SwimSwam’s Awards For The 2023 World Junior Championships


The 2023 World Junior Swimming Championships were full of dominant performances, surprising breakouts, upsets, and a few relay comebacks.

Below, check out SwimSwam’s awards for the six-day competition that wrapped up on Saturday in Netanya.


Maximus Williamson was the undeniable star of the meet on the boys’ side, as he won both of his individual events and led the U.S. to four relay gold medals while making a bit of history in the process.

Williamson turned 17 on the first day of the competition, and promptly went out and became the fastest 17-year-old in history one day later in the boys’ 200 IM, clocking 1:57.29 to set a new Championship Record and move into #2 all-time in the boys’ 17-18 age group in the U.S.

Williamson overtook Kosuke Hagino (1:57.35) for the distinction of being the fastest 17-year-old we’ve ever seen, knocked off Tomoyuki Matsushita‘s hours-old CR (1:58.42) and now sits 2nd to only Michael Phelps (1:55.94) in the 17-18 age group.

The performance also marked a significant personal best time of 1.36 seconds, with Williamson having gone 1:58.65 at U.S. Nationals on July 1.

One day prior, Williamson recorded a blistering second leg on the U.S. boys’ 400 free relay, splitting 47.78 as he teamed up with Daniel DiehlHudson Williams and Jason Zhao to set a new World Junior Record of 3:15.49.

That proved to only be a preview of what Williamson was capable of in the 100 free. Following the 200 IM on Day 2, he anchored the Americans to gold in the mixed medley relay in 47.74, and showed off his capabilities from a flat start the following day.

The Lakeside Aquatic Club product dropped a 48.38 split on the opening leg of the mixed free relay, breaking the 17-18 National Age Group Record of 48.47 set by Jonny Kulow earlier this year. (At the time it was unclear if Williamson’s swim would be recognized as the official record due to it being on a mixed relay, but USA Swimming currently lists it as the NAG mark.)

The U.S. won silver in that event, and Williamson went on to back up that leg by winning gold in the 100 free in 48.45, giving him two flat-start sub-48.5 swims after entering the competition with a best of 48.84.

He also led off the victorious 800 free relay in 1:47.11, ranking him #8 in the boys’ 17-18 age group, and he finished things off by splitting 47.57 to bring the U.S. boys another gold in the medley relay. That gave him six gold and seven total medals for the meet, both of which led all swimmers in Netanya.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Oleksandr Zheltyakov, Ukraine – Zheltyakov was one of four male swimmers to win multiple individual golds, doing so in the 100 and 200 back. The 17-year-old set a new Ukrainian Record in the 100 back (53.73) and neared his mark in the 200 back (1:56.13), falling just short of the 1:55.79 time he produced to win gold at Euro Juniors in July. Zheltyakov also broke 25 seconds for the first time in the 50 back, earning silver in a time of 24.91. Those three performances made Zheltyakov the “World Aquatics Trophy” winner (13 points), with points distributed for top-four individual finishes (5-3-2-1).
  • Kuzey Tuncelli, Turkey – Tuncelli went undefeated individually as he swept the boys’ 800 and 1500 free events despite having turned 16 just a few days prior to the start of the meet. Tuncelli used a 27.47 closing 50 to secure victory over reigning European Junior champion Petar Mitsin in the 800 free in a time of 7:48.75, setting a new Turkish Record and dropping nearly four seconds from his PB. Tuncelli came back four nights later and won the 1500 free in 14:59.80 after setting a new National Record of 14:54.16 in late July. He currently ranks 3rd all-time among 16 & unders all-time in both the 800 and 1500 free.


Olivia Wunsch delivered some tantalizing performances in Netanya, introducing herself as Australia’s next great female freestyler.

The 17-year-old was one of four swimmers to win two individual girls’ titles, but her case for Swimmer of the Meet honors was bolstered by a standout showing in the relays that resulted in her leading all females with six medals.

Wunsch won the 50 free (24.59) and 100 free (53.71) individually, matching the Championship Record in the former initially set by Rikako Ikee in 2017.

Wunsch, who entered the meet with respective bests of 24.85 and 54.05, also moved into 2nd all-time among Australian 17-year-olds in the 50 free, trailing only Cate Campbell (23.99) while overtaking the likes of Bronte Campbell (24.61) and Mollie O’Callaghan (24.80). In the 100 free, Wunsch ranks 3rd behind only C. Campbell (53.03) and O’Callaghan (53.08).

In the relays, Wunsch’s top swim came in the girls’ 400 free relay, where she anchored the Aussies to gold with a blazing split of 52.61, one that would’ve ranked 7th (out of 24 flying splits) in the event at the World Championships in Fukuoka.

She essentially matched that performance on the girls’ medley relay, bringing Australia home for another gold in 52.73 (the U.S. touched 1st but was disqualified for an early takeoff), and she also contributed to the mixed free relay that set a new World Junior Record (53.62 split).

