Top Five Storylines of the 2022 World Championships – Men’s Edition

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

After we took a look at the five biggest women’s storylines at the upcoming World Championships on Tuesday, it’s now time to analyze the most pressing questions on the men’s side in Budapest.

Not unlike the women, the men’s meet is headlined by one megastar chasing history, a number of events with key absences ripe for the taking, and a potential balance of power shift in the relays.

DRESSEL GOING FOR THE TRIPLE-TRIPLE

Caeleb Dressel enters the 2022 World Championships with a ton of eyes on him. His stardom was well known prior to last summer’s Olympic Games, but his five gold medals in Tokyo took things to a new level.

Dressel, always one to perform under pressure, is the defending champion in four individual events in Budapest, having won the men’s 50 free, 100 free, 50 fly and 100 fly three years ago in Gwangju. Additionally, he’s the two-time defending champ in three of those races (50/100 free, 100 fly).

In the 50 free, Dressel would join Cesar Cielo as the only man to win the event three consecutive times at the World Championships. In the 100 free it’s never been done (Alexander Popov won three, but not in a row), and Michael Phelps is the only one to ever do it in the 100 fly.

On top of that, Dressel has a shot at a unique piece of history: no man has ever won the same three events at three consecutive World Championships. Phelps (100 and 200 fly from 2007-11), Sun Yang (400 and 800 free, 2011-15) and Adam Peaty (50 and 100 breast from 2015-19) won the same two events three straight times, but no man has quite been able to pull off the trifecta that Dressel is attempting.

On the women’s side, Katie Ledecky is the only one to have pulled this off, doing so in the 400, 800 and 1500 free from 2013 until 2017.

While that statistic might be splitting hairs, the 25-year-old star’s medal total is the overall storyline to watch next week. In 2017, he exploded for seven gold medals, and in 2019, Dressel topped that with a six gold, eight-medal haul.

Entering just his third World Championship, Dressel already has 15 medals, 13 of which are gold. That puts him fourth on the all-time World Championship medal table (ranked by number of golds), though he’s back in ninth in terms of sheer medal count. Five medals would move him into third all-time, not factoring in how many Ledecky will win in Budapest (she currently has 18, 15 gold).

POPOVICI & HWANG – WHO WILL TAKE THE NEXT STEP?

There’s no shortage of young talent on the rise in the sport, and headlining that for the men is David Popovici and Hwang Sunwoo, who happen to specialize in the same events.

Popovici, 17, was a revelation last year in the lead-up to the Olympics, putting the world on notice with a 47.30 World Junior Record in the men’s 100 free, and went on to narrowly miss a medal in the 200 free in Tokyo, placing fourth in 1:44.66.

Hwang, who recently turned 19, set a WJR in the 200 free in the Olympic prelims at 1:44.62 before fading to seventh in the final.

Both swam times last year that would’ve won a medal in the Tokyo final (Popovici in the 100, Hwang in the 200), and with one more year of training and development under their belts, their potential in Budapest is limitless.

Both are in the hunt to medal in both the 100 and 200 free. With Dressel in the 100, that’s a tall order, but the other two Olympic medalists (Kyle Chalmers, Kliment Kolesnikov) won’t be in the field. In the 200, Olympic silver medalist Duncan Scott is out and the door is wide open for both Popovici and Hwang to take a serious run at the title. Both own a best in the 1:44.6 range, and Great Britain’s Tom Dean was 1:44.22 to win last year.

CAN FINKE ESTABLISH HIMSELF AS THE NEW DISTANCE KING?

The men’s distance freestyle events have historically been dominated by one swimmer for a long period of time. It was Grant Hackett, then it was Sun Yang, and then Gregorio Paltrinieri had a briefer but nonetheless solid run at the top.

Recently things have been more wide open, with Paltrinieri still in the mix along with fellow Europeans Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk.

But in Tokyo, it was American Bobby Finke who disrupted that trio, roaring to a pair of unexpected victories in the 800 and 1500 free.

Looking at the times Finke produced to win, it was clear that he was able to deliver his best performances when the pressure was on. The others, who had all been faster than Finke’s winning times previously, were not.

Now, with the field knowing his strategy and ability on the last 50, not to mention the addition of Germany’s Lukas Märtens, Finke will be put to the test to see if he can begin his reign as the next distance king or if it will simply be a multi-way dogfight that could go any which way every time these guys line up next to each other.

KEY ABSENCES – WHO WILL STEP UP?

Like the women, there will be several noteworthy absences on the men’s side in Budapest.

As it turns out, the most high-profile name that was reported to be missing the competition months ahead of time, Kyle Chalmers, will be competing, just not in his primary freestyle events.

A few other heavy-hitters have dropped out due to injury or illness, including the three-time defending champion in the 50 and 100 breaststroke, Adam Peaty, and his British teammate Duncan Scott, who won four medals (including two individual silvers) at the Olympics last summer.

The field will also be missing the entire Russian contingent due to the ban stemming from the country’s invasion of Ukraine. That includes Evgeny Rylov, who swept the 100 and 200 back last summer and is also the two-time defending world champion in the 200 back, and fellow individual Olympic medalist Kliment Kolesnikov.

With so many openings, who can take advantage of the opportunity?

We already mentioned how Popovici and Hwang will benefit from the absence of Chalmers and Kolesnikov in the 100 free, and the same goes for them with Scott in the 200 free.

In the backstrokes, things have been blown wide open, with Rylov and Kolesnikov going 1-2 last summer in the 100 back and Rylov being a dominant force in recent years in the 200.

That opens things up for American Ryan Murphy to win his first individual world titles in both the 100 and 200, while his countryman Hunter Armstrong will look to do the same after upsetting Murphy in the 100 at U.S. Trials.

