Rieder’s Richter Scale: Anton Chupkov Takes Leap Forward as Dressel and Smith Lower Legendary Records

Anton Chupkov before the men's 200 breast final in Gwangju -- Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Each day during the FINA World Swimming Championships, Swimming World will present “Rieder’s Richter Scale,” an analysis of the impact of each swimming final on the sport’s wider landscape: “1” indicates just a minor tremor, while a “10” means a race brought massive upheaval. Anton Chupkov

The co-world record-holders were swimming ahead of the pack, their sights each set on a first career world title in the men’s 200 breast final. But they knew what was coming, and so did anyone who has watched Anton Chupkov race the 200 breast in recent years: astonishing closing speed.

Australia’s Matthew Wilson turned first at the halfway point in 1:00.64, with Japan’s Ippei Watanabe close behind in 1:01.04. Both men were faster than the splits they recorded on their way to 2:06.67, the world record Watanabe first set in 2017 and Wilson matched in Thursday’s semifinals. Chupkov, meanwhile, had turned eighth in 1:02.22.

But when Chupkov won the 200 breast world title in 2017, he had been much slower at the midway point, 1:02.82. Ditto at the 2018 European Championships, when Chupkov split 1:02.38 on the way to 2:06.80, then the second-fastest time ever recorded.

Patience defines the 22-year-old Russian in the 200 breast, always willing to sit back and let his competitors exert themselves while he bides his time.

“I can’t explain how I swim,” Chupkov said. “It seems to me that I’m not doing something special, even in training and in competition as well. I just swim like I feel, and actually I can’t explain it. Probably I was born into breaststroke.”

Anton Chupkov of Russia on his way to win in a New World Record time in the men's 200m Breaststroke Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 26 July 2019.

Anton Chupkov — Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

But in Gwangju, he struck early—by his standards, anyway. He blasted off on lap No. 3, splitting 32.01 for the quickest any man has ever swum over that portion of a 200 breast, four tenths quicker than his previous best split on that particular lap.

Of course, at that point, Chupkov still trailed Wilson by almost a full second, but the result was inevitable. Of course, Chupkov would finish in 31.8—that’s his standard in the 200 breast, where few others can even crack 32. (In the Gwangju final, only Zac Stubblety-Cook joined Chupkov under 33.)

Wilson ended up finishing in 2:06.68, just one hundredth slower than his record-tying semifinal. Watanabe was just behind, his 2:06.73 his best swim since January 2017. And Chupkov? He put up a time of 2:06.12—yes, more than six tenths under the world record.

“