Races Without Favorites: With Adam Peaty Uncertain, Men’s 100 Breaststroke Wide Open

Nicolo Martinenghi of Italy competes in the 100m Breaststroke Men Semifinal during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 14th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Races Without Favorites: With Peaty Uncertain, Men’s 100 Breaststroke Wide Open

Less than two months out from the next edition of the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, several individual races already have clearly-established favorites. Think about the women’s distance races, where Katie Ledecky will be looking to extend decade-long winning streaks, or the men’s 200 breaststroke, where Zac Stubblety-Cook will look for a second consecutive world title to go along with his 2021 Olympic gold and his world record.

But plenty of other events are unpredictable because of either a confluence of established talent or the absence of a longtime leader in the event. We have already discussed some of these races, including the faster-and-deeper-than-ever women’s 200 individual medley and the showdown between three of the world’s top stars in the women’s 400 freestyle.

Most countries have already competed their selection meets for Worlds while the world’s two premier swimming powers, Australia and the United States, have meets scheduled for next month. So it’s a great time to examine the status quo in several of the events lacking a centerpiece star right now, and we will begin with the men’s 100 breaststroke.

There have been 22 swims ever where a man has recorded a 100 breaststroke time under 58 seconds. Nineteen of those belong to Adam Peaty, the 28-year-old from Great Britain who did not lose an international race during his first eight years racing internationally. During that stretch, Peaty won two Olympic gold medals, three world titles, two Commonwealth Games golds and four golds at the European championships.

Before Peaty first set the world record, the all-time top mark belonged to Cameron van der Burgh at 58.46. Now, Peaty stands alone at 56.88, having achieved his “Project 56” goal at the 2019 World Championships.

But last year, injury knocked Peaty out of the World Championships, and when he returned to racing at the Commonwealth Games, he ended up a shocking fourth place in his main event (although he rebounded to capture gold in the 50 breast later in the meet). Peaty seemed set to reclaim the mantle of world’s top 100 breaststroker in 2023, but he pulled out of last month’s British Championships to focus on his mental health, and he was not listed on Britain’s roster for this summer’s Worlds.

With Peaty likely out again this year, the contenders for a world title are numerous, and it would be foolish to pick a true favorite out of the remaining top contenders. However, the only swimmer to distinguish himself so far this year is China’s Qin Haiyang, a 24-year-old whose claim to fame before this year was capturing a pair of medals in the 200 breast at Short Course Worlds in 2018 and 2022.

Nic Fink of United States of America, silver, Daiya Seto of Japan, gold, Haiyang Qin of China, bronze, show the medals after compete in the 200m Breaststroke Men Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 16th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Nic Fink (left) and Qin Haiyang (right) on either side of Daiya Seto at the 2022 Short Course World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Now, Qin is the third-fastest swimmer ever, having joined the very-exclusive sub-58 club at the Chinese National Championships earlier this month. His time of 57.93 would have been good enough for gold at last year’s World Championships, and Peaty is the only swimmer to ever surpass that time in a major international final.

The other swimmer who has been sub-58 is the Netherlands’ Arno Kamminga, who did so twice in 2021 before earning silver behind Peaty at the Tokyo Olympics. Kamminga was favored in the 100 breast entering last year’s Worlds, but he ended up falling to silver behind a clutch effort by Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi, who pulled ahead of Kamminga and American Nic Fink by three tenths to win gold. Martinenghi, who had made his first long course global podium one year earlier with a bronze in Tokyo, also took silver in the 50 breast and led Italy’s men to an upset of the United States in the 400 medley relay.

Fink, meanwhile, had never won global-level medals in individual events prior to last year, and even though he will turn 30 in early July, he remains America’s most consistent swimmer in the 100 breast. His recent run has included a 2022 world title in the 50 breast plus four short course world titles in breaststroke events over the past two years.

Swimmers who have broken 59 so far this year include Qin, Belarus’ Ilya Shymanovich, Italy’s Federico Poggio, China’s Yan Zibei, Russia’s Kirill Prigoda and China’s Sun Jiajun. Only half of those swimmers will be in Fukuoka, with only two Chinese swimmers qualifying (Qin and Yan, who placed fifth at Worlds last year) and Russian and Belarussian swimmers still barred from international racing. Martinenghi’s season-best time is 59.06, while Fink went 59.77 at last weekend’s TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo, Calif.

James Wilby is worth watching this year after he earned the most significant victory of his career thus far with last year’s gold at the Commonwealth Games, when he beat Peaty and 200 breast world-record holder Zac Stubblety-Cook, among others, for the top spot. Wilby was previously the runnerup to Peaty at the 2019 World Championships, and he won Olympic silver as a medley relay alternate in 2021.

Finally, don’t forget about Michael Andrew, who remains the fourth-fastest performer in history behind Peaty, Kamminga and Qin with his top mark of 58.14 from the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials. Andrew took fourth in Tokyo but did not swim his best in the 100 breast last year, ending up a surprising ninth in semifinals. The potential is evident, but his inconsistent results in this event make him a wildcard.

Perhaps someone will deliver a big swim this summer to secure pole position for the Olympics next year, but currently, Martinenghi’s position as defending champion looks tenuous while no one besides Peaty has ever cracked 58 in an international final.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x