Olivia Smoliga Wins Record 8 Gold Medals, Kelsi Dahlia 7 at SC Worlds

American sprinter Olivia Smoliga is leaving Hangzhou with a record 8 gold medals as the 2018 FINA World Championships have now officially drawn to a close.

Though Smoliga entered the competition somewhat overshadowed by her American counterpart Kathleen Baker, the world record holder in 100 LCM backstroke and 2018 Pan Pacs Champion in the 200m backstroke, she went on to win gold in two of the three backstroke distances contested in Hangzhou. Lisa Bratton and Baker, meanwhile, would ensure a complete American sweep of the backstrokes by winning gold and silver, respectively, in the 200m backstroke, which Smoliga did not contend.

Smoliga’s achievement of 8 gold medals is unprecedented, though it could not have happened without the inclusion of the two mixed relays. With the 8 gold total, Smoliga surpasses American teammate Caeleb Dressel, who won 7 gold medals at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. It’s important to note that Dressel’s 7-medal haul occurred at a long course meters world championships, though he too had the benefit of swimming two mixed relays. Dressel, for his part, equaled Michael Phelps‘s feat of 7 gold medals at a single world championships from Melbourne 2007, where Phelps won gold in 5 individual events and 2 relays, but was denied the opportunity to swim the 4 x 100m medley relay due to a false start by the American ‘B’ team in the prelims.

While Smoliga earned the most gold medals of any competitor, Team USA’s Kelsi Dahlia leaves Hangzhou with 9 medals total, 7 of which are gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze. Dahlia, American’s top female butterflyer, won the gold in the 100m butterfly (55.01), captured silver and the American Record in the 200m fly (2:01.73), and bronze in the 50 fly (24.97). Together, Dahlia and Smoliga buoyed the American efforts in the medley relays–both women’s-only and mixed–as well as contributed in all four sprint freestyle relays (two women’s, two mixed). Dahlia, however, swam in two more relay finals than Smoliga, who only swam the prelims of both the mixed 200m freestyle relay and the women’s 200m freestyle relay.

Smoliga’s first medal of the 2018 FINA World Championships came in the women’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay, where she led off in a swift 52.71. Alongside teammates Lia Neal, Mallory Comerford, and Kelsi Dahlia, Smoliga earned her first gold medal for team USA in a time of 3:27.78.

The following morning, Smoliga dropped a 23.87 swimming the third leg of the mixed 4 x 50m freestyle relay in prelims. In finals, the team of Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held, Comerford, and Dahlia won gold and set a new world record in a time of 1:27.89, though that victory came at the end of the session, after Smoliga had captured two more gold medals.

To get things started on night two, Smoliga led off the women’s 200m medley relay with a 25.97 backstroke split, and ultimately helped set a new world record with teammates Katie Meili, Dahlia, and Comerford in 1:42.38. Later, near the end of the session, Smoliga won her third gold medal of the meet in the women’s 100m backstroke, where she edged world record holder Katinka Hosszu by 7/100ths, touching the wall in 56.19 seconds. With the victory in the 100 backstroke, Smoliga successfully regained her title from 2012, when she first won the 100m backstroke at the Short Course World Championships in Istanbul in a time of 56.64 out of lane 1.

After picking up three gold medals on the second day of competition, Smoliga had only one event to focus on during the third day of the meet: the 200m mixed medley relay. As the backstroker, Smoliga led off in a blistering 25.85. One of only three females leading off the relay–a strategic call made by Team USA’s coaches–she managed a great time, despite swimming against men on both sides. Michael Andrew then took over the breaststroke (25.75), Dahlia the butterfly (24.71), and Dressel the freestyle (20.09), to touch the wall first in a massive world record time of 1:36.40.

On day 5, Smoliga won gold in the women’s 50m backstroke in a time of 25.88, edging Caroline Pilhatsch of Austria by 11/100ths. In prelims the following morning, Smoliga contributed a 23.99 as the second swimmer in the women’s 200m freestyle relay. The team of Madison Kennedy, Comerford, Dahlia, and Erika Brown would go on to establish a new championships record in the finals, winning gold in 1:34.03.

