For Claire Curzan and Canadian Duo, Abu Dhabi Serves as Latest Stage for Rising Teen Stars

summer mcintosh, joshua liendo, claire curzan
Summer McIntosh, Joshua Liendo and Claire Curzan (left to right) -- Photos Courtesy: Swimming Canada / Simone Castrovillari & Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

For Claire Curzan and Canadian Duo, Abu Dhabi Serves as Latest Stage for Rising Teen Stars

A pair of experienced rivals went head-to-headin the wo men’s 50 butterfly at the Short Course World Championships, and 31-year-old Ranomi Kromowidjojo ended up edging out 28-year-old Sarah Sjostrom for gold by seven hundredths. But right behind that duo was 17-year-old American Claire Curzan. Curzan swam a time of 24.55 to become the fourth-fastest performer in history, setting a world junior record and American record. Curzan claimed a bronze medal, finishing only seven hundredths away from the silver.

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Claire Curzan (USA) during the women's 100m butterfly heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Claire Curzan captured silver in the women’s 50 butterfly at the Short Course World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Curzan has burst onto the scene over the past year, swimming in the 56-low range in the long course 100 fly on multiple occasions before placing second in the event at U.S. Olympic Trials. She was off her best at the Olympics and she missed the 100 fly final, but she earned a silver medal as a prelims relay swimmer. She had already won three relay medals in Abu Dhabi, but the 50 fly marked the first individual finals appearance and the first individual podium finish of her senior international career.

A few races later, a swimmer two years younger than Curzan got in on the medals action when Summer McIntosh made the podium in the women’s 400 freestyle. While China’s Li Bingjie distanced herself from the field for her second gold in as many days, McIntosh pulled ahead of Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey, surely the swimmer of the World Championships so far with two individual golds and the only individual world record. McIntosh then held off Haughey over the final 50 meters to earn silver in 3:57.87.

McIntosh had some previous experience in a major final. Making her Olympic debut at age 14 this summer, she swam in third place for most of the race in the women’s 400 free final before falling back to fourth. She also took ninth in the 200 free in Tokyo and then fifth in that event earlier in the week. But this performance marked her first international medal of any kind, and she could claim another Monday as a key swimmer on Canada’s slightly-favored 800 freestyle relay.

And then in the very next heat, another Canadian scored a podium trip as 19-year-old Joshua Liendo took bronze in the men’s 50 freestyle. Liendo hit the wall in 20.76, good enough for a bronze and very close to a silver (six hundredths behind Ryan Held). Liendo had been a 100 free semifinalist in Tokyo, and he swam on a pair of finals relays quarter, but his only previous international medals had come at the 2019 World Junior Championships and then on Friday when he helped Canada secure an outside-smoke win in the mixed 200 freestyle relay.

Sensing a theme here? That’s three teenagers, all of whom had built up some experience in big-time racing environments over the past few years (or in McIntosh’s case, months), all scoring podium finishes — moments for each one to treasure and moments to build off as they move forward in their careers.

In total, eight teenagers have won their first international medals this week in Abu Dhabi. That list includes 17-year-old American Charlotte Hook (Curzan’s teammate with the TAC Titans) and 15-year-old Lana Pudar from Bosnia and Herzegovina taking silver and bronze, respectively, in the women’s 200 fly. Hook did not even qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, while Pudar only swam the 100 fly in Tokyo, finishing 19th.

HWANG Sunwoo KOR celebrating Gold Medal 200m Freestyle Men Final Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 17/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Hwang Sunwoo’s gold in the men’s 200 free was his first-ever international medal — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Additionally, 19-year-old Isabelle Stadden of the U.S. got on the podium with a bronze in the women’s 200 back, and Switzerland’s Antonio Djakovic took home his first international medal with a bronze in the 400 free. And even though Hwang Sunwoo of South Korea has already broken world junior records and made an impact in Olympic finals, his Short Course Worlds gold in the 200 free was his first-ever medal.

The Short Course World Championships are definitely not the most significant swim meet, with most of the top performers from the Olympics choosing to skip the event for one reason or another. These absences sometimes leave room for rising stars to shine, and many use Short Course Worlds success as a springboard.

Missy Franklin won her first individual international medals at Short Course Worlds in 2010. The 2018 championships saw Ariarne Titmus take her breakout performances from the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships to a global level with two individual wins in Hangzhou.

These medals matter, and these accomplishments are a stepping stone. When these swimmers arrive at the long course World Championships in May or future international competitions, the pressure might feel a tick lower thanks to having previously won a medal on the world stage, even if at a lower-level World Championships.

Some of these young performers could continue adding to their medal hauls this week. Hwang and Liendo will be among the medal contenders in the men’s 100 free, joining Held, Kliment Kolesnikov and Alessandro Miressi, while Curzan goes into the 100 fly as a contender along with Maggie MacNeil, Zhang Yufei, Louise Hansson and future Stanford teammate Torri Huske.

Huske, by the way, has yet to capture her first individual medal at a senior-level meet. She was fourth in the 100 fly by a one hundredth at the Olympics, and so far in Abu Dhabi, she has placed sixth in the 100 free and fourth in the 50 fly. Huske will have that one last chance to start her own individual medal record over the last two days in Abu Dhabi.

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Yuval
5 months ago

What about the two gold medals of Anastasia gorbenko 18 of Israel?