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

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

There is no shortage of intriguing storylines coming into the 2022 World Championships, which will get underway this weekend in Budapest.

The first LC Worlds since the summer of 2019 will feature mega stars vying to make history, up-and-comers looking to make an impact on the global stage, and several key absences that leave the door open for others to come through and grab the opportunity.

Here are our top five storylines to follow on the women’s side:

Katie Ledecky Chasing Records, History

Katie Ledecky is no stranger to making history. Over the last decade, she’s rewritten the record books in women’s swimming, and the seven-time Olympic champion is in line to keep that train rolling in Budapest.

First things first: Ledecky wants her world record back.

The American set a pair of monstrous marks in the women’s 400 and 800 free at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the 400 record of 3:56.46 stood for nearly six years until Australian Ariarne Titmus (3:56.40) took it down last month.

Titmus, who also upset Ledecky to win the title in the event at the 2019 Worlds, is among the prominent names that won’t be competing in Budapest, but that won’t diminish Ledecky’s drive to take back the record that had been in her name since 2014 until a few weeks ago.

At those aforementioned World Championships in 2019, Ledecky came up ill, which, in addition to falling in the 400, resulted in her dropping out of both the 200 and 1500 free. However, despite the adversity, she did gut out a victory in the 800 free, which was her fourth straight in the event.

If Ledecky manages to win the 800 again this year, she would become the first swimmer in history to claim gold in the same event at five straight World Championships (that is, unless Katinka Hosszu wins the 200 IM).

Following the Tokyo Olympic Games, Ledecky made a major move in her career, transitioning from Stanford University to join coach Anthony Nesty at the University of Florida.

Early indications show the move is paying off, and the true test will come in Budapest. In addition to her taking a run at the 400 world record, Ledecky has also shown her best form in four years in the 800 free, and in the 1500, she’s dropped the 200 free from her schedule specifically to avoid the double she’s dealt with in the past.

Kaylee McKeown In Contention For Four Individual Titles

It’s a rarity to see a swimmer win four individual gold medals at the LC World Championships.

Since Michael Phelps historically won five individual titles (seven total) at the 2007 Worlds in Melbourne, the only athletes to claim four represent some of the biggest stars in the sport over the last decade: Ryan Lochte (2011), Missy Franklin (2013), Katie Ledecky (2015) and Caeleb Dressel (2019).

As we head into Budapest, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown has a legitimate chance of joining the list.

Granted, one of McKeown’s events is the 50 backstroke, which could go any number of ways, but the rising talent clearly has the ability to get it done while leaving another event she could win, the 400 IM, on the table.

McKeown swept the women’s 100 and 200 back at the 2021 Olympic Games, and swam a time earlier in the year that would’ve won the 200 IM after she opted not to race it in Tokyo.

The burgeoning 20-year-old star is only ranked first in the world this season in one of her four events at Worlds (200 back), but unlike last year, didn’t rest much for Australia’s trials meet and should have massive drops in store next week.

There will be no shortage of swimmers with a great shot at upending McKeown’s potential run. Americans Katharine Berkoff (50 back), Regan Smith (100 back) and Alex Walsh (200 IM) hold the top times in the world this year, and Canadian Kylie Masse is a mainstay in the title conversation across all the backstrokes.

But McKeown has a chance to take her stardom to next level in Budapest, especially with some of Australia’s top names opting not to compete.

CAN SUMMER MCINTOSH PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE?

Summer McIntosh went from Canadian age group star to legitimate international medal threat at the Olympics last summer, surprising many en route to placing fourth in the women’s 400 free in Tokyo despite being just 14 years of age.

Her status has shot up from contender to favorite over the last 10 months, exploding earlier this year to become the third-fastest swimmer of all-time in the women’s 400 IM (4:29.12), a time nearly three seconds faster than what Yui Ohashi went to win Olympic gold last summer.

Entry lists show that McIntosh will also race the 400 free and 200 fly in Budapest, opting out of some other races where she could factor into the medal picture like the 200 and 800 free.

This decision frees her up to focus on her primary events, and while she may not be a gold medal favorite in either of those two, many are penciling her in for silver in both.

Behind Ledecky, Titmus’ absence opens up the second spot in the 400 free, while the 200 fly is spearheaded by China’s Zhang Yufei, with Americans Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger following. But in the 200 fly, McIntosh dropped a time of 2:05.81 in March, which is within striking distance of the career-best times of both Smith (2:05.30) and Flickinger (2:05.65) despite it being relatively new to her schedule.

On top of those three events, McIntosh will also play a key role as the Canadian women have a great chance to fight for gold in the 800 free relay.

There’s no question that McIntosh is an unbelievable talent, and she’s been able to perform well on the big stage thus far while flying under the radar. Now, with expectations heightened, we’ll see how she responds.

KEY ABSENCES – WHO WILL STEP UP?

Incredibly, half of the Olympic events will be missing the individual champion from last summer in Budapest.

Emma McKeon (50, 100 free), Ariarne Titmus (200, 400 free), Lydia Jacoby (100 breast), Tatjana Schoenmaker (200 breast) and Maggie MacNeil (100 fly) will be absent from those respective fields at Worlds, with MacNeil the only one among them who will be in attendance (focusing on relays).

With those swimmers not competing, the door is open for others to jump on the opportunity and make a name for themselves.

