Fukuoka 2023, North America Day 6 Recap: Kate Douglass And Her Wacky Event Lineup


In Team USA’s very up-and-down showing at the 2023 World Championships, Kate Douglass has been one of the few bright spots. And on Friday night, she completed one of the most unique doubles in swimming history.

Douglass raced in the final of the 100 free and 200 breast, with approximately 47 minutes between the two events. In the 100 free, she finished fourth with a time of 52.81, just one-tenth of a second off the time it took to win bronze. Then, in the 200 breast, she won silver in a time of 2:21.23—she was running down gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker towards the end of her race, but didn’t have enough room left. And that double just further proved the one thing that we already know about Douglass—in a world where swimmers are boxed into certain specialties, she’s somehow a unicorn.

Sure, there are swimmers that are arguably more versatile and better in their events than Douglass, with Summer McIntosh, Kaylee McKeown, and Leon Marchand being just a few. But the difference is that all of those swimmers fit into a mold, and are modified blueprints or better versions of swimmers that came before them. For example, McKeown is a backstroker/IMer that’s comparable to Katinka Hosszu and Kirsty Coventry. McIntosh is an IMer/mid-distance freestyler that’s good at the 200 fly, like Michael Phelps if he took the 400 free seriously. Marchand is good at a variety of strokes, but the IMs are clearly his bread and butter.

But has there ever been a swimmer who focuses on the 200 breast, 200 IM, and 100 free as their primary events and is somehow good at all three of them (note: France’s Charlotte Bonnet comes close, but she was never as fast as Douglass and seemed to have given up freestyle after beginning to race breast/IM)?

When you ask me what kind of swimmer Kate Douglass is in long course, I don’t know how to answer. She does not have a mold or a blueprint—she just swims whatever she’s good at and makes it work. Sports Illustrated writer (and father of Olympic swimmer Brooke Forde) Pat Forde once said that Douglass was “obnoxiously versatile”, and that what she was doing was comparable to Shohei Ohtani‘s performances in baseball (for context, Ohtani is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels who is also one of the best hitters in Major Leauge Baseball). But I don’t even think the Ohtani parallel can be drawn, considering that there have been plenty of two-way players in baseball’s history. The closest comparison I can draw to Douglass’s swimming versatility is a track and field decathlete. That’s it.

But versatility does come with a downside. Upon the finish of her racing, there was some discussion about whether Douglass would have been able to win gold in the 200 breast had she not raced the 100 free. Of course, it tied back to the Americans’ gold medal drought at these World Championships—the explanation was that swimmers like Douglass were taking on too many events and couldn’t be at the top in any of them. However, I disagree with this sentiment.

First off, Douglass has always been a back-half swimmer in the 200 breast. In almost every single one of her long course races, she’s closed in on her main competitor just to get out-touched at the end. I’m not really sure if an extra 100 meters of racing beforehand would have changed the results of her 200 breaast, especially since the margin that Schoenmaker won by (0.43 seconds) was still quite large for a 200-meter event (it’s very easy to play the would’ve could’ve should’ve game). Second, Douglass’s 100 free best time (52.59) is arguably more impressive than her 200 breast time and is more valuable to relays—why not experiment with racing an event that could be a great benefit to her?

When you look at things from a big-picture perspective, these World Championships are a dress rehearsal for Paris, and it’s better for her (and many other American swimmers) to experience tough situations so she’s more prepared come time for the Olympics. In Paris, if Douglass focuses on the 200 IM, 200 breast, and 100 free again, the schedule will be more friendly for her. She’ll have to deal with a 200 breast semi-final after the 100 free final, as well as the mixed medley relay after the 200 IM final, but overall it’s much more manageable.

By no means did Douglass have a perfect World Championships meet, and she likely still has to swim two more relays. But she took on a major role for Team USA for the first time in her career and has handled her responsibility really well. With a full year of long course training ahead of her and stuff to improve on, she has the potential to become a heavyweight that the Americans can seriously count on come time for Paris.

Other North American Highlights:

  • Although Ryan Murphy came in as the favorite to win the 200 back, he was upset by Hungary’s Hubert Kos and took silver. The American men’s 4×200 free relay team of Luke Hobson, Carson Foster, Jake Mitchell, and Kieran Smith also took silver.
  • In the men’s 200 breast final, American Matt Fallon won bronze in a time of 2:07.74, finishing behind the current and former world record holders in the event.
  • Americans Regan Smith and Rhyan White, as well as Canada’s Kylie Masse qualified for the final of the women’s 200 back.
  • American Dare Rose and Canadian Josh Liendo qualified for the men’s 100 fly final as the top and third seeds respectively, and both have a good shot at winning gold tomorrow. Rose set a personal best time of 50.53. Meanwhile, American Thomas Heilman lost a swim-off to Great Britain’s Jacob Peters for a semi-finals spot.
  • Americans Torri Huske and Gretchen Walsh both qualified for the semi-finals of the women’s 50 fly. Americans Jack Alexy and Ryan Held were able to do the same, with Held qualifying after winning a swim-off against Ukraine’s Vladyslav Bukhov. The swim-off occurred because Liendo gave up his spot in the 50 free final to focus on the 100 fly.

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Fukuoka Gold
2 months ago

Alice Mills won 50 free silver and 200 IM silver in Barcelona 2003

2 months ago

how do you know how manageable it is? You don’t do it..no one does…100 free takes a lot of leg drive!
200 breast is very hard on the legs..she would have much more leg energy in 2 breast.

2 months ago

Michael Andrew swam 50 free 100 breast and 200 IM at Tokyo, plus he has a gold medal from the last WC swimming the fly leg. Only American ever to swim at Olympics in an individual breaststroke event + another individual stroke event.

Tea rex
2 months ago

Notable that she’s not a great 100 breaststroker. She just has a super long efficient technique that only lends itself to 200 breast or IM. Without that one weird talent, she’s a run of the mill sprint flyer.

Becky D
Reply to  Tea rex
2 months ago

I wish I could have achieved that level of “run of the mill” in my lifetime.

Reply to  Tea rex
2 months ago

run of the mil? she’s 4th in the world

Free Thinker
Reply to  Tea rex
2 months ago

In a sea of dumb comments, this stands out as one of the dumbest and should be enshrined in a hall of fame somewhere. Congrats to you!

2 months ago

So close to 3rd in that 100 Free, too! She had a long final stroke and probably should’ve taken another stroke. It was a very long finish. But 4th and 2nd is still amazing!

Tracy Kosinski
2 months ago

KD is solid and just finding her footing. Can clearly see her atop the podium next year.

2 months ago

Can’t wait for Paris to see what she can do given she’s just turned pro.

VA Steve
2 months ago

There is NO way she will have the same schedule. Unencumbered she is a great flyer and 50 Frer. Many have also begged her to do a 2FR. Great thing is we can watch it all.

Reply to  VA Steve
2 months ago

I like KD a lot! To see if the three events are manageable, she need to do some test. data will tell everything. I hope as she just turns pro, her potential is yet to be seen.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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