The Hits And Misses Of The 2024 Doha World Championships

2024 WORLD AQUATIC CHAMPIONSHIPS

Another World Championship meet has come and gone, and it was one like no other. After one of the fastest World Championships in history last July, many big hitters were missing from the Doha fields: Katie Ledecky, Mollie O’Callaghan, Summer McIntosh, Ariarne Titmus, Thomas Ceccon, David Popovici, Bobby Finke, and Sam Short among several others.

Despite the absences, Doha saw a world record go down, several national records bite the dust, and a few swimmers catapult themselves into the gold medal conversation for Paris. Many took the meet seriously, and it paid dividends as the same amount of World titles were on the line here as there would be at any World Championship meet.

Some swimmers showed up and treated it like any other World Championships, while others seemed to use it as a little check-in, and then some appeared to use it as any regular in-season meet. Regardless, there were many takeaways from the meet, and we’ve compiled a list of our “hits” and “misses.”

For our hits, the focus was on swimmers that 1) inserted themselves into the Paris podium conversation and 2) maybe weren’t widely recognized during the meet itself. Some swimmers like Tes Schouten (NED) and Kate Douglass (USA) have been on clear trajectories in their respective events for quite some time, and while they shined in Doha, we focused on more of the “significant rises” and “unrecognized surprises”. Other swimmers had great performances such as Vladyslav Bukhov in the 50 free, but we chose swims that we didn’t cover in as much detail yet. We took a similar approach for misses, focusing on the biggest implications for Paris storylines.

The Hits

Angelina Köhler (GER)

KOHLER-Angelina
World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

Germany’s Angelina Köhler was one of the revelations from Doha 2024, making herself an immediate contender for the Paris podium with her 56.11 100m butterfly swim. She entered the meet with a lifetime best of 57.05, which she set at the Fukuoka 2023 World Championships. Kohler dropped nearly a full second from that mark just six months later, and was extremely consistent through the rounds in Doha: 56.41 heats swim, 56.11 semifinals swim, 56.28 finals swim.

With her time from the semifinals, she became the 6th fastest active swimmer in the 100 fly. Ahead of her is Sarah Sjostrom, the world record holder, who will most likely solely focus on the 50 free come Paris. Maggie MacNeil, the 2021 Olympic Champion, ranks 2nd but hasn’t beaten Kohler’s 56.11 since the Tokyo Olympics. The same goes for Australia’s Emma McKeon, who sits 5th on the list but hasn’t touched Kohler’s new mark since 2021.

Zhang Yufei and Torri Huske are the only two people that have posted a time faster than Kohler’s Doha mark since the Tokyo Olympics, with Huske winning the Budapest 2022 Worlds in 55.64 and Zhang posting 55.86 to score gold at the 2023 Asian Games. That being said, Kohler’s 56.11 from Doha was faster than the entire 2023 Fukuoka podium where MacNeil, Yufei, and Huske featured.

What’s clear from Kohler’s swim: if she can replicate her performance from Doha in Paris, she’ll be a clear medal contender. If she continues on this stark improvement path, she enters the gold medal conversation.

Top Active Swimmers In The 100 LCM Butterfly, 56.2 or faster:

  1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) – 55.48 WR from 2016 (*widely anticipated that she will not swim this at the Paris Olympics)
  2. Maggie MacNeil (CAN) – 55.59 from 2021
  3. Zhang Yufei (CHN) – 55.62 from 2020
  4. Torri Huske (USA) – 55.64 from 2022
  5. Emma McKeon (AUS) – 55.72 from 2021
  6. Angelina Kohler (GER) – 56.11 from 2024 
  7. Marie Wattel (FRA) – 56.14 from 2022
  8. Claire Curzan (USA) – 56.20 from 2021
  9. Louise Hansson (SWE) – 56.22 from 2021

Taylor Ruck (CAN)