We mentioned how Titmus’ absence opens the door for McIntosh in the 400 free, and the same goes for China’s Li Bingjie and Tang Muhan.

In the 100 and 200 free, Siobhan Haughey is a prime candidate for gold, though an ankle injury has put her status a little up in the air, though she is expected to compete.

Australian teen Mollie O’Callaghan has burst onto the scene this year and is a contender in the 100 and 200 free, and her teammate Shayna Jack is coming off a two-year suspension with eyes on 100 free gold herself. Also in the 200, China has a strong duo in Tang and Yang Junxuan.

Canadian Penny Oleksiak has always delivered at the Olympic Games. Can she win her first World Championship title, in either the 100 or 200 free?

Let’s not forget about Sarah Sjostrom, who is already extremely decorated but could easily be crowned the 50/100 free champion in one week’s time.

In the breaststrokes, Lilly King will be vying to get back on top after falling in both the 100 and 200 in Tokyo, while her teammate Kate Douglass is suddenly a potential world champion in an event it feels like she just picked up, the 200 breast.

Like Kaylee McKeown, King could also become the first swimmer to win the 50, 100 and 200 of the same stroke at a single World Championship.

The 100 fly has Zhang leading the way, but American rising stars Torri Huske and Claire Curzan are both candidates for breakthrough world titles.

RELAY BALANCE OF POWER – IS AUSTRALIA BEST WITHOUT THEIR BEST?

The Australian women won two of the three relays in Tokyo, and their lone defeat came in a race they were thought to be a lock for gold.

The Aussies have long dominated the 400 free relay—setting a new world record and winning by over three seconds last summer—but will be missing 75 percent of that roster in Budapest with McKeon and the Campbell sisters absent.

But O’Callaghan and Jack, who were both missing from that finals team last year, rank #1 and #2 in the world in the 100 free.

In the 4×200, China broke the world record in a stunning upset, while the Americans also beat Australia as the three teams swam the three-fastest times ever.

Without Titmus and McKeon, the Aussies face a tall task to get by China, while the U.S. bring a new-look squad and Canada is lurking with a formidable lineup that might just win it all.

In the medley, Australia will have difficulties replacing McKeon’s fly leg (and their breast leg has gotten slower), while both the Americans (free) and Canadians (breast) have one glaring weakness apiece. That leaves things somewhat wide open, with the U.S., winners of four of the last five World titles, the likely favorites.

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commonwombat
5 months ago

Random ramblings of a Furry Curmudgeon

Ledecky: Her 2022 form certainly suggests a return to “normal programming” (or at least that of most recent pre-COVID years) and this should ensure 800/1500 remain secure bets. Whilst Titmus’ absence should ease her path at 400, the liklihood of new members of sub 4min club suggest this remains a challenge.

McKeown: Her first major meet under the new (Bohl) regime and it will be interesting to see not only how results/times play out but also what indications may emerge regarding her future. Will she remain a backstroker who diversifies into IM or will she potentially de-emphasise one of her backstroke events in order to pursue both IMs. She should medal in both backstrokes… Read more »

Sub13
5 months ago

McKeown feels like the biggest wild card to me, given her times at trials weren’t tapered. But then she usually throws down great times at random meets? But then is her new coaching/training more reliant on taper?

I could realistically see her with 4 individual golds. But I could also realistically see her with none.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
5 months ago

I’m pretty confident she’ll get 3 medals with the most likely miss being the 50 back not because she’s not capable of winning it but because it’s probably gonna be a crapshoot. As for golds the 200 back seems the most likely and I’ll be surprised if she swims slower then a 2:04 so anyone else will need a PB to beat her.

Taa
5 months ago

One possible storyline would be the Chinese women. They have a few gals that could medal along with relays.

Troyy
Reply to  Taa
5 months ago

They’re always a bit mysterious but this year it’s gone to a new level.

Noah
Reply to  Troyy
5 months ago

Feel like they can really challenge in the 4 fr relay. Haven’t seen them talked abt in discussions abt it at all. Wont challenge AUS (🤞) but definitely have multiple 53 legs.

Troyy
Reply to  Noah
5 months ago

I’d like to see them go all in for the 4×100 free relay.

Troyy
5 months ago

That 100 back/200 IM double is a pain for McKeown. Hopefully FINA sticks a medal ceremony or two in between them otherwise they’re just separated by a single event.

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
5 months ago

100 fly ceremony between them. Exactly 30 minutes between swims according to the schedule.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
5 months ago

Where you seeing this detailed schedule? That should be quite doable if she can skip media after the 100 back semi. She already proved she can do this kind of double back in 2020 going 57 high in the 100 back and 4:32 in the 400 IM less than 30 mins later.

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
5 months ago

The ‘Live results’ link takes you to Omega, and they have a copy of the schedule up.

Goated Mcintosh
5 months ago

Missy Franklin won 3 individual WC titles in 2013, not 4. (100/200 back and 200 free)

bob
Reply to  Goated Mcintosh
5 months ago

Can Summer Macintosh perform under pressure?She went to the Olympics at 14 years of age, got off the blocks and put up best times.Thats pretty impressive to me.To you, well not so much…you must have been an incredible swimmer when you were in the water.Just wow!.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Goated Mcintosh
5 months ago

Damn, I was gonna say – an American winning 4 individual titles at 5 of the last 7 WCs seemed insane.

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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