2019 FINA World Championships Predictions: Katie Ledecky’s Quest for Fourth Straight 800 Free Gold Medal

Katie Ledecky owns the 22 fastest times in history in the 800 free. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

No female swimmer in the last half century has dominated an event like Katie Ledecky has dominated the 800 free. She owns 23 of the 25 fastest times in history and is nearly 10 full seconds faster than the second-fastest performer in Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington. Ledecky is going for her fourth straight gold medal in the 800 free in Gwangju and it should be clear sailing. She is the overwhelming favorite, sitting on top of the world rankings for 2019 over China’s Wang Jianjiahe.

The crazy thing is that Wang is the third fastest performer in history and Ledecky is four seconds in front of her with her best time this year alone. Ledecky was an 8:10.70 in May at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Bloomington. Two years ago, Ledecky had a “disappointing” showing in Budapest by her own standards with an 8:12 for the gold medal in the 800. She had shown signs in May 2018 that she was back to her pre-Stanford days, but went slower at Pan Pacs at the end of the summer. Ledecky should show up to Gwangju ready to go. Now that she has a full year of professional swimming under her belt, and with more time to acclimate to the Asian time standards (Team USA is holding a staging camp in Singapore), she should be fine for World Championships.

Australia’s Ariarne Titmus is the popular pick for the silver medal as she has put up world-class times in the 200 and 400 free this year. Her 800 is not as strong as her shorter distances but she posted an 8:18 in June. She will have a busy schedule in Gwangju as this event will be the last in her program after the 400, 200 and 4×200 free events. Titmus made her Worlds debut in 2017 and missed the final in the 800, placing 14th. She had a strong showing at Pan Pacs last summer, winning the silver medal at 8:17.07 and moved up to 13th all-time. Titmus has the speed to take the race out, but how does her endurance stack up against the others?

China’s Wang had a big breakout year in 2018, winning the Asian Games gold medal at 8:18.55. That added to golds she already won in the 400 and 1500 at the same meet. Wang now sits third all-time with her 8:14 from March and she turns 17 on July 17.

USA’s Leah Smith is also a popular pick for a medal here. She has been Ledecky’s number two each of the last three years and 2019 appears to be no different. Smith won the bronze in Budapest two years ago and also won the bronze last summer at Pan Pacs. But Smith has already lowered her best time this year with an 8:16.33 in Richmond. It was an impressive swim for Smith, who moved up to eighth all-time with that mark. Before this year, her best in-season time was an 8:23 from June 2017.

Italy’s Simona Quadarella has also been having a good season. She was the European Champion last summer with an 8:16.45, which was the second-fastest time from any of the major meets in 2018 (Commonwealth Games, Europeans, Pan Pacs, Asian Games). Quadarella sits ninth all-time with her swim from last summer but she has only been an 8:21.20 this year. Quadarella is better at the 1500 but is also a solid 800 freestyler, so she should be able to challenge for a medal. She was seventh in Budapest two years ago and should be able to improve on that placing.

Another swimmer to keep an eye on is Hungary’s Ajna Kesely. She was the silver medalist in the 800 free at the 2017 World Juniors and followed that up with a silver in Glasgow at Europeans last summer. Kesely is still 17, so she is still improving. Her best time this year is an 8:24.25, which is not far off her 8:22 from last summer. She was on pace to go about an 8:18 or 8:19 last summer at Europeans but could not put together a final 100 to do so and ended up with an 8:22. If she is in a race with the aforementioned swimmers, then she could certainly go under 8:20.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte is a bit of a mystery in this event. Her best time this year is only an 8:27, but she has been as quick as an 8:18. She was fourth in Budapest and could challenge for a medal if she is on her form from 2016. The problem is no one is sure what kind of shape she is in. She didn’t swim at the FINA Champions Series and she didn’t swim at Europeans last summer either.

Current Records:

World Record: 8:04.79, Katie Ledecky, USA – 2016
Championships Record: 8:07.39, Katie Ledecky, USA – 2015
American Record: 8:04.79, Katie Ledecky – 2016

2017 World Champion: Katie Ledecky, USA – 8:12.68
2018 Virtual World Champion: Katie Ledecky, USA – 8:09.13 (Pan Pacs)
2019 Fastest Times:

  1. 8:10.70, Katie Ledecky, USA
  2. 8:14.64, Wang Jianjiahe, CHN
  3. 8:16.33, Leah Smith, USA
  4. 8:18.23, Ariarne Titmus, AUS
  5. 8:21.20, Simona Quadarella, ITA
  6. 8:22.83, Kiah Melverton, AUS
  7. 8:23.63, Sarah Kohler, GER
  8. 8:24.25, Ajna Kesely, HUN

Swimming World’s team of Andy RossDan D’AddonaDavid RiederDiana Pimer and Taylor Covington will be selecting their choices for the medals at World Championships in each event. Read below who everybody picked.

Andy’s Picks:

  1. Katie Ledecky
  2. Ariarne Titmus
  3. Wang Jianjiahe

Dan’s Picks:

  1. Katie Ledecky
  2. Ariarne Titmus
  3. Leah Smith

David’s Picks:

  1. Katie Ledecky
  2. Leah Smith
  3. Ariarne Titmus

Diana’s Picks:

  1. Katie Ledecky
  2. Ariarne Titmus
  3. Leah Smith

Taylor’s Picks:

  1. Katie Ledecky
  2. Ariarne Titmus
  3. Leah Smith

2019 FINA World Championships Predictions:

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  1. avatar
    Mila Mahon

    turns out titmus won

    • avatar
      Mila Mahon

      sorry I thought this was for the 400 free