After a few years of being well off her best, Taylor Ruck clocked some promising swims in Doha. Recently making the move to train at the ASU pro group, she posted her fastest 50 freestyle time of nearly six years in the World Championship final. There, she stopped the clock in 24.50 to take 5th overall, her 2nd fastest time ever behind the 24.26 she produced at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

At those Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Ruck walked away with eight medals: 1 gold, 5 silver, & 2 bronze. Her most memorable swim of the meet came on day one, where she outpaced Australia’s Ariarne Titmus on home soil to win by 0.04, winning in a massive best time of 1:54.81. Fast forward to the Pan Pacs a few months later, she faced a similar 200 free battle with American Katie Ledecky. She performed once again, winning gold in another new best time (1:54.44). All of Ruck’s current best times in her primary events, with the exception of the 100 back, come from 2018.

Besides Ruck’s encouraging 50 freestyle performance this week, she also showed up big time for Canada’s relays:

  • 52.96 anchoring the women’s 4×100 medley relay to bronze
  • 53.26 anchoring the women’s 4×100 free relay to bronze
  • 53.28 swimming the 3rd leg of 4th place mixed 4×100 free relay

Ruck, still just 23-years-old, is headed in the right direction in terms of nearing her best sprint free times. It seems like she is focusing on the 50/100 freestyles (and maybe the 100 back?) in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics, her 52-point anchor presence will be pivotal to Canada’s medal chances in the women’s 4×100 medley relay. Canada will also have a strong chance for bronze in the 4×100 free relay, but China seems to be the frontrunner there unless Penny Oleksiak makes a return to racing. Oleksiak made the move to train under Jeff Julian at Mission Viejo in pursuit of her 3rd Olympic Games, but has yet to race this season. Ruck has split 51.7 and 51.8 on relays in 2018, so if she can get anywhere near those marks, one or more relay medals are in Canada’s horizon for Paris.

Siobhan Haughey‘s (HKG) Breaststroke

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
Credit Fabio Cetti

Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey is widely regarded as one of the best freestylers in the world. She has the 50-400 range, with the 100 and 200 being her favored distances. Despite winning double silver in those events at the Tokyo Olympics and grabbing another individual silver in Fukuoka, Haughey has found herself a third individual Olympic event. It comes in the form of the 100 breast, where she grabbed bronze at the Doha World Championships.

Breaststroke has always been something she’s dabbled in, dating back to her NCAA days at the University of Michigan. However, since then, she really hasn’t touched the events with the exception of a few times during the ISL. But in 2023, she set the national record in the 50 breast (30.36) en route to silver at the Asian Games, a shocking swim to many. She later continued that with a U.S. Open title in the 100 breast (1:06.05), touching out defending Olympic champion Lydia Jacoby in the process.

Come the Doha World Championships, Haughey leveled up once again. In the final of the 100 breast, she re-broke her own 100 breast national record (1:05.92) to grab the bronze medal. While there were many big names missing from the final (World record holder Lilly King, 2023 World Champion Ruta Meilutyte, 2022 World Champion Benedetta Pilato, 2021 Olympic Champion Lydia Jacoby, 1:04-swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker), her time would’ve been fast enough for gold at 2022 Worlds and bronze in 2023.

The big question that remains: Will Haughey target this event at the Paris Olympics? Well, looking at the Paris event schedule, the answer is almost certainly a resounding NO. The women’s 100 breast final is slated to take place immediately prior to the 200 free final, with no events situated between them. She would have to pick the 100 breast over the 200 free, which is quite doubtful because she is the defending silver medalist in the latter. The 100 breast is also quite new for Haughey, so to switch focus just five months out from the Games seems extremely unlikely.

Finlay Knox (CAN)

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
Credit Fabio Cetti

The 200 IM gold medal performance from Canada’s Finlay Knox was one of the most unexpected swims of the meet, but he’s been on a trajectory for this type of swim for some time. He swam over the top of American Carson Foster during the closing meters of the race, upsetting Duncan Scott (GBR), Shaine Casas (USA), and Foster.

