Last week, the 2022 Australian Swimming Championships, which served as a qualifying meet for both the 2022 FINA World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, took place. If you missed it, do not worry. This article will tell you what you need to know about the meet and what its results mean for the fate of Australian swimming this year.
Before this meet, we did an article on all of the Australian relays and how they would fare without some of their biggest stars (Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon, the Campbells, to name a few) at worlds. Now that we know who will most likely be on these relays at worlds, we have a better idea of which relays look good and which relays might be in trouble.
First off, it seems like the women’s free relays will be just fine. The top four women in the 100 free, Mollie O’Callaghan (52.49), Shayna Jack (52.60), Meg Harris (53.09), and Madi Wilson (53.19), have times added up to be over three seconds faster than the top four in United States and Canada.
The loss of Ariarne Titmus might hurt the 4×200 free relay, but O’Callaghan (1:54.94), Wilson (1:55.86), Kiah Melverton (1:55.94), and Leah Neale (1:56.28) all look strong. I don’t think they are quite the favorites in this relay, as China still has two 1:54-low caliber swimmers in Tang Muhan and Yang Junxuan, and Canada has defending Olympic bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak and teenage sensation Summer McIntosh. However, I do think the Aussies are in good shape to at least medal.
Here’s how the women’s free relays compare to other countries after their trials:
Women’s 4×100 Free Relay:
|Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4|
|Mollie O’Callaghan – 52.49||Torri Huske – 53.35||Kayla Sanchez – 53.68|
|Shayna Jack – 52.60||Claire Curzan – 53.58||Penny Oleksiak – 53.70|
|Meg Harris – 53.09||Erika Brown – 53.59||Taylor Ruck – 53.99|
|Madi Wilson – 53.19||Natalie Hinds – 53.65||Rebecca Smith – 55.21|
Women’s 4×200 Free Relay:
|Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4||Season-Bests|
|Mollie O’Callaghan – 1:54.94||Katie Ledecky – 1:55.11||Summer McIntosh – 1:55.39||Tang Muhan – 1:54.26|
|Madi Wilson – 1:55.86||Claire Weinstien – 1:57.08||Penny Oleksiak – 1:57.01||Yang Junxuan – 1:54.58|
|Kiah Melverton – 1:55.94||Leah Smith – 1:57.44||Taylor Ruck – 1:57.60||Lao Lihui – 1:57.27|
|Leah Neale – 1:56.10||Hali Flickinger – 1:57.53||Kayla Sanchez – 1:57.61||Qiu Yuhan – 1:57.39|
The men’s free relays, however, are another story. In the 100 free, only three men were under 49 seconds, and third-place finisher Flynn Southam (48.76) won’t be going to Worlds in favor of Junior Pan Pacs. Most likely, William Yang (48.55), Zac Incerti (48.65), Jack Cartwright (49.04), and Matt Temple (49.11) will be on the 4×100 free relay in Budapest. We saw promising drops from swimmers like Yang, who took a good amount off his previous best time of 49.23, and we know Incerti is capable of 47.5 relay splits. However, just that is not going to be enough for a medal in Budapest.
In the 200 free, things look a bit more promising for the men. Incerti (1:45.80), Elijah Winnington (1:46.01), Mack Horton (1:46.70), and Samuel Short (1:47.35) add up to be stronger than any other country aside from the United States and Great Britain, giving them a shot at the podium even without fourth place finisher Southam (1:46.82). However, they do miss out on Thomas Neill, who split 1:44.74 anchoring their relay in Tokyo but was well off his best times at trials, finishing all the way down in 12th with a time of 1:49.41.
One thing that both free relays could benefit from would be Kyle Chalmers, who decided that he would go to worlds after all after he said he most likely wouldn’t. He split 46.44/1:45.35 on the relays last year, and would be a huge boost to his Aussie teammates. However, at trials, he only swam the 50/100 fly, meaning we don’t know how much he’s trained for the freestyles this season.
