 52.49. Two months later, she set a new continental record in a time of 52.17. Last weekend she further lowered that time setting a new World Cup record and new Asian record at 52.02, a swim that makes her the #3 performer of all time.
While both have been swimming lights out, and nothing suggests that they won’t continue this form into this weekend’s meet in Athens, the pair will have a rough road ahead if they hope to catch McKeown.
The addition of Canada’s Maggie MacNeil and Sweeden’s Louise Hansson adds some competition in the 100 fly for Zhang, especially if MacNeil, who is entered to swim at the Pan-Ams, is using this meet as a taper meet. Zhang would also have to overcome Sjostrom in the 50 if she hopes to go three for three in the scoring.
As for Haughey, who is entered in the 50/100/200/400 free, the difficulty in improving upon her wins in the 100 and 200 free from Berlin lies in the 400 free, where New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather enters as the new World Cup record holder and holds a six-second advantage in the seeding.
All Quiet on the Backstroke Fronts
I may rue writing these words, but it seems a certain lock for McKeown to repeat her performance and remain atop the leaderboard when the dust settles after this weekend. She swept the backstrokes in Berlin and added a win in the 200 IM. Her margin of victory in the 50 back was over half a second (0.51), a margin that equaled that in her win in the 200 IM. Her victory in the 100 back was by over 2 full seconds.
With only three events counting towards the prize money scoreboard, McKeown can “afford” to be touched out in one event and still have the ability to top the podium in three of them. McKeown publicly stated, “It’s not about the money,” but if she can keep the form that led to set three World Cup records in Berlin, then she will be well on her way to making a tidy paycheck at the end of the circuit.
Of the races that seem to be the closest for an upset, I’d say the 200 IM tops the list as it falls on the last day of competition and after the 200 backstroke in the session. Canada’s Sydney Pickrem, who finished runner-up to McKeown, would appear to be the biggest threat but is entered in six events over the weekend (100/200 free, 50/100/200 breast. 200 IM).
New to Athens
The second stop will see several new faces appear on the circuit, some of whom could throw a wrench into the leaderboard rankings. The aforementioned MacNeil is scheduled to swim the 50s free, back, and fly, as well as the 100 fly, an event in which she is the reigning Olympic champion. Her highest seeding is in said event, where she finds herself behind the US’s Torri Huske and China’s Zhang. Also joining the field and making the 100 fly a much more competitive event are Sweeden’s Louise Hansson, Greece’s Anna Ntountounaki, and fellow Canadian Rebecca Smith, all three of whom are seeded amongst the top 10.
On the men’s side, South Africa’s Pieter Coetze joins the party. Coetze, not to be confused with fellow South African Ryan Coetzee, will contest the three backstroke races. Coetze, a triple medalist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, finds himself seeded in the top three of all three races. The entry lists can be deceiving, however, as the surprise 200-back winner from Berlin, Italy’s Thomas Ceccon, is entered with no time.
Host nation hopes of medals have been boosted by the appearance of Kristian Gkolomeev, who will race just two events: the 50s free and fly. Ranked higher in the free, Gkolomeev at the #4 seed, will need to take on the likes of Michael Andrew, Szebasztian Szabo, and the 50 winner from Berlin, Isaac Cooper.
Shake-Up in the women’s breaststrokes
Despite two of the three World Cup records falling in Women’s breaststroke events, the field has somehow only grown stronger. While Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte will certainly be the favorite in the 50 breast after having set a new record of 29.56 last weekend, the 100 breast will certainly be more competitive, especially in light of the absence of all three medalists from Berlin. Estonia’s Eneli Jefimova, Singapore’s Letitia Sim, and Poland’s Dominika Sztandera are all absent from the entry list.
Hoping to fill those spots are Sweeden’s Sophie Hansson, who enters as the 4th seed in the 100, and Denmark’s Thea Blomsterberg, who enters as the 6th seed Hansson is more oriented towards the sprints and finds herself as the closest entrant to Meilutyte, albeit more than a second back, while Blomsterberg enters as the 3rd seed in 200, behind new World Cup record holder Tes Schouten and recently returned Aussie Jenna Strauch, who swam 2:23.60 in Berlin, a time that would have placed 6th in Fukuoka.
- In my opinion, arguably the most exciting event(s) on the world stage are currently the women’s sprint freestyles. With the addition of the Canadian pair of MacNeil and Smith as well as L. Hansson, some big names could miss the finals. It will also be interesting to see how the Campbell sisters fare racing back-to-back weekends after an extended time away from competition.
- What will Michael Andrew swim? In Berlin, the entries showed that Andrew would swim the 50s of free, fly, and breast as well as the 200 IM, yet he found himself atop the podium in the 50 back and 100 fly. In the Athens entry list, as of the latest published copy, Andrew is entered in the same four original events. Only time will tell what he actually swims.
- While the circuit is only swum in long course once every 4 years, so the number of chances to break records is low, the Berlin stop saw 13 events with new World Cup records. It will be interesting to see how many more are rewritten over the course of the next few days, and if they are, will any of them be in new events? Qin, McKeown, and Haughey, the three big stars of the meet, have broken eight between them, but can anyone else step up and break multiple or break new ones?