SwimSwam Pulse: Australia’s Success Was Top Story of 2023 World Championships

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side.

Our most recent polls asked SwimSwam readers what the top storylines were in Fukuoka:

Question: What has been the biggest story of the 2023 World Championships after 4 days?


  • Australian women’s freestyle dominance – 35.5%
  • U.S. struggles – 28.1%
  • China’s emergence – 13.9%
  • Marchand’s world record – 11.9%
  • Surprise male freestyle winners – 10.5%

Question: What was the biggest story of the back half of the 2023 World Championships?


  • Australian success / Medal table debate – 38.8%
  • Qin Haiyang sweeps men’s BR – 25.5%
  • Sjostrom continues sprint dominance – 15.5%
  • World records – 14.7%
  • Ledecky makes more history – 4.3%
  • Kaylee McKeown sweeps women’s BK – 1.1%

Over both the first and back half of the meet, the top prevailing storyline from the 2023 World Championships had to do with the Australian dominance, according to the latest pair of A3 Performance Polls.

After four days, the top story of the competition according to readers was the sheer dominance of the Australian female freestylers, as we saw three new world records fall—two by siginificant margins, and one that had been on the books for 14 years.

Ariarne Titmus kicked things off by breaking the world record in the 400 free (3:55.38), the Aussie women absolutely torched the all-time mark in the 400 free relay (3:27.96), and then three nights later, Mollie O’Callaghan broke Federica Pellegrini‘s world record from 2009 in the 200 free, clocking 1:52.85 to go 1-2 with Titmus.

The run didn’t end there, as O’Callaghan went on to win the 100 free, the 800 free relay team that was bookended by O’Callaghan and Titmus smashed another world record, and O’Callaghan anchored the squad that won the mixed 400 free relay in world record fashion.

The lack of American success early on was another prevalent story, as, after four days, they ranked third on the medal table with just three gold medals, and when they were held off the top step of the podium on the opening night, it marked the first time that had happened since 1994.

China, which sat second on the medal table at the halfway point with four gold medals, was another big story throughout the meet. Four days in, Qin Haiyang had won the men’s 50 and 100 breast, Zhang Yufei won the women’s 100 fly, and both swimmers played crucial roles in China’s victory in the mixed medley relay.

Leon Marchand‘s flawless world record swim in the 400 IM also earned its fair share of votes, though it was just one singular swim which makes it hard to compete with some of the other options, while the surprise in the men’s free events, with unexpected winners Matt RichardsSam Short and Ahmed Hafnaoui in the 200, 400 and 800 also picked up more than 10 percent of votes.

Over the second half of the meet, Australia’s continued success, coupled with the medal table debate sparked by an NBC graphic, was the top storyline according to readers.

In addition to the freestyle success mentioned above, Kaylee McKeown swept the women’s backstroke events for the Australians, while the men had Cameron McEvoy (50 free) and Kyle Chalmers (100 free) earns wins in addition to Short (400 free), while the men’s team also scored a big win in the 400 free relay on the opening night.

Overall, Australia won 13 gold medals, nearly double the American total (7), though the U.S. did pile up 38 total medals (7/20/11) compared to the Aussies’ 25 (13/7/5).

More than a quarter of the votes went to the stunning sweep produced by China’s Qin, as he finished things off after winning the men’s 50 and 100 breast early on, rocketing to a new world record of 2:05.48 in the 200 breast to become the first swimmer ever to sweep the 50, 100 and 200-meter distances of any stroke at the World Championships (McKeown matched the feat one day later).

Qin also handed Australian Zac Stubblety-Cook his first loss in the 200 breast in major international competition for the first time since 2019.

Taking third in the poll with 15.5 percent of votes was the continued sprint dominance we saw from Sarah Sjostrom, as the 29-year-old Swede set a new world record in the women’s 50 free (23.61) and won gold in that and the 50 fly in decisive fashion. She’s now won the 50 fly five straight times, while in the 50 free, she’s won gold three times over the last four World Championships and reached the podium in five straight editions.

The influx of world records we saw in Fukuoka, including Sjostrom’s 50 free, Qin’s 200 breast and Ruta Meilutyte‘s 50n breast late in the meet, picked up just under 15 percent of votes.

Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks: Where will the strength lie in the pool once the realignment dust settles in the NCAA:

What will be the best swimming conference in the NCAA post-realignment in 2024?

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4 months ago

I’d say the biggest surprise (not in a positive way) was China’s performance.. a lot of their swimmers come out of nowhere breaking world records, are relevant for one maybe two years and disappear.. makes you wonder

Reply to  Mark
4 months ago

is it really a surprise? It seems to me that China has been like this for a while now, with many of their good swimmers having occasional peak years but unable to consistently repeat them.

Outside of this meet, off the top of my head, Zhang Yufei broke the WJR in 2015 in the 200 fly and then didn’t win any medals until 2021 when she broke the textile WR and had a string of sub 56s in the 100, Wang Shun dropped a huge PB in the 200 IM at 27, Tang Muhan and Yang Junxuan dropped 1:54 lows in the 200 free in 2021 but haven’t done it again yet, Ye Shiwen had her amazing 200/400 IMs… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by jeff
Fukuoka Gold
Reply to  Mark
4 months ago

Stop insinuating.

Chinese medal winners did not come out of nowhere.

Qin Haiyang, Zhang Yufei, Xu Jiayu, Lie Binhgjie etc have been around for years and won Olympics, worlds, Asian Games, and other international medals.

You sound pretty much like a double standard Americans.

From the point of non-American, Dare Rose, JAlexy, Gretchen Walsh, etc came out of nowhere.

Just because you don’t follow international swimming, it doesn’t mean they came out of nowhere.

Reply to  Mark
4 months ago

Why aren’t you making those insinuations about Meilutyte or Jack?

IU Swammer
4 months ago

Are we including Cal and Stanford to the Big Ten in this round of realignment?

Philip Johnson
4 months ago

Off topic, but has there been any articles as to what happened to Popovici?

Reply to  Philip Johnson
4 months ago

No article. But, I mean, what else is there to say? He just had a “bad” meet by his standards. He has admitted that he was distracted this year with finishing schools and exams, and it had an impact on his time in the training pool.

Reply to  Wow
4 months ago

Too much of an academic weapon 🫠

Swim Dad
4 months ago


Reply to  Swim Dad
4 months ago

Oh you are so irritating…..😜😁😁👍

I am going to enjoy these digs in the leadup to Paris, but I know the true trolls will abuse the fun banter and overdo it eventually (I hope not though).


Aussie Crawl
Reply to  Swim Dad
4 months ago


About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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