Forged in the Embers: What Did the 2024 Worlds Performance Mean for Team USA?

2024 WORLD AQUATIC CHAMPIONSHIPS

After the 2023 calamity that saw Team USA miss the top of the medals table at the World Championships for the first time since 2001, 2024 was a bounce-back year for the Americans.

They won 8 gold medals among 20 total, even with an abbreviated team, placing them ahead of China (7/11) and Australia (3/16) for both most gold medals and most total medals.

The meet didn’t mean everything to everyone. Australia’s momentum toward Paris certainly wasn’t harmed by the fact that the Dutch women beat their 400 free relay (when the Australians had to use a breaststroker on their third leg).

But for the swimmers who had something to prove, it meant a lot. And for Team USA, there are a lot of swimmers with a lot of things to prove in 2024.

Kate Douglass proved that she is a bona fide international, long course star by setting the American Record in the 50 free (23.91), winning the 200 IM in a personal best (2:07.05), and taking silver in the 200 breast (2:20.91). We know Douglass can swim fast anytime, anywhere, but she is still doubted globally as a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Two straight World titles in the 200 IM seems to belie that sentiment, though the first half is increasingly true. She became just the second American woman in history to win individual medals in three different disciplines at the World Championships (after the indomitable Tracy Caulkins in 1978).

She also continued to bring a stabilizing force to the American relays. While the women didn’t race most of their relays, she was very fast in the mixed events, and should give the US some confidence heading into the Paris Olympics. They’re still not Australia, but they’ve got at least one reliable part to build around who has been good now for two straight meets.

Her partner in those events was Claire Curzan, who had a massive bounce-back after an ER visit kept her out of the 2023 World Championships. She swept the 50-100-200 backstrokes, won silver in the 100 fly, and also picked up a pair of relay medals.

With lots of chatter about whether the 19-year-old’s career had peaked, she declared affirmatively, as the Swimmer of the Meet and the top money earner, that it had not. Her schedule may have been too big, so she’ll have to choose wisely in June at the Olympic Trials, but her times were good. Her 58.29 in the 100 back would have missed the podium at last year’s Worlds by .04 seconds. Her 2:05.77 in the 200 back would have won bronze.

At a minimum, she keeps the pressure on American backstrokers Katharine Berkoff and Regan Smith and American butterfliers Torri Huske and Gretchen Walsh. Getting her on the Olympic team is crucial for the American – like Douglass, she gives them a ton of flexibility as the meet wares on to choose the hot-hands for relays, which is more important now than maybe ever for Team USA.

They anchored the mixed medley in splits of 56.54 (fly – Curzan) and 52.34 (free – Douglass), and that mixed medley, even with no Ryan Murphy, was about as fast as the one they swam at Worlds last year.

The leadoff leg of that relay was Hunter Armstrong, who split 53.07 there and also won the 100 individually in 52.68. That time was only a tenth shy of what he went for bronze at last year’s World Championships.

For an American men’s team that needs any good news, his continued progression was some good news.

30-year-old Nic Fink, meanwhile, continues to hold on to his late-breaking peak form. Right now, he looks like the single most-important lynchpin for Team USA, as Michael Andrew’s continued struggles doesn’t leave a lot of depth in the breaststroke events for the Americans.

Carson Foster, who faces the juggernaut that is Leon Marchand in Paris, had a mixed bag of results. There are two ways we can choose to remember his meet: getting run-down by Finlay Knox of Canada in the 200 IM, a race Foster should have won, and finishing 4th in the 400 IM, or his relay splits of 47.83 and 1:43.94 in the 100 and 200 freestyle respectively.

We know Foster is faster than a 4:12 in the 400 IM – and the fact that he can split 1:43.94 in the 200 free while so far off his best in the IM races is a mind-melt.

There were some unexpected swims too, like Rachel Klinker going 2:07.70 in the semi-finals of the 200 fly to add one more name to an increasingly-deep domestic field in that event; Piper Enge made a final in the 50 breaststroke in her first big senior international meet;

It wasn’t a perfect meet for the Americans. Michael Andrew only winning one medal (50 fly silver) in four shots is less than hoped. Shaine Casas did not exude confidence in what he has to offer this summer. A big women’s 400 medley relay streak came to an end (they had won four straight).