To close out the meet, Smolia led off the women’s 4 x 100m medley relay in a blistering 55.86, touching the wall exactly one second ahead of her nearest competitor, Fu Yuanhui of China. The team of Smoliga, Meili, Dahlia, and Comerford would ultimately establish a new championships record of 3:45.58 to win by over three seconds.

Below is a table of Smoliga’s medal haul:

Event Time/Split Day of Competition
Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay 52.71 (lead-off)
Mixed 4 x 50m Freestyle Relay 23.87*
1:29.80 (prelims)
Women’s 4 x 50m Medley Relay 25.97 (backstroke)
1:42.38 (WR)
Women’s 100m Backstroke 56.19 2
Mixed 4 x 50m Medley Relay 25.85 (backstroke)
1:36.40 (WR)
Women’s 50m Backstroke 25.88 5
Women’s 4 x 50m Freestyle Relay 23.99*
1:36.65 (prelims)
Women’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay 55.86
3:45.58 (CR)

*Indicates prelims-only relay swim.

In terms of total gold medals won at a single FINA World Championships, Smoliga reigns supreme after Hangzhou. However, American superstar Ryan Lochte has on two occasions won six gold medals at the FINA Short Course World Championships.

Before delving into Lochte’s history at Short Course World Championships–or any other swimmer’s medal totals from FINA World Championships of Decembers past–we must remember that the 2014 FINA World Championships in Istanbul marked a turning point in the competition venue with the adoption of 200-meter sprint relays and the 200-meter mixed-gender relays. Istanbul changed the landscape of the Short Course World Championships by:

  1. Adding the 4 x 50m medley and 4 x 50m freestyle relays for both men and women to the program, and
  2. Incorporating the mixed 4 x 50m medley and mixed 4 x 50m freestyle relays as medal-winning events.

It would be untrue to say that Lochte never benefited from those events since he very clearly did win a silver medal in Instanbul as part of the men’s 4 x 50m freestyle relay, though it is still important to remember how relatively new the 200-meter relays are to the FINA World Championships.

Lochte’s first six gold medal hual came in Dubua in in 2010, where he swept the IMs, and picked up one silver medal in the men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay, where the United States fell to Russia, who set the world record that was recently trampled by Brazil in Hangzhou. Impressively, only one of Lochte’s golds came from a relay swim, where the ever-versatile Gator actually swam butterfly on the men’s 4 x 100m medley relay, splitting a 49.17. Lochte’s other 5 golds came from individual efforts in the 100 IM, 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 freestyle, and 200 backstroke.

Lochte again won 6 gold medals at the 2012 FINA World Championships in Istanbul, where repeated as world champion in the 200 freestyle and the 100 and 200 IM, though also added relay victories in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, 4 x 200 freestyle relay, and again in the 4 x 100 medley relay, where he swam freestyle (45.22).

In 2014, when the 200-meter relays were introduced, Lochte won a mere one gold medal as a member of the men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay. Though he did also win a silver medal for his contribution to the men’s  4 x 50m freestyle relay, he was very much off his game in his other events.

Another remarkable American medal haul came at the 2013 FINA World Championships (LCM) in Barcelona, where Missy Franklin won six gold medals–three individual and three relay. Though Franklin did not benefit from mixed relays in 2013, she was a part of Team USA’s mixed 4 x 100m freestyle relay in 2015, which won gold in Kazan. Together, Franklin, Lochte, Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian put up a 3:23.05 to clench gold and the world record.

Australian Brooke Hanson also won an astounding six gold medals at the 2004 World Championships in Indianapolis, where she swept all three breaststrokes and won the 100 and 200 IMs. Hanson’s sole relay victory came in the 4 x 100 medley relay, which the Aussies won by nearly two seconds, also establishing a new world record. Hanson, like so many others racing in Indy in 2004, was only a few months removed from the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, where she won silver in the women’s 100m breaststroke and gold in the women’s 4 x 100m medley relay, though she swam the prelims of the relay only, with her breaststroke position being swum by Leisel Jones in the finals.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Femke Heemskerk, both of the Netherlands, picked up four gold medals each at the 2014 FINA World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Kromowidjojo and Heemskerk each added individual victories in the 50 and 100m freestyles, respectively, and also picked up golds as members of the 4 x 50m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m freestyle relay, and 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

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2 years ago

Brooke Hanson from Australia also won 6 golds in 04, five in individual events, one in a relay.