Trajectory Of Finlay Knox In The 200 IM, 2021 – Present:

  • 2021 – 1:58.88 Canadian record, 1:58.07 Canadian record
  • 2022 – 1:57.50 Canadian record
  • 2023 – 1:57.26 Canadian record
  • 2024 – 1:56.64 Canadian record

Before this year, Knox was known for his front end speed in the 200 IM, something his former coach Ben Titley is known for emphasizing in 200m races. It’s how Summer McIntosh approached her 200 races under his tutelage, as did Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck during their personal best swims.

Having that background in his back pocket, Knox showcased newfound freestyle closing speed under his new coach Scott Talbot. He continued to emphasize the front half, improving there in addition to a substantial freestyle drop. While 1:56.64 will almost certainly not be medal worthy in Paris, trajectory is everything in an Olympic year. If he can drop into the 1:55-range over the coming months, a medal is not out completely of the question for Paris.

Splits Comparison:

KNOX, 2023 CANADIAN TRIALS KNOX, 2024 WORLDS FINAL
24.93 24.66
54.71 (29.78) 54.34 (29.68)
1:28.96 (34.25) 1:28.85 (34.51)
1:57.26 (28.30) 1:56.64 (27.79)

Marrit Steenbergen (NED)

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024 02 – 18 Feb 2024 Credit Fabio Cetti

Marrit Steenbergen was chasing in the shadows of Dutch sprint freestyle legends, and she emerged with a gold medal and national record in Doha. She broke the national record in the semifinals of the event (52.53) before upsetting world leader Siobhan Haughey (HKG) in the finals to snag gold (and national record time) in 52.26.

The Netherlands, a country synonymous for their sprint talent for the better part of three decades, is legendary in the 100 freestyle. Inge De Bruijn claimed gold in Sydney 2000 and helped Team Netherlands to silver in the 4×100 free relay. They claimed bronze in the same relay in 2004, before winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (and breaking the WR months prior in March).

Then, in 2012, Ranomi Kromowidjojo claimed the sprint free double with 50 and 100 free gold medals. Femke Heemskerk then rose to her peak, setting the national record in the 100 free (52.69) in 2015, which stood until Steenbergen broke it this week. Heemskerk, along with Australian Cate Campbell, were the most consistent 100 free relay swimmers from 2015 – 2021.

All in all, Steenbergen’s Doha gold medal performance in the 100 free is meaningful because it allows the Dutch sprint tradition to live on, but also makes her a contender for Olympic gold. 12 years after De Bruijn won 100 free gold in 2000, Kromowidjojo delivered in London. 12 years after Kromodijojo performed in London, can Steenbergen steal the show in Paris?

Erin Gallagher (RSA)

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

South Africa’s Erin Gallagher had a promising meet in Doha, and her performance is important for women’s swimming in South Africa. Firstly, South African women’s swimming has been on the rise, but mainly in the breaststroke realm. Former world record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker claimed 200 breast glory in Tokyo, Kaylene Corbett was 5th to Schoenmaker in that same Tokyo final, and Lara Van Niekerk won double Commonwealth titles in 2022. Beyond breaststroke, there hasn’t been much of a presence on the international stage. Gallagher made her presence known in Doha, featuring in finals of both the 50 and 100 butterfly events.

Gallagher touched 4th in the 50 fly final, just 0.02 outside a bronze medal performance. While she was 0.03 outside her best time, which would’ve garnered a medal, it was a major step forward for the depth of South African swimming as a whole. She also bagged a new national record in the 100 fly (57.59) heats, ultimately placing 7th in the final.

While Gallagher has a Commonwealth silver medal to her name, a 4th place finish at Worlds in non-breaststroke event is great news for South Africa.

Team China As A Whole

TANG-Qianting World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024 02 – 18 Feb 2024 credit Fabio Cetti

Team China built upon their phenomenal Fukuoka showing with seven gold medals in Doha. Their entire team performed exceedingly well, but we’ll focus on two swimmers in particular: Pan Zhanle and Tang Qianting.