But there was a lot more positive than negative out of the Americans in the results. It feels like it’s been a while since we could say that about Team USA coming out of a major international competition, and that sort of trend can weigh on the collective psyche of a ‘team’ – especially one that just watched the country’s most reliable performer Katie Ledecky lose in the 800 free for the first time in 13 years.

Did these World Championships matter? I think coming out of the meet, the energy in the swimming community is that they mattered less than other World Championships with more complete fields, but that the lack of some stars and superstars didn’t completely negate their significance.

And maybe that’s what Team USA needed. A medium-pressure event to pick up some medals, grab some best times, and build some confidence heading toward Paris. Not a legacy ‘forged in fire,’ but instead one forged in the smoldering coals, the embers, waiting for some tinder to reignite the flames. That’s what this small squad has given to their teammates – a break in the narrative of a Team USA doom-spiral, a reason to be positive and optimistic, and something to feel good about ahead of this summer’s much bigger festivities.

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Col. Trautman
2 months ago

Brett Hawke, it’s not too late, take control of Michael Andrews training for the next few months before trials.

JohnCena
2 months ago

Kate Douglass v. Summer McIntosh in the 200 IM would come down to the freestyle leg. And both have very good freestyles.

Kate has one flaw in her 200 IM and it’s the second 25 of the backstroke. She seems to noticeably slow down and the field catches her.

Kate is known for her fantastic finishes, so Kate and Summer will be sprinting to the wall.

We saw Summer race Alex Walsh and Alex couldn’t match Summer’s freestyle.

Greeny
Reply to  JohnCena
2 months ago

No sure why Kaylee McKeown is not considered in 200IM for gold times are not far off from Douglass

VA Steve
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

Anyone who discounts her or Alex Walsh is foolish.

Tanner-Garapick-Oleksiak-McIntosh
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

Kaylee is certainly in the mix for the 200IM gold in Paris. Less than one second separate’s the top five contenders in this event.

Sub13
Reply to  Tanner-Garapick-Oleksiak-McIntosh
2 months ago

Less than 0.3 separates the top 4

Tanner-Garapick-Oleksiak-McIntosh
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

Pretty incredible! We have the makings of a brilliant final if things work out.

John26
2 months ago

Say you will about Brett Hawke, but he definitely has been right that America is struggling to find a male super star right now, with Dressel on the sidelines.

For a variety of reasons, the 20-25 year old generation (looking at Foster, Casas, Andrew) are full of medal potential and will likely struggle a single gold due to international competition and/or struggles/consistency issues of their own.

I think we can all agree that if they all swam to their potential, the US COULD have three 1:54 200IMs simultaneously, two more 50low 100flies, a 57 100breastroke, and someone with world leading (and possibly world record) potential in the backstrokes, and a strong candidate to medal in the 50free. Instead, we’ll probably… Read more »

Greeny
Reply to  John26
2 months ago

China can go M-F-F-M on mixed medley relay, they must have Pan on anchor

Sub13
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

Removing Qin, China’s strongest leg, for a female breaststroker? Pan could split a 44 and it still wouldn’t be worth the switch.

Greeny
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

The Chinese breaststroker who broke national record and is a world champion is a handy compromise in order to have the fastest 100m swimmer in history on the team.

Alice
Reply to  Greeny
1 month ago

or could go FMFM.

Noah
2 months ago

Nic Fink my goat Curzan figure out 1 free please

Awsi Dooger
2 months ago

I was surprised at how strong Douglass looked. Not her swimming. Her arms and shoulders. The added muscle contributed to that 50 freestyle, IMO. She also benefitted from drawing into a lane adjacent to Sjostrom in both the opening heat and the final. Douglass seemed incredibly motivated and energized by that placement.

Her backstroke looked better also. But her Paris gold medal hopes depend on 1) if McIntosh swims the 200 medley 2) if Douglass can emphasize and improve her 100 breaststroke speed. She’ll never back half a 200 gold

VA Steve
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
2 months ago

A pattern repeats itself. Two years ago she dropped a 1:48 200IM SCY. She had the fastest split in each of the 4 strokes, including back. If you consider she is now concentrating on LCM, and has Curzan as a training partner at UVA, I think we can confidently predict a better split for the 200 LCM. McIntosh is phenomenal, but the 200IM (unlike the 400IM) is a battle between at least 4 swimmers with KD and SM in the top 2. I predict the winner will have to get 2:05.

