NORTH AMERICA: MacNeil Stuns, Dressel Dominates – But US Fades in Longer Events

For the first time in the history of the FINA World Championships, the United States will not be represented in the men’s 200 free finals. While day two finals at the 2019 event saw two swims that surely rank on the list of the all-time highs for North Americans, the 200 free performances were quite the opposite, and alongside a few other swims so far, point to a potentially troubling trend for American swimmers.

Below, we’ve outlined all the North American action from Monday in Gwangju.

First, the highs

  • Canada’s Maggie MacNeil shattered her best time in the 100 fly to stun favorite Sarah Sjostrom, ending Sjostrom’s chances to become the first woman to win a single event in four consecutive World Championships. Sjostrom was out fast, nearly a second ahead of MacNeil, who turned in fifth place. But MacNeil closed strong, beating Sjostrom, 55.83 to 56.22.
    • Sjostrom previously held all 10 of the all-time top-10 performances in the 100 fly, and was the second woman to ever break 56. MacNeil skipped the 56s altogether, with her previous lifetime best being 57.04. She now holds the with the eighth-fastest performance of all time and is the second-fastest woman in history behind Sjostrom’s world record 55.53.
  • In the women’s 200 IM, Canadian Sydney Pickrem nabbed bronze in 2:08.70, just a tenth of a second behind silver. The versatile newly-minted pro was right off her best time and Canadian record of 2:08.61, which she just went in June.
  • Caeleb Dressel became the first American man to win a world title in the 50 fly, breaking his own meet record from the semifinal in 22.35; he beat second-place finisher Oleg Kostin by .35 seconds. The 50 fly was the only gold medal that eluded Dressel in his 2017 Worlds effort.
    • Michael Andrew, in his first Worlds final, missed a medal by .01, still going a best time of 22.80.
  • Emory alum Andrew Wilson finished sixth in the 100 breast final. Sunday, he became the fourth American ever to break 59 seconds, going 58.95, and had he matched that time, he would have been fifth (and just .02 out of fourth). Coming into the meet, his lifetime best was 59.19, so it’s hard to expect much more out of the fast-rising star.
  • In the 100 breast semifinal, world record holder Lilly King did her thing, and is the No. 2 qualifier right behind longtime rival Yuliya Efimova (King was 1:05.66 to Efimova’s 1:05.56).
  • The story was similar in the men’s 100 back semifinal: American mainstays Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers were in the top half of finisher to advance for the final. Murphy cruised to a 52.44 tie for the No. 2 spot with Russian Evgeny Rylov, and Grevers was just behind them at 52.82. Australia’s Mitch Larkin (52.91) was the only other swim–mer under :53. In the final.  the 34-year-old Olympic champion Grevers will have to fight, but has a real shot at getting his 12th long course World Championships medal; the world record holder Murphy will go head-to-head with Chian’s Xu Jiayu, who was 52.17 in the semifinal.
    • Fun note: The ageless Grevers noted on his Instagram story that he went the exact same time in the 100 back semifinal at the 2009 FINA World Championships.
  • North American will make up half of the women’s 100 back final. Former world record holder and defending champion Kylie Masse (58.50), Taylor Ruck (58.83), current world record holder Kathleen Baker (59.03) and Olivia Smoliga (59.36) qualified first, third, fourth and sixth. Baker’s prelims swim was her first in four months after dealing with a broken rib stemming from pneumonia.

Now, the not-so-highs

  • In the same race where MacNeil had her breakout performance, American record holder Kelsi Dahlia finished in sixth. She had the second-fastest opening split behind Sjostrom at 26.48, but faded heavily in the second 50, splitting 30.63 – the slowest second half in the field. She finished in 57.11, well off her best time of 56.37 from the 2017 FINA World Championships.
  • For the first time ever, there will be no American men in the 200 free final at Worlds; if you happen to be curious, the last tie no US man was in the Olympic 200 free final was in 1980, when the nation boycotted the Games. Before that, the only other time no American finaled in the 200 free at the Olympics: the first occasion, in 1900, when Fred Hendschel finished 3rd in semifinal #4 in a 3:42.
    •  Townley Haas, the 2017 Worlds silver medalist, was 14th out of the semis in 1:46.37. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this race went wrong: Haas was one of five swimmers to split 25.00 or slower on his opening 50 (25.08) and had the fourth-to-slowest final 50 (and one of the swimmers slower than him was top finisher Clyde Lewis).
    • Teammate Andrew Seliskar finished 15th with a 1:46.83, but it is quite clear where his swim went wrong. Seliskar was No. 2 in the field after the 150-mark (1:17.74; 24.48/26.30/26.96) behind only Lewis. But in his final 50, Seliskar split 29.09, more than a full second behind the next-slowest closing split.
  • You probably also remember what happened to Katie Ledecky when she lost to Australian Ariarne Titmus in the 400 free one day ago: she led at the 350-mark, but in a manner very much unlike herself, posted the slowest closing split in the field. Are these fading finishes by swimmers who don’t otherwise train together somehow all a product of the U.S.’s very short training camp in Singapore? Unlikely. But it’s trend that’s getting hard to ignore.

North America MEDAL TABLE – DAY 2:

United States 2 2 1 5
Canada 1 2 3


  • Men’s 50 fly: American Record/Meet record, Caeleb Dressel, 22.35
  • Women’s 100 fly: Americas record, Maggie MacNeil, 55.83

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1 year ago

Mr. Piano…. do you happen to not be from the US by chance?

Justin Thompson
Reply to  Oof
1 year ago

That’s later in the week 😎

Reply to  Oof
1 year ago

Expect Peaty to respond with a 22.34 🙂

Steve Nolan
1 year ago

I am now starting to believe that certain US swimmers are given a heavy leg day right before their events at this meet.

Can’t be too successful at a WC’s the year before the Olympics, ya know.

1 year ago

Thank you for that 1900 shoutout. About time we talked about that epic Olympics. Austria-Hungary, The Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Siam had some awesome freestylers that year, and I’ll never forget when Edgar von de Rudolph Wilhelm threw down that 3:41.9 in the other semifinal to grab that last finals spot from the USA. 🙁

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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