In addition to her five gold medals, Wunsch added a bronze in the 50 fly, tying with Japan’s Mizuki Hirai for 3rd in a time of 26.53—just shy of her 26.49 PB.

A relative unknown coming into the meet, Wunsch emerged as an up-and-coming star in Netanya and will surely be one to watch at the 2024 Australian Olympic Trials.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Leah Hayes, USA – Hayes tied for 3rd overall at the competition with five medals, trailing only Williamson and Wunsch as she swept the girls’ medley events, picked up one relay gold and one silver, and added a bronze in the 200 free. Hayes was the lone female swimmer to set Championship Records in two individual events, doing so en route to her gold medals in the 200 IM (2:10.24) and 400 IM (4:36.84), with the latter marking a new PB to move her into #6 in the girls’ 17-18 age group in the U.S. The 17-year-old also had solid swims to take 3rd in the 200 free (1:58.19) while splitting 1:57.86 on the victorious 800 free relay and leading off in 54.96 on the runner-up 400 free relay.
  • Lana Pudar, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Given that she’s finished in the top-10 of both events in two consecutive World Championships, it was no surprise to see Pudar claim World Junior titles in the girls’ 100 and 200 fly, breaking a six-year-old Championship Record in the latter in a time of 2:07.20. The 17-year-old also won the 100 fly (57.77) and earned silver in the 50 fly (26.26), making her the World Aquatics Trophy winner on the girls’ side with 13 points. Although Pudar wasn’t on the career-best form she showed at the Euro Juniors in July where she swept the fly events and set a trio of Bosnian and Herzegovinian Records, it was her third taper meet in just two months.


We’ve already taken an in-depth look at this swim above, but Williamson’s 200 IM performance was undoubtedly the swim of the meet on the boys’ side.

In addition to becoming the fastest 17-year-old ever, breaking the Championship Record and moving into #2 all-time in the U.S. 17-18 age group behind Michael Phelps, Williamson also came within three-tenths of the World Junior Record with his 1:57.29 clocking in the 200 IM, with that mark being held by Hungarian Hubert Kos, who delivered a 1:56.99 when he won the European title in 2021.

Given that Williamson has approximately 16 months of WJR eligibility left, it’s seemingly when, not if, he takes down that record.

His time also would’ve been fast enough to make the American World Championship team had he done it at U.S. Nationals, as Shaine Casas was the runner-up at that meet in 1:57.47, and it was also just six one-hundredths shy of what was required to make the final at Worlds (1:57.23 from Casas).

Honorable Mention:

  • Tomoyuki Matsushita (JPN), 400 IM – After he was DQed in the 200 IM final, Matsushita bounced back by winning the 400 IM thanks to a decisive freestyle leg (57.46) in 4:10.97 to lower the Championship Record. That showing puts him just a second and a half shy of medal territory at the 2023 World Championships.
  • Kuzey Tuncelli (TUR), 800 free – Tuncelli rocketed to gold and a new Turkish Record in the 800 free in 7:48.75, using a 27.47 closing 50 to secure victory over reigning European Junior champion Petar Mitsin.


A swim that largely flew under the radar, Teagan O’Dell put up an ultra-elite performance en route to winning the girls’ 200 back by more than two seconds in 2:08.09, knocking exactly one second off her previous best time set at U.S. Nationals just two months prior.

O’Dell, who will turn 17 in November, moved up to #5 all-time in the girls’ 15-16 age group in the U.S., trailing the likes of Missy FranklinElizabeth Beisel, Regan Smith and Elizabeth Pelton. O’Dell also came within six-tenths of the Championship Record of 2:07.48 set by Smith in 2017.

And although O’Dell’s time would’ve “only” placed 6th at Nationals, it would have comfortably made the final at the World Championships and finished 6th, further displaying the depth the U.S. has in the event.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jaclyn Barclay (AUS), 100 back – Barclay dropped just over three-tenths as she rocketed to gold in the 100 back in a time of 59.47, a time good enough to make the 2023 Worlds final and place 6th.
  • Leah Hayes (USA), 400 IM – Hayes broke the Championship Record, dropped nearly two seconds from her best time and moved into #6 in the girls’ 17-18 age group in the 400 IM, clocking 4:36.84.
  • Alexanne Lepage (CAN), 100 breast – Lepage upended pre-race favorite Eneli Jefimova to win a shocking gold medal in the girls’ 100 breast in 1:06.58, nearing the CR set by Jefimova in the semis (1:06.23).


From unknown to the fastest 16-year-old in history, China’s Zhang Zhanshuo was the biggest breakout performer on the boys’ side thanks in large part to his swim in the 400 IM.

Zhang dropped five seconds to become the fastest 16 & under performer in the history of the event, clocking 4:12.44 to overtake countryman Huang Chaosheng, who clocked 4:12.53 at the 2009 Chinese National Games.

