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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4 years ago
4 years ago

4 by 50 free women’s relay final : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-TiHMts6Dk

Awsi Dooger
4 years ago

I wouldn’t mind if every race was a relay. Highest caliber of swimming, IMO.

Swimming should have distance medley relays, like track and field.

Also a 4 x 400 medley relay but with each one doing a full 400 individual medley. That would mean some awesome collapses and separation.

4 X 1500 relay

Reply to  Awsi Dooger
4 years ago

or 4 by 200 back , 4 by 200 butterfly & 4 by 200 breast relays

running start to touch backstroke flags
4 years ago

Swimmer of the meet right here! FINA only goes with circuit regulars, while the real talent decided to show up for worlds and show them what swimming is about..

Finis tech suit rocks
4 years ago

Truly the Finis tech suit rocks!

4 years ago
4 years ago

Men’s 1,500 meter final : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbKV34esYAI

4 years ago

Men’s medley relay race ( since it feels impossible for Us Europeans to see those races ) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-PzPDXnW2Q

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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