Here’s how the men’s free relays compare to other countries after their trials (without Chalmers):
Men’s 4×100 Free Relay:
|Top 4 Trials||Top 4 Trials||Top 4 Trials||Top 4 Trials||Top 4 Trials|
|William Yang – 48.55||Caeleb Dressel- 47.79||Josh Liendo- 48.35||Alessandro Miressi- 47.88||Lewis Burras- 47.88|
|Zac Incerti – 48.65||Brooks Curry- 48.04||Ruslan Gaziev- 48.41||Lorenzo Zazzeri- 48.45||Tom Dean- 48.06|
|Jack Cartwright – 49.04||Ryan Held- 48.18||Yuri Kisil- 48.80||Manuel Frigo 48.50||Jacob Whittle- 48.24|
|Matt Temple – 49.11||Drew Kibler/Hunter Armstrong- 48.25||Javier Acevedo- 49.12||Leonardo Deplano- 48.68||Matt Richards- 49.20|
|Aggregate time- 3:15.35||Aggregate time- 3:12.26||Aggregate time- 3:14.68||Aggregate time- 3:13.43||Aggregate time- 3:13.38|
Men’s 4×200 Free Relay:
|Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4||Trials Top 4|
|Zac Incerti – 1:45.80||Kieran Smith- 1:45.25||Duncan Scott- 1:45.54|
|Elijah Winnington – 1:46.01||Drew Kibler- 1:45.32||Tom Dean- 1:45.73|
|Mack Horton – 1:46.70||Carson Foster- 1:45.66||James Guy- 1:46.44|
|Samuel Short – 1:47.35||Trenton Julian- 1:46.69||Joe Litchfield- 1:47.66|
|Aggregate Time- 7:05.86||Aggregate Time- 7:02.92||Aggregate Time- 7:05.37|
But the thing that both the men and women have in common is that neither of their medley relays are looking very good for Budapest.
The women, who won Olympic gold in the 4×100 medley relay last year, were already at a disadvantage without Emma McKeon on the butterfly. However, the fact that Chelsea Hodges finished third in the 100 breast and didn’t make the Worlds team (despite breaking the Australian record in the 50 breast, a non-selection event) hurts them even more. Hodges split 1:05.57 on Australia’s Tokyo relay, and was a crucial part of their victory. The breaststroke spot will likely go to either Jenna Strauch (1:06.69) or Abbey Harkin (1:06.88), depending on whoever is in better shape on race day. In addition, since Brianna Throssell (57.31) was the only one under the FINA ‘A’ cut in the 100 fly, she’s likely going to be on both the prelims and finals relay. For now, don’t expect them to be defending their Olympic title.
The men’s relay has a similar problem. Mitch Larkin, Australia’s primary backstroker since 2014, didn’t hit the ‘A’ cut this meet in the 100 back. He was beaten out by 18-year-old Isaac Cooper, who won the race in a time of 54.02. And although Cooper is a promising talent, having broken the Australian record in the 50 back in 24.44, his 100 back time is still far away from his best time of 53.43 or anything competitive for a medley relay. 100 breast winner Zac Stubblety-Cook (59.60) and 100 fly winner Matt Temple (51.50) will likely be racing those respective strokes, while the freestyle is going probably to go to either Yang or Incerti, depending on who does better in Budapest.
On the mixed medley relay, the fastest combination of swimmers will likely be female-male-male-female, with three out of the four swimmers (Kaylee McKeown, Zac Stubblety-Cook, Matt Temple) being on last year’s relay. The only change would be swapping Emma McKeon with most likely Mollie O’Callaghan on freestyle.
Here’s how the medley relays compare to other countries after their trials:
Women’s 4×100 Medley Relay:
|Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials|
|Back||Kaylee McKeown – 58.49||Regan Smith– 57.76||Kylie Masse– 58.41|
|Breast||Chelsea Hodges – 1:06.69||Lily King- 1:05.67||Sophie Angus- 1:07.60|
|Fly||Brianna Throssell – 57.31||Torri Huske- 56.28||Maggie MacNeil- 57.13|
|Free||Mollie O’Callaghan – 52.49||Claire Curzan– 53.58||Kayla Sanchez- 53.68|
Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay:
|Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials|
|Back||Isaac Cooper – 54.02||Hunter Armstrong – 52.20||Luke Greenbank – 54.58||Thomas Ceccon –52.99|
|Breast||Zac Stubblety-Cook – 59.60||Nic Fink – 58.37||James Wilby – 59.17||Nicolo Martinheighi – 58.57|
|Fly||Matt Temple – 51.50||Caeleb Dressel – 50.01||James Guy – 51.69||Piero Codia – 51.65|
|Free||William Yang – 48.55||Brooks Curry – 48.02||Lewis Burras – 47.88||Alessandro Miressi- 47.88|
Mixed 4×100 Medley Relay:
|Top Swimmer At Trials||Top Swimmer At Trials||Season Bests|
|Back||Kaylee McKeown – 58.49||Regan Smith– 57.76||Xu Jiayu – 53.36|
|Breast||Zac Stubblety-Cook – 59.60||Nic Fink – 58.37||Yan Zibei – 58.87|
|Fly||Matt Temple – 51.50||Caeleb Dressel – 50.01||Zhang Yufei – 56.24|
|Free||Mollie O’Callaghan – 52.49||Claire Curzan– 53.35||Yang Junxuan – 53.42|
What’s Next For The Superstars
Stubblety-Cook torched Anton Chupkov’s mark of 2:06.12 to break the 200 breast world record in a time of 2:05.95, becoming the first man to ever go under 2:06. Not only was the overall time incredible, but his last 50 was as well, considering that he closed in a lightning-fast split of 31.63.