Pan opened the meet with a world record in the 100 free, where he led off China’s victorious 4×100 free relay in a scorching 46.80. He proceeded to win individual gold in the 100 free (47.53) and split 1:43.90 on the third leg of China’s gold medal winning 4×200 free relay.

Pan’s splits on the relays were particularly notable, but the depth showcased is significant heading into Paris. Wang Haoyu, who has split 46 in the 100 free before, was consistently splitting in the 47-range and split 1:45.69 in the 4×200 free relay. Ji Xinjie, more known for his middle distance free, split 47.86 in the 100 free and led off the 4×200 in 1:46.45. 16-year-old distance swimmer Zhang Zhanshou clocked splits of 48.63 and 1:45.80, when his best 200 flat start checks-in at 1:47.98.

Their time of 7:01.84 puts them in the conversation for a 4×200 free relay medal in Paris, where Great Britain and Team USA appear to be the frontrunners. If they can make another leap forward, it’s entirely possible they feature on the podium. Australia is looking particularly strong in the 4×200 though, with the rise of Maximillian Giuliani and Tommy Neill swimming the best he has since Tokyo. South Korea recently fired off the Asian record (7:01.73) en route to beating China at the September Asian Games, but China got the better of them in Doha with a slightly slower time.

Now onto Tang Qianting, the 19-year-old breaststroke phenom. She won gold in the 100 breast (1:05.27) with a new Chinese record time, before breaking another Asian record en route to 50 breast (29.51) silver. Tang didn’t even advance to the semifinals at the 2023 World Championships (1:07.15), but was as quick as 1:05.82 at the 2021 Chinese Nationals. Her 1:05.27 inserts her into the gold medal conversation come the Paris Olympics, especially if she continues to improve and dips into the 1:04-realm. Both Ruta Meilutyte and Lilly King posted 1:04 swims last year, but anything can happen, especially in an Olympic year.

The Misses

Shaine Casas (USA)

CASAS-Shaine
World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

American Shaine Casas is truly one of the biggest enigmas in the sport of swimming. He is a medal contender at the international level in at least five events, and his best times in FOUR of those five events would’ve been fast enough for gold in Doha, with his 200 back PB just 0.05 off the winning time:

  • 200 IM – 1:55.24 (1:56.64 won Doha gold)
  • 100 Butterfly – 50.40 (51.17 won Doha gold)
  • 50 Backstroke – 24.00 (24.13 won Doha gold)
  • 100 Backstroke – 52.51 (52.68 won Doha gold)
  • 200 Backstroke – 1:55.35 (1:55.30 won Doha gold)

While Casas didn’t swim any of the backstroke races in Doha, he did swim the 200 IM and both sprint butterfly events. He opened the meet with a best time of 23.22 in the 50 fly semifinals, an event that he doesn’t contest too often. After that, he went on to place 5th in the 200 IM (1:57.73) and 16th in the 100 fly (52.75).

At the U.S. Open in December, Casas clocked 51.03 in the 100 fly and 1:56.06 in the 200 IM, winning the ‘B’-finals of both. Those swims would have won him double Doha gold, just like his best times would have.

Casas had a strong showing at the 2021 Short Course World Championships, securing individual gold in the 100 backstroke there. He then showed well at the 2022 U.S. Trials, but ultimately only swam finals of the three backstrokes. The 2022 Long Course Worlds in Budapest was also a success, as he posted a best time in the 200 back final to earn a bronze medal. But since 2022, Casas has struggled quite a bit on the major meet front: The 2023 U.S. World Championship Trials, 2023 Worlds, and now Doha.

Heading into the U.S. Olympic Trials, Casas has some decisions to make. He’ll have to choose between the 100 fly and 200 IM, because in the new event line-up they directly conflict with no events in-between.

The 200 IM seems like his best shot at the team between those two events, as he is the fastest active American swimmer in the event. 1:55.71 swimmer Carson Foster, up-and-coming World Junior Champion Maximus Williamson, and veteran Chase Kalisz are in the 200 IM mix with him. Michael Andrew has been as fast as 1:55.26 in the event, but hasn’t posted anything near that time since the 2021 Trials. Andrew also seems to be putting his training focus into the 50 free basket, which conflicts with the 200 IM at Trials.

