American Swimmers Lose Big With No World Championships in 2022

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Katie Ledecky (USA) walks poolside after finishing second in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports
Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA TODAY Sports

American Swimmers Lose Big With No World Championships in 2022

The World Championships will not happen in 2022. FINA has yet to confirm the postponement, but it now seems inevitable that the Fukuoka meet will be pushed back for a second time after it was originally delayed to May 2022 to accommodate the also-rescheduled Olympics.

Ironically, for most of the world’s top swimmers, the decision is no big deal. No Worlds in May? Fine, there’s still another international championship meet to come after that. Swimmers representing British Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada and South Africa) will compete in the Commonwealth Games in early August, and many top Australians were considering skipping World to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games. The European Championships will also be in August, and the Asian Games are set for September.

But that leaves out one group, the biggest losers in the shuffle of a many-times-rescheduled international racing calendar for 2022: the United States. Of the 60 individuals who captured at least one individual medal at the Tokyo Olympics, 41 of them have a major meet to attend this year, if they so choose. Nineteen do not, and 16 of them are Americans, a group led by multi-time Tokyo gold medalists Caeleb Dressel, Katie Ledecky and Bobby Finke. The others without a spot to race are Brazilians Fernando Scheffer and Bruno Fratus and surprising Tunisian Olympic gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui.

Everyone without an opportunity for an international racing in a consequential format suffers — without a big meet to focus on, what are you training for? It’s not exactly motivating to head to practice and know that you’re preparing for a meet 16 months away. But the biggest loser here, clearly, are the American swimmers.

The Pan Pacific Championships, a four-day event highlighted by the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan, is the typical championship meet during the middle year between Olympics, and the U.S. has used Pan Pacs as its final selection meet for the following year’s World Championships in each of the last five Olympic cycles. Pan Pacs is not the most highly anticipated meet in the world, but it provides a solid international racing forum.

But this year’s Pan Pacs, which would have been held somewhere in Canada, were cancelled in anticipation of Worlds and the other regional meets. Now, with no Worlds, Australia, Canada and Japan can zero-in on their other meets. The U.S.? Not so much.

Top American swimmers will need an event on the calendar as their target meet for this year, and it doesn’t have to be the eight-day meat-grinder that is the World Championships, with three rounds of competition in all events 200 meters or shorter. A four or five-day prelims-finals meet would suffice (something akin to Pan Pacs), and many Olympic veterans would certainly be OK with a more laid-back focus meet after COVID-19 safety concerns and restrictions plus the added year of build-up made the Tokyo Games more high-stress than usual.

Every indication is that eventually, a competition will be announced, and the Americans will select a team to go to that meet, whatever it may be. In an email Monday, a FINA spokesperson confirmed the organization was not ready to announce an updated competition calendar, and USA Swimming previously stated that it would not comment until an official announcement on the World Championships from FINA.

In the meantime, top American swimmers are waiting for news, their training still focused on a Trials meet at the end of April and an international competition in late May, even with the entire racing calendar completely uncertain. Same situation for the few other elite swimmers without a 2022 racing home.

The lack of a World Championships is not good for swimming as fans will be robbed of the opportunity to see the world’s best face off, but at the very least, all the world’s top swimmers deserve a chance to compete against elite foreign competition this year. For their sake, hopefully the powers-that-be in swimming can come up with solutions quickly to provide some much-needed clarity.