That performance earned Zhang the silver medal, having closed with a mind-boggling freestyle split (56.42) to move up from 4th at the 300-meter mark and touch 2nd behind Japan’s Tomoyuki Matsushita, who set a new CR in 4:10.97.

Zhang also delivered impressive swims to win bronze in both the 800 free (7:50.03) and 1500 free (15:11.94), negative splitting both races, and he also took 4th in the 200 IM (1:59.49). Having only turned 16 in May, Zhang also threw in a 1:47.0 split on the 800 free relay, plus 49.4 free and 1:03.6 breasts splits on the free and medley relays.


Alexanne Lepage orchestrated arguably the biggest upset of the meet in the girls’ 100 breaststroke, as she ran down massive favorite Eneli Jefimova to win gold in a time of 1:06.58.

That swim marked a two-and-a-half-second drop compared to Lepage’s personal best time entering the meet (1:09.07), and she now ranks as the fastest Canadian in the event this season and fell just .05 shy of the National Age Group Record set back in 2009. That NAG record of 1:06.53, held by Amanda Reason, was set at the same meet in which she broke the world record in the 50 breast (30.23).

In addition to the fact that Jefimova came in with a PB nearly three seconds faster than Lepage, the victory for the Canadian was even more significant after Jefimova set a new Championship Record of 1:06.23 in the semi-finals.

Lepage, who will turn 18 next month, followed up her 100 breast triumph by dropoping six seconds in the 200 breast to win gold in a time of 2:24.70, breaking the Canadian 15-17 NAG Record of 2:25.37 set by Mary-Sophie Harvey in 2017.

Lepage also broke 31 for the first time in the 50 breast prelims (30.82) before placing 4th in the final, and she added a third medal on Canada’s 400 medley relay with a 1:07.0 breast leg.


Wunsch’s pair of 52-point splits on the Australian relays make her the clutch relay performer of the meet going away, especially when we consider she had never broken 54 seconds from a flat start coming into the meet.

Wunsch’s Relay Splits At World Juniors

  • Girls’ 400 free relay – 52.61 (fastest in the field)
  • Girls’ 400 medley relay – 52.73 (fastest in the field)
  • Mixed 400 free relay – 53.62 (2nd-fastest in the field)

Both of her splits in the girls’ relay events came under pressure, as Wunsch dove in with a deficit of nine one-hundredths in the 400 free relay before blowing away the American team by more than a second, while in the medley, she trailed the Canadian and Japanese teams by more than a second before running them down to ultimately win gold after the U.S. was disqualified.

Honorable Mention:

  • Maximus Williamson, USA – With three 47-second relay splits for the Americans to go along with a scintillating 48.38 lead-off leg, Williamson was a marvel on the U.S. relays last week. His lead-off leg of 1:47.11 in the 800 free relay was also the fastest in the field and would rank 3rd if we include flying splits.


The United States was the top team of the meet no matter how you slice it, as they steamrolled the medal table with 15 gold medals and 33 overall, with the Australians the only nation to win more total medals than the Americans won gold.

The U.S. had seven different swimmers win at least two individual medals, led by Hayes with three. Earning two were Williamson, Diehl, Watson NguyenErika PelaezAddison Sauickie and Leah Shackley, while O’Dell, Kate HurstKayla Han and Joshua Chen all won individual gold.

On top of that, the Americans won five relays, earned silver in two, and then were disqualified in the girls’ 400 medley relay after initially touching 1st.

Thanks to the relay prowess, 10 different U.S. swimmers walked away with at least four medals.

Honorable Mention:

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Thomas Selig
2 months ago

I know she won the breakout performer, but I think Lepage’s 100 breast deserved a mention in the female swims of the meet. Knocked 3+ seconds off her PB, and beat heavy favourite Jefimova in the process.

Hooked on Chlorine
2 months ago

Some nice stat-crunching in this article. My only complaint is that Wunsch and the other winners don’t even get their pics in in the porthole gallery after the end of the article.

2 months ago

Wunsch was not a relative unknown. We’ve been talking about her for a while now. She just hasn’t been able to make the Australian senior team because of the crazy depth.
O’Dell for female swim of the meet? Unsure about that. Maybe Hayes who broke CRs in the IMs.

Reply to  Joel
2 months ago

I don’t think you can say Wunsch was well known at all before this meet outside of those of us who follow Australian age group swimming. She only made her first senior national finals a few months ago. This was her coming out meet on the world (junior) stage.

Reply to  Mark69
2 months ago

She would be =4th in the 50 free and 5th in the 15-16 US NAG rankings.
She would also already be 4th in the 50 free and 6th in the 100 free in the 17-18 list.
Not sure how accurate those rankings are, but my point stands regardless.
Australian freestyle depth is why she isn’t well known, were she American the interest would’ve started early last year, perhaps even earlier. I think the first real hint was her swimming the fastest 50 free at Jr Pan Pacs, albeit in the B final.
She has been overshadowed by Casey and Jansen at various times, only now surpassing them.

I’ll also mention that she went faster than GW… Read more »

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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