It’s clear that he has the potential to challenge for U.S. Olympic spots in multiple events, but he’ll need to be on his “A+” game, as it’s the hardest Olympic team in the world to make. His times from Doha will not earn him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, with his 200 IM finals time (1:57.73) being the only swim that has a chance of being Top 8 in Indianapolis.

Ruta Meilutyte‘s (LTU) 100 Breaststroke

MEILUTYTE-Ruta
World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte had a rollercoaster meet in Doha. On the second day of competition, she failed to advance to the semifinals of the 100 breaststroke, clocking 1:07.79 for 17th. Two days later, she split 1:07.39 on Lithuania’s mixed medley relay, about the same time as her 100 breast heats swim with the relay start factored in. After winning the 2023 title in a near world record time of 1:04.62, being three seconds off was shocking to many.

She bounced back later in the meet, defending her world title in the 50 breast. She stopped the clock in 29.40 for the win, touching ahead of 19-year-old rising star Tang Qianting of China. Tang touched in a new Asian record of 29.51, and is one of the only swimmers in history to beat Meilutyte on the start.

While Meilutyte wasn’t at her best in the 100, she has a history of being able to produce a fast 50 no matter the time of year. For example, she posted a time of 29.5 in October at the World Cup when she was also several seconds off her best 100 time. She has always been a big taper swimmer for the 100, so it’s hard to tell if her 100 is truly struggling or if she’s holding her cards close for Paris. Based on history, the latter seems more likely, but we don’t have to wait long…we’ll find out in just five months.

Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN)

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

After winning the 800 and 1500 freestyle events at the Fukuoka Worlds in July, and silver in the 400 free, Hafnaoui came into the Doha World Championships with all eyes on him. Despite only racing once since Fukuoka, many still considered him to be the favorite to sweep the 400, 800, and 1500.

He ultimately missed the finals in all three:

  • 17th in the 400 Free with a time of 3:48.05 (+7.35 seconds from Fukuoka)
  • 18th in the 800 Free with a time of 7:51.72 (+14.72 seconds from Fukuoka)
  • 17th in the 1500 Free with a time of 15:09.02 (+37.48 seconds from Fukuoka)

Hafnaoui did switch up his training a few months ago, making the move from Indiana to train with Mark Schubert’s pro group in California. Additionally, Hafnaoui, like American Bobby Finke, are two distance swimmers known to need a large taper to be at their best. The training change in conjunction to the taper factor could’ve played a role in his performances, but nonetheless, 17th and 18th in the world is not where the defending world champion would want to be five months out from the big show.

Gregorio Paltrinieri‘s (ITA) 1500 Free & Florian Wellbrock‘s (GER) 800 Free

World Aquatics Championships – Doha 2024
02 – 18 Feb 2024
credit Fabio Cetti

Gregorio Paltrinieri and Florian Wellbrock, two of the great distance freestylers of their generation, have faced some struggles at the previous two World Championship meets. It started in Fukuoka last year, where the open water competition (which occurred prior to the pool events) had an adverse impact on their pool performances. They both missed the final of the 1500 free, while Wellbrock missed the 800 final where Paltrinieri finished 8th.

They both rebounded to an extent in Doha, with Paltrinieri earning 800 silver and Wellbrock 1500 silver. However, Wellbrock missed the final of the 800 free again and Paltrinieri did the same in the 1500. Wellbrock was silver in the 800 at the Budapest 2022 Worlds, while Paltrinieri grabbed gold in the 1500 at that same meet.

In Wellbrock’s case, he was well off his best times in both distances in Doha, and raced both the 5k and 10k open water races before the competition. Thankfully for his pool chances, open water swimming occurs after pool swimming in Paris.

