With the postponement of the 2022 World Championships to 2023 now confirmed, one of the swimming community’s biggest questions has been: what will the Americans do? Much of the world has other international competitions, like the European Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, to serve as potential “replacement” championship meets, but the Americans now seem to be left high and dry after the 2022 Pan Pacs were pushed to 2026 and with USA Swimming recently announcing that they will not send a contingent to the 2022 World University Games.
There’s no doubt that the lack of a 2022 international championship meet is a problem that the United States will need to solve, but there is a small group of elite Americans that will not be totally in the dark: the top American juniors.
The 2022 World Junior Championships are still scheduled to take place in Kazan, Russia August 23rd-28th, with girls born 2005 to 2008 and boys born in 2004 to 2007 eligible to compete. Historically, the United States has not placed a top priority on the meet, opting to have their top juniors skip the meet in favor of senior-level international competition.
This meet has been a subordinated meet on USA Swimming’s priority list, though. The last three World Junior Championships have seen several top American juniors skip the meet to compete in either the World Championships or the Pan-American Games, including three swimmers who went on to win medals in Tokyo in 2021.
- Regan Smith (World Champs)
- Mariah Denigan (Pan-American Games)
- Alex Walsh (Pan-American Games)
- Phoebe Bacon (Pan-American Games)
- Courtney Harnish (Pan-American Games)
- Meghan Small (Pan-American Games)
- Sierra Schmidt (Pan-American Games)
Despite missing some of their top swimmers, the Americans still performed well at all three of those championships. The US won the most total medals at all three of those World Juniors, though Australia officially topped the 2015 medal table after winning 9 golds to the Americans’ 6.
Several World Juniors-eligible swimmers dot the 2022 US National Team roster, including Sandpiper Olympic teammates Bella Sims (800 free) and Katie Grimes (800/1500 free, 10k) and Fishers’ Jo Jo Ramey (200 back), meaning that these three seem likely to head to Kazan in August, though USA Swimming has yet to release the qualifying procedure for the meet. There are no junior men on the US National team, with University of Pennsylvania 19-year-old freshman Matt Fallon serving as the team’s youngest member.
The Americans have historically taken the approach of sending their swimmers to the highest level meet possible, even if it means potentially sacrificing their event lineup. For example, in 2017, Regan Smith broke onto the international scene as a 15 year old when she made the final of the 200 back at the 2017 World Championships, her only event at the meet. The 2022 summer now gives the US the opportunity to take the opposite approach, allowing their top juniors to swim fuller event lineups at the World Juniors instead of a limited lineup at the senior level.
Globally, the World Junior Championships is held in high regard and is a stepping stone for many of the world’s top swimmers on their way to senior-level success. Several Tokyo Olympic medalists competed in either the 2019, 2017 or 2015 championships, including Ahmed Hafnaoui, Kyle Chalmers, Nicolo Martinenghi, Kristof Milak, Zac Stubbletty-Cook and Kate Douglass.