With his swim, Stubblety-Cook establishes himself as the clear favorite in the 200 breast in Budapest. Last year, he was the Olympic champion, but raced in a field where many big-name swimmers were off their personal bests. However, with Shoma Sato and former world record holder Ippei Watanabe not going to worlds, and Chupkov (who is Russian) being banned, the only person who would be remotely competitive with Stubblety-Cook is Arno Kamminga. And even Kamminga only has a best time of 2:06.85, which is far and away from Stubblety-Cook’s time at trials. In addition, Stubblety-Cook thinks that he can go even faster than his world record if he improves on his front half.
Stubblety-Cook also established himself as Australia’s top 100 breastroker as well, winning that race in a time of 59.60. He was the only man under a minute, and will most likely be the one swimming breaststroke on the men’s and mixed medley relay at Budapest, just like he did at the Olympics.
Having decided that she wasn’t going to worlds, Titmus still delivered race after race this meet. First, she finished fifth in the 100 free with a personal best time of 53.68, which is pretty impressive considering how competitive Australia’s 100 free is and that this is like, her fourth-best event.
Then, she scared Federica Pelligrini’s 200 free world record (1:52.98) by posting a time of 1:53.31, just letting that World Record line escape her in the last few meters of the race. It was still the third-fastest performance in the history, and faster than anyone else in a textile suit aside from herself (her personal best time is a 1:53.09 from last year’s Olympic trials). But most importantly, it increased speculation that she could break Katie Ledecky’s world record in the 400 free later in the meet.
And that’s exactly what Titmus did. After swimming a relatively pedestrian 4:06.25 time in prelims, she took down Ledecky’s world record in 3:56.40. With a long course world record under her belt, Titmus can clearly establish herself as the best middle-distance swimmer in the world. The question is: what’s next for her? At the Commonwealth Games, the 200 free is gonna be on the first day of the meet, giving her another chance to wipe out the oldest women’s world record in the books. In addition, she also has the potential to lower her own 400 free world record by a greater margin at that meet as well.
In terms of racing strategy, we saw Titmus change her style up in the 400 free. Although she’s known for closing her race very fast, having run down Katie Ledecky and Siobhan Haughey in the 400 and 200 respectively in Tokyo, she actually took out her world record swim very fast before slowing down at the end. She outpaced Ledecky’s time on her first 200, splitting a blistering 1:56.99, but then was out-split by Ledecky on her back half. Is she going to keep this strategy in the future, or was this race a fluke out of her many back half-heavy swims?
Out of all of the major stars at this meet, Kaylee McKeown probably has the most crowded schedule out of them all. She won the 100 back (58.49), 200 back (2:05.31), 200 IM (2:09.15), and 400 IM (4:31.74), but was well off her best times in all of her events aside from the 400 IM. That being said, she’s well ahead of the rest of her competitors in all of these events, meaning she didn’t have to be at her best to win.
In the backstrokes, she’ll face the usual challengers of Regan Smith and Kylie Masse, as well as the emerging threat of Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White in the 200 back and potentially Claire Curzan in the 100. Although McKeown holds the second-best time in the 100 back (58.31) and the top time in the 200 back (2:04.64) this year, neither of them being set at trials, it’s worth noting that her performances at trials would have placed third in both backstrokes at U.S. trials. She’s going to need to be significantly faster in Budapest in order to stay on top of the throne in her main events.
For McKeown, the IMs are new territory, considering that she didn’t swim either race at the Olympics to focus on the backstrokes. She ended up deciding not to swim the 400 IM at Worlds, meaning she’s only swimming the 200 IM in Budapest and possibly both IMs in Birmingham. Either way, she has one major rival in both events: Alex Walsh in the 200 IM, and Summer McIntosh in the 400 IM.
McKeown’s best time of 2:08.19 in the 200 IM would have been fast enough to win Olympic gold last year. However, Walsh has already bested that mark this year, winning U.S. trials in 2:07.84. Even though the American is a few tenths faster than McKeown’s best time, if McKeown can go faster at worlds, they could be in for a very good race. Walsh’s strongest stroke is breaststroke, whereas McKeown’s best stroke in the IM is turning out to be that as well, considering that she split a very fast 1:15.74 breaststroke in her 400 IM.
The 400 IM, however, is another story. At the Commonwealth Games, the heavy favorite remains the 15-year-old McIntosh, who has the fastest time in the world at 4:29.12. However, what’s interesting is that although McKeown’s best time is almost three seconds slower than McIntosh’s, she was actually faster than McIntosh by a similar margin at her respective trial, as the Canadian went 4:34.86 at Canada’s trials meet.