Reply to  Chlorine
2 years ago

Which I think is greater than Smoglias haul which includes only 2 individual gold.

2 years ago

amazing week for Smoliga… but I think this article underscores the point that total medal haul is less of a reasonable metric for achievement now than it ever was… mixed medley relays are silly. The sport didn’t need more events, especially ones that are so redundant. Still amazing Simone Manual won like 5 medals at 2017 LC worlds just for swimming the 100 free.

Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

And on top of that, prelims swims are also medal worthy, which always felt so weird to me.
Just be from a country with a medal contender relay team, have an above average morning swim that qualifies 4 others for finals, and you can call yourself a world or olympic medalist or champion.
I get the idea behind it, but some teams benefit too much from this.

Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

It risks undermining some future incredible achievements by swimmers from outside US/Aus/China too.

If a Hungarian swimmer (easy example due to swimmers like Cseh and Hosszu) makes a real run at Phelps’ five individual golds and swims lights out on relays but to no avail, they’ll be seen to the wider public as the same level as an American or Aussie freestyler who wins the hundred free and all four relays, actually they’ll be a totally different class of swimmer.

Reply to  Togger
2 years ago

The thing is that the relays are equal to the individuals. You can’t start saying they aren’t or then what’s the point of even having relays?Swimming needs more team based competition to make it more exciting and marketable.

If someone in the future wins 5 individual golds and puts up three fastest in the field type splits the real fans will know what they saw. I don’t measure Phelps’ greatness on just the 8 golds – do you?

Reply to  Tim
2 years ago

But individual medals should be valued more
Jenny Thompson has more Olympic gold medals than lochte or Torres
She has more overall medals than popov thorpe krisztina babashoff and no way she is better than these guys. Remember she has 0 individual og golds

Reply to  Rafael
2 years ago

That’s okay. Jenny Thompson has more medals than them. No one said that means she is a better swimmer.

Olivia Smoglia won the most golds at Short Course Worlds 2018 and the most ever at a Short Course Worlds. It’s a fact. She did incredibly well to achieve this and it doesn’t make it less special just because she isn’t an all time great like Egerszegi (yet!).

Reply to  Tim
2 years ago

valid points – what they achieved is great – no necessarily in terms of Gold medals but for the whole week as a competitive experience – considering the heavy schedule that those missed relays had put on them .

Reply to  Tim
2 years ago

Jenny Thompson could swim the 50 to the 200 free plus the 100 fly at the Olympic level. She also swam an untapered 2:14 200 IM when the WR was a 2:11 high. She broke Mary T’s 100 fly world record, and the only reason she doesn’t have individual Olympic gold is because she was beaten by a drugged Chinese swimmer in the 100 free at Barcelona. Had mixed relays and short course world championships existed at the height of her career, she could have easily taken 10+ golds home.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

Let’s just appreciate the volume of fine swims with these extra relays included. To be able to go 55 high leading off the 400 medley relay on the last day after all those swims is really impressive.

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

Yessssssss High 5 to that . I personally had a blast ( i was missing a serious championships since Pan Pacs was a bit weird for many of us & the swimmers ) .

Jambo Sana
Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

Glad you said it first. Mixed relays are silly. It’s like the Mystery Medley. Ok for smaller meets, but these shouldn’t be in World or Olympics.

Reply to  Jambo Sana
2 years ago

u dont decide what Should or should not be competed Jambo – so ranting or not , its not gonna change any time soon

Michael Schwartz
Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

I’d really have to agree here. Mixed relays are very silly indeed. Swimming didn’t need mixed relays to draw in more of a crowd. The IOC should add in the 50’s of stroke and take out the mixed medley relay.

Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

In 2017 I believe comerford won 5 gold medals without meddling in a single individual event.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Swamfan
2 years ago

Correct. She got out touched for bronze in the 100 but was terrific on all the relays.

Actually I wish Mallory could swim her individual races like they were relays. She always seems to have more spark and urgency in relays.

2 years ago
2 years ago

Love seeing Grevers’ reaction to Dressel getting his hand on the wall

Reply to  Victorian
2 years ago

Oh yes . Did u see the nod Dressel gave to Chad before the start ? they seem to be good buddies ….

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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