Americans Show Incredible Improvement From Kazan To Budapest

The U.S. team had a relatively disastrous showing at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan.

Yes, they finished atop the medal standings for the 7th consecutive time, but the addition of two new events (mixed relays added in 2015) was all that saved them from their lowest medal total since the stroke 50s were introduced in 2001.

The Australians were just one shy of their gold medal tally, which, at 8, was their lowest total since 1994 when the Chinese team reigned supreme amid a doping controversy.

Doubts heading into the 2016 Olympics were quickly silenced in Rio, as the Americans steamrolled their way to 16 gold and 33 total medals. Both numbers were head and shoulders above their 2015 World Championship totals, including doubling their gold count, with ten fewer events on the schedule.

The Olympic performance made the dominant American showing last week in Budapest no surprise, but looking at the difference between their 2015 and 2017 performances is quite remarkable.

The Americans set a new record with 38 total medals, surpassing their 1978 and 2007 marks of 36 (though the three can be considered equal with no mixed relays in ’78 and ’07). Their 18 gold medals ranks 3rd all-time, trailing their 20 from ’78 and ’07.

In 2015, they edged the Australians by just one gold and seven total medals, while 2017 saw them a staggering 14 gold medals ahead of Great Britain (4). In terms of total medals, their 38 trounced the next three highest teams who managed ten.

Where exactly were the improvements made from two years ago? In terms of gold medals, relays played a major role.

After three gold and six total medals in Kazan, they won seven of the eight in Budapest. Failing to final in the men’s 400 free and being 1.5 seconds outside of a medal in the women’s 400 medley just two years prior, they answered with golds medals in both, including an emphatic world record in the latter.

Individually, they went from a total of eleven medalists up to seventeen, but the biggest improvement came in terms of swimmers who won multiple individual medals.

Just four did so in 2015, led by Katie Ledecky‘s sweep of the 200 through 1500 freestyles, and Matt GreversKevin Cordes and Missy Franklin all chipped in with two apiece.

In Budapest that number increased to ten, with 23 of their 30 individual medals coming from that group. Ledecky once again led the charge with four, while Caeleb Dressel had three golds and Grevers led a group of eight with two.

In terms of the specific strokes, they saw the biggest improvement in freestyle, with the emergence of Simone ManuelLeah Smith and Dressel catapulting them from seven to twelve medals. Lilly King and Katie Meili led the charge for the breaststrokers as their total doubled to six, and the duo of Grevers and Ryan Murphy, along with Kathleen Baker and Jacob Pebley, improved the backstroke total by four medals up to seven.

Butterfly continues to be their weakest stroke in terms of medals (sounds weird, I know), going from just one in 2015 to two in 2017. However, Dressel’s gold in the men’s 100 was emphatic, and he’ll be a medal favorite in the sprints for a long time. Kelsi Worrell will also be a major player in the women’s sprint fly events for the foreseeable future, just getting things started with her bronze in the 100. The women’s 200 is still in a state of flux, as Hali Flickinger grows into the role previously assumed by Cammile Adams (who took silver in Kazan). The men’s 200 will work itself out soon enough, with many right on the cusp of medalling.

Chase Kalisz showed us the men’s IM events were in good hands despite the retirement of Michael Phelps and the absence of Ryan Lochte, while Madisyn Cox snagged a medal in the competitive women’s medley scene where Katinka Hosszu reigns supreme.

There are really two reasons why the U.S. team saw such a big turnaround from Kazan to Budapest. Number one, the qualification criteria.

The fact swimmers qualified for the 2015 World Championships in the summer of 2014 definitely played a role in their debacle, as it seemed to be a combination of not having the fastest available swimmers that year (many were faster at Nationals in San Antonio), and those competing perhaps being lulled into a bit of a false sense of security with no Trials meet to keep them on their toes. With the 2017 Trials taking place less than a month out from the Championships, all swimmers were forced to perform-or-die in Indianapolis in order to get to Budapest.

Another major reason is that it simply seems many of the swimmers on this 2017 team are just coming into their prime. The likes of Dressel, King, Manuel and Kalisz were all impressive last summer (heck, King and Manuel won individual golds), but really came into their own in Budapest and made some very big time improvements.

Though the qualification process will be the same for the 2019 Championships, don’t expect a repeat of Kazan. All swimmers and their coaches who qualify to swim in Gwangju next summer are well aware of what happened in 2015, and you’d expect they’ll be sure that they/their swimmers are ready when the time comes. Plus, this young, supremely talented core of the team doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Full steam ahead to 2020.