Yikes
Reply to  VA Steve
2 months ago

Short course and long course backstroke are different beasts. She has such good underwaters and can spend 30m of the 50 yards under water.

VA Steve
Reply to  Yikes
2 months ago

Sure. The question is whether months of work will help that? Her record suggests yes.

snailSpace
Reply to  VA Steve
1 month ago

KD has improved her previous best time with 0.05 in the 200IM. This suggests that her backstroke hasn’t significantly improved still, because if she pushes it, her back half suffers for it. What makes you think that it will improve enough in the next 4 months when it hasn’t in the last 8. In any case, her fly is on par with Summer’s, and her breaststroke is the best, although not significantly better than McKeown’s or Walsh’s.
Meanwhile Summer seems to be improvig on breaststroke, but her faster breast split in Knoxville did come at the detriment of all her other splits, including freestyle. Even so, and whatever the state of her breaststroke is, she can be counted on… Read more »

Greeny
2 months ago

USA relay chances in Paris from most to least likely

  1. Womens Medley
  2. 4x100m Freestyle Mens
  3. Mixed Medley
  4. Mens 4x200m Freestyle
  5. Mens Medley Relay
  6. 4x200m Womens Relay
  7. 4x100m Womens Relay

Can see USA winning 0 Gold in relays in Paris with 3 Gold absolute max

Smglsn12
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

Why do you have the men’s Medley so low?

Sub13
Reply to  Smglsn12
2 months ago

Men’s medley should be second after women’s medley IMO. China is challenging but still their strongest

Andy
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

US is much more likely to win the men’s medley than mixed medley – mixed medley allows China to cover up their men’s butterfly weakness with Zhang Yufei

Greeny
Reply to  Andy
2 months ago

Without Dressel as his best cannot see USA beat China, Italy or France

Alice
Reply to  Greeny
1 month ago

Guess we’ll just have to wait for trials so see Dressel perform

gitech
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

1 w4x100 medley
2 m4x100 medley
3 mixed medley
4 m4x200 free
5 w4x200 free
6 m4x100 free
7 w 4×100 free

Greeny
Reply to  gitech
2 months ago

What is the thought process behind having America’s Mens 4x100m less chance of winning then Womans 4x200m relay Australia are very hard to beat.

Tencor
Reply to  Greeny
2 months ago

1. Women’s medley
2. Men’s medley
3. Men’s 4×100
4. Men’s 4×200
5. Mixed Medley
6. Women’s 4×200
7. Women’s 4×100

Jalen T
2 months ago

Also…
Leave Casas, Foster and MA off the Olympics teams.
Give Heilman and the new kids a shot
Michael Andrew has been a huge disappointment

DG5301
Reply to  Jalen T
2 months ago

This isn’t gymnastics. Top 2 (or 6) get the spots no matter how big of a tantrum you have about it.

Yikes
Reply to  DG5301
2 months ago

lol I wish I could like this 100 times

Andrew
Reply to  Jalen T
2 months ago

not to worry MA has no chance of making the team, Casas has a chance on paper but he’ll choke, and Carson seems to be trending in the wrong direction (at least in the IMs)

Swammer
Reply to  Andrew
2 months ago

I’m not worried about Carson. He said that he prepared for this meet, But i don’t think Carson is 110% fully rested here. Also the 400 IM came at the last day of the meet. His 200 Free Split was really good, and also i think hea looked good in his 4 IM heat. Maybe he just had a bad swim. I think he will be in his usual 4.05 high – 4.07 low range when Trials comes around.

Bill Lumberg
Reply to  Jalen T
2 months ago

they’ll get to have a say in that. At least their swimming will.

DG5301
2 months ago

As far as Men’s 100 breast goes, I just think we’re going to see Nichols, Matheny, or possibly Jake get into the 58s along with Nic. Maybe even 2 of them. Just a feeling I got watching US Open.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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