Kolesnikov was also the fastest man in history (by a wide margin) in the 50 back until Armstrong broke the world record in April, and with Justin Ress becoming the third man under 24 seconds in Greensboro, the Americans are now massively favored to go 1-2. With Shaine Casas joining Murphy in the 200, the U.S. could quite possibly win gold and silver in all three male backstrokes.

The most glaring opening comes in breaststroke with no Peaty, who has been untouchable at the World Championships in the 50 and 100 since 2015.

Dutchman Arno Kamminga is the clear favorite to take over the mantle in the 100 breast, as the Olympic silver medalist and the only other swimmer sub-58 in history. The 50 is more wide open, and even more so when you consider the absence of Belarusian Ilya Shymanovich.

Italian Nicolo Martinenghi and Americans Nic Fink and Michael Andrew are a few others that will benefit from Peaty not competing.

The butterfly events aren’t missing anyone as notable as the other strokes, but there is something to be said about the 200 and 400 IM.

Scott is the biggest name to have dropped out, as he came in ranked first in the world in the 200 and second in the 400. There will also be no Ilya Borodin in the 400 IM, one of just four men sub-4:10 this year.

Without Scott, and Chase Kalisz and Daiya Seto on the back nine of their careers, there’s opportunity for NCAA stars Carson Foster and Leon Marchand to take over and vie for world titles.

RELAY BALANCE OF POWER – CAN THE AMERICANS SWEEP?

What was once almost the norm, the U.S. men have not swept the relays at the World Championships since 2009. They did so at the Olympics in 2016 (also 2008), but nations such as Great Britain, Russia and Australia have been consistently pulling out wins over the last decade-plus.

Given all of the absences mentioned above, things are thrown a little out of whack for these World Championships, which may give the U.S. a shot to win all three once again.

In Tokyo, the only male relay the Americans lost came in the 4×200 free, which also happened to be the first time a male U.S. relay missed the podium at the Olympics.

Great Britain dominated and almost broke the super-suited world record, but they’ll be shorthanded with their fastest leg (at least on that relay), Scott, absent. However, they’ve got swimmers capable of subbing in, and given that Dean was 1.5 seconds slower than he was individually and they still won by more than three seconds, the buffer for the U.S. is likely too big to overcome.

Without Duncan Scott, James Guy and Tom Dean will be crucial if Great Britain is to win the 800 free relay. (photo: Jack Spitser)

Russia won silver, and they won’t be in the field next week, and Australia had somewhat lackluster results in their 200 free at Trials (though they’ve got the names to pull something out if the stars align). The Americans had three 1:45 flat-starts in Greensboro, and there’s always the possibility they throw Dressel in. They also had Zach Apple split 1:47.3 in Tokyo—if that anomaly is thrown out, they win silver easily.

In the other relays, the U.S. should be favored coming in, with the Italians the next-best team in Tokyo in the 400 free relay—over a second back. Dressel will be the only returner from that finals team this year, however, so we don’t quite know how the other members will perform under pressure.

In the medley, the loss of Peaty really hurts Great Britain, not to mention Scott as their anchor.

Is a sweep likely? We’re going to say no, but it’s certainly possible.

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Chase Kalisz Fan
3 months ago

USA clear favorite in the 4 x 200 I thought they were the favorite even with a healthy Duncan Scott

Fobby Binke
3 months ago

Bobby Finke

Let’s Go!

PFA
3 months ago

Here’s a good one but I don’t fully bet on this. Will the University Of Freestyle sweep all the freestyle events? (Not necessarily win all of them but at least have medals in every single one)

Noah
3 months ago

Stop saying “Dressel could be thrown into the 4×2 relay.” It would be idiotic of the US to do that until he’s shown that he has a 2 fr better than the other US swimmers.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  Noah
3 months ago

Agree, we are past this absurd speculation.

Sub13
Reply to  Noah
3 months ago

I’ve seen ‘Dressel would win the 200 free and 200IM if he entered them’ soooo many times. Ok so enter them. It’s meaningless to say that if he doesn’t. His PBS don’t suggest he would be anywhere near a medal.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
3 months ago

The predictions usually come with insane time predictions like 1:43 and 1:54 as well.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Noah
3 months ago

It makes sense only as a Hail Mary, which they needed last year. (Came in 5th being safe! Might as well have rolled the dice!) Dressel on the 800fr, off the mixed medley could’ve been +2 in medals.

Troyy
Reply to  Steve Nolan
3 months ago

They would’ve got silver with Seliskar’s 1:46.17 from prelims but they weren’t to know that Apple would underperform so badly.

Last edited 3 months ago by Troyy
commonwombat
3 months ago

Largely agree with the thrust of the article

Dressel Triple Triple = no done deal but suspect he will

Popovici/Hwang = reasonable to believe that Popovici at least should step up to medallist status. Gold isn’t out of the question for either at 200 but medals look securer bet

Finke = his M.O is now well known; who will have the form and the self belief to dictate the race so as to take Finke out of the gold equation. If they match-race then its “thank you very much” says Mr Finke

Peaty vacuum = not going to see Peaty level times but have to favour Kamminga at 100

Relays & possible USA sweep = 4X100 remains USA’s race to… Read more »

Caeleb Remel Cultist
3 months ago

It’s the Dressel show.

#TeamRemel #Mister17.6NoFins #Monopoly #Dominance

comment image

Madman2028
Reply to  Caeleb Remel Cultist
3 months ago

Lmao do you have a job

Inside Smoke
Reply to  Madman2028
3 months ago

They get paid to do this

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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