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Jim C
5 years ago

Am I missing something? The US had the most gold medals, most silver medals, and most overall medals in Kazan. It seems to me that we should want a repeat of that in 2019.

expert coach
5 years ago

the reasons for the difference is obvious. the year after an olympics is so much different than the year before. i don’t even have to go into it.

5 years ago

Not truly on-subject, but is the World’s Team training camp and travel schedule similar to an Olympic schedule? And, speaking of 2019, will the team that will be selected in the summer of 2018 have a chance to have some mini-camps or retreats prior to their longer camp before going to Korea?

Where will the staging camp be for Tokyo 2020? The team will have to get established somewhere so they can get past the jet lag (one day of recovery per one time zone changed). I imagine that an early part of the staging camp will be in Hawaii, because that is 6 hours closer to Tokyo than Omaha. Then, what about when they get there? Maybe they… Read more »

5 years ago

I understand the reasoning, but I think it is sad not to give young swimmers the chance to have a breakout year and qualify for Worlds, like Dakota Luther, Regan Smith, and Justin Ress did this year.

Greg Brance
5 years ago

So why no mention of the fact the 2015 Men’s team was deliberately handicapped by the exclusion of the GOAT because of his DUI?

Reply to  Greg Brance
5 years ago

He deserved to miss out on that team

Reply to  Greg Brance
5 years ago

He wasn’t on the 2017 team. Didn’t seem to hamper them then.

5 years ago

Wait… so the qualification for the 2019 US Worlds team will take place in the summer of 2018?
I just puked all over the floor at the thought of this.

Reply to  75M FREE
5 years ago

75M FREE – this has been the case for at least the last two quads!

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Bummer! So much can change in 12 months, especially for a country that keeps looking for opportunities for the youth to rise to the occasion. Those rockstar teens are a year younger at the Trials…

Reply to  75M FREE
5 years ago

do they explain why they do this? its so bizarre. do other countries do the same?

Chia Pet
Reply to  lilaswimmer
5 years ago

National Team Directors have explained this many times.

#1- Avoiding the double taper a year out from the Olympics provides a bigger base for when Olympians do have to double taper for Trials/ Olympics.

#2- Giving as many swimmers as possible international experience the 3rd year of the quad. Between Worlds, WUGs, and Pan Ams, lots of Americans get an international meet. Some Pan Am swimmers from 2015- Kelsi Worrell, Katie Meili, Olivia Smoliga, Jimmy Feigen, Allison Schmitt, Amanda Weir, Gunnar Bentz, etc. Resting for just one meet in 2015, even though it wasn’t Worlds, seemed to pay off with all of those swimmers who came back from Rio with medals.

Seems to be working for the US, who… Read more »

Reply to  Chia Pet
5 years ago

Some of the swimmers you mentioned (Worrell and Smoliga at least) swam NCAA Championships in both 2015 and 2016. Would it be safe to assume they were tapered for those meets as well?

With that in mind, Manuel, Dressel, King, Baker, Worrell, Kalisz, etc. were all hugely successful in their 2nd double taper in two years plus swimming NCAA.

I am no expert, but it seems like swimmers with less international experience might benefit from experiencing a double taper in the year leading up to OT and the main event.

Chia Pet
Reply to  tolaforlife
5 years ago

You will always find exceptions to everything. I would argue that the system in place better prepares American swimmers than any other country.

As for the swimmers you mentioned performing better at Worlds this year- Across the board, swimmers swam better at Worlds, not just the Americans. In some events, the gold medal time from last year would not have made the podium at Budapest. I personally think that has more to do with a better venue, better facilities (no sewage running down dormitory walls, food better than McDonalds, warm up pools that were not green, etc), and swimmers racing finals at 6:00 PM rather than 1:00 AM.

Reply to  Chia Pet
5 years ago

I fully agree this was a better meet than at the Olympics, but that was not my point. Relative to their peers, the swimmers mentioned performed at an incredibly high level despite having had two years of double tapers in a row (plus NCAA both years for many of them).

I don’t doubt that there are some swimmers who benefit from tapering only once, but why take away from those with the hot hand in the pre-Olympic year in order to cater for those few. Using Phelps as an example, he probably benefitted from only tapering once in 2015 but maybe he also benefitted from taking a year off from Worlds and swimming fast out of the spotlight. Let… Read more »

Reply to  75M FREE
5 years ago

Equally puke inducing is the fact that semis and finals sessions will likely be at 3 am !!!!

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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