Lani Pallister likely qualified for worlds in four events, finishing sixth in the 200 free (1:56.28), second in the 400 free (4:02.21), and winning both the 800 (8:17.77) and 1500 free (15:55.40). She set personal bests in all four events. In the 400 free, she became the second-fastest Australian ever in the event, just behind Ariarne Titmus’s world record. In addition, her 800 free time is third in the world behind Americans Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith.
This meet was a big bounce back meet for Pallister, as she didn’t make the Olympic team last year. In addition, she was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a condition that forced her to undergo surgery. After getting surgery, she also experienced an eating disorder that negatively impacted her swimming last year. However, according to her, she is now seeking professional help and “back and better than ever”.
After sitting out of last year’s Olympic trials to focus on his mental health, Flynn Southam made his mark on Australian swimming by finishing third in the 100 free and fourth in the 200 free. Although his times would have been competitive on the Australian freestyle relays, Southam instead opted out of World Championships to compete at the upcoming Junior Pan Pacs meet.
A decision like this makes sense for Southam, as he wouldn’t qualify to race individually in Budapest. Racing at Junior Pan Pacs will allow him to gain more experience doing individual events on an international level and help him more in the long run leading up to Paris 2024, something he mentioned in his Instagram post explaining his decision. In addition, he’s not the first swimmer to make this type of choice before. Maggie MacNeil opted to race at Junior Pan Pacs over senior Pan Pacs in 2018, which ended up boding well for her when she won the 100 fly at 2019 World Championships a year later.
World Championships is a bittersweet meet for Shayna Jack, considering that the last time the event was held in 2019, she was sent home just days before the meet started due to a positive doping test. She later ended up receiving a two-year ban from the sport, and Budapest 2022 marks her first international meet back since being banned.
Jack established herself as one of her country’s top sprinters, taking second in the 100 free (52.60) and first in the 50 free (24.14). She holds the second and third fastest times in the world in those events respectively.
18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan is exactly what we hoped of her and more. She proved to us at this meet that her World Junior Record in the 200 free from last summer was not a fluke, swimming her way to become the fastest on her 4×100 and 4×200 free relays in Budapest. In addition, her 52.49 made her the eighth-fastest of all time in the women’s 100 free. She came home that race in a 26.57, which is the fastest back half ever in the women’s 100 free.
In addition to her freestyle performances, O’Callaghan also proved to be a very strong backstroker. She finished first in the 50 back (27.46), and as well as second in the 100 (59.12) and 200 back (2:08.48). With those performances, she cements herself as an elite swimmer in two strokes, and helps build the depth in Australian women’s backstroke behind Kaylee McKeown.
USA vs. Australia: Who’s Actually Better?
Throughout Australian trials, there was a lot of banter in our comments over who was the better swimming nation: the United States or Australia. Because of this discourse, we decided to compare their times from trials side by side, for both men and women. We took the winning time from each event, as well as the time that it took to finish eighth, and highlighted the faster time.
|USA – 8th Place Time||USA – Winning Time||Event||AUS – Winning Time||AUS – 8th Place Time|
|4:13.63||3:59.52||400 Free||3:56.40 (WR)||4:14.81|
Overall, on the women’s side, Australia’s winning times were faster than the Americans in five events, and they had two eighth place finishes that were faster than Americans. When you only account for freestyle races, Australia had four faster winning times (out of six), and one faster eighth-place time.
These results make sense, considering that Australia is missing top-end talent like Emma McKeon and the Campbell sisters, and Kaylee McKeown wasn’t on her best times in a lot of her races. In addition, the Aussies are better known for their top-end women’s freestyle talent, while Americans tend to have more depth (especially in the stroke and IM races).
|USA – 8th Place Time||USA – Winning Time||Event||AUS – Winning Time||AUS – 8th Place Time|
|25.10||23.71 (WR)||50 Back||24.44||25.90|
|2:15.04||2:08.84||200 Breast||2:05.95 (WR)||2:17.39|
On the men’s side, the Aussies only had a faster winning time in two events: the 200 breast and the 400 free. However, in five different events, the Australian men had a faster eighth-place finisher than the Americans. This is significantly more than what the Australian women have, which is surprising, considering that the women’s team is widely regarded to be more successful internationally than the men’s team is right now.
Possible explanations for this could be a pool of young age group talent being developed in Australia, with the likes of Flynn Southam, Isaac Cooper, and Dylan Andrea turning heads at trials. In addition, many college stars on the men’s side were also miss at U.S. trials this year, which could also account for the discrepancies.