Paltrinieri’s 1500 seemed to just be a miscalculation, as he likes to swim from the outside lane in finals. He did so in the 800 en route to silver in Tokyo, and in his gold medal 1500 from Budapest. He was 3rd in the final heat of the 1500, ceding 2nd place to junior star Kuzey Tuncelli of Turkey, but the move ultimately caused him to miss the final completely. Paltrinieri did swim to silver in the 800 free earlier in Doha, showing he was on form.

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kevin
1 month ago

Isona Anderson 17 yes 17 silver in backstroke PB every time she goes in the water

Swimdad
1 month ago

Michael Andrew should definitely be on the “miss” list. He’s probably the most versatile swimmer in the world, yet hasn’t won anything of significance individually.
Is it hard just hard to train multiple events? Does he need a new coach? Train more and compete less maybe? Such an enigma.

John26
1 month ago

Is there a clear view on Hafnoui’s trajectory right now? Do we know whether he was just extremely untapered at this meet, or the training just isn’t there because of program changes?

If that’s the latter, the most competitive distance fields in history in Paris actually has clear favorites: Short in the 4/8 and Finke in the 15

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
1 month ago

No Claire Curzan?

Swimz
1 month ago

I want MA to prove that the myths of him are all wrong…but still I know he will not..sad..but wish him good luck to make the team for Paris

Hank
Reply to  Swimz
1 month ago

Being a Michael Andrew fan is kind of like being a Miami Dolphins fan. They come out strong in the regular season and then get annihilated in the playoffs.

Facts
Reply to  Hank
1 month ago

MA is basically the Dallas Cowboys of swimming the more I think about it

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

I love that Casas’s only posted event where his best time wouldn’t have won gold is the only event where he actually has an individual medal.

Swemmer
1 month ago

Is Hafnaoui set to train in the USA now because that is something he clearly needs to be a gold medal contender.

Pan needs to figure out how to manage his races individually after the disaster of an individual 100 free

Hank
Reply to  Swemmer
1 month ago

I don’t think he trained for long with Schubert. He was back training in Tunisia before WC

Pan Fan
Reply to  Swemmer
1 month ago

Disaster?

Pan won individual 100 free.

I know that you’re trolling but this is too much.

Swimdad
Reply to  Pan Fan
1 month ago

Won’t call it a disaster but definitely a let down after his record swim.
He just couldn’t back the record up. Very disappointing.

Greeny
1 month ago

Thinking about Katie Ledecky may be only American to win an individual gold in France . USA will get a stack of medals but unless I forgot about someone cannot think of anyone else that is most likely to win gold . Yes it is early and lot can change just weird state swimming is now.

Last edited 1 month ago by Greeny
I miss the ISL
Reply to  Greeny
1 month ago

If Chikunova isn’t allowed to swim, KD is probably the favorite in the 200 breast? She’s also co-favorite in 200 IM?
If Dressel is back at his peak somehow, then he’s probably the favorite in 100 free? Maybe? 100 fly?
Lots of doubts. Weird time indeed.

Greeny
Reply to  I miss the ISL
1 month ago

Even that you need a swimmer to be banned due to political issues and another swimmer to outta nowhere hit form even though he not close to it know. Maybe W 100m Breast and Finke has good chance also but not favourite. W 200IM hard to tell but Summer has the edge and Kaylee is not that far off Douglass

Pan Fan
Reply to  I miss the ISL
1 month ago

If Chikunova doesn’t swim, KD is co-favorite along Schoenmaker and Schouten.

Taa
Reply to  Greeny
1 month ago

Not most likely but given the volume of possible silver medalists I would expect a few to end up winning as its definitely going to happen that some of the gold favorites faulter. In addition to that there is always a Jacoby type swim that happens or Hafnoui I know he is not american just another example. I’d put the over/under at 4.5 or 5

Greeny
Reply to  Taa
1 month ago

Hard not seeing Australia win more gold then USA at this stage be a huge upset. I can see a world where China wins more gold although unlikely Qin x2 Pan x1 Yufei x1 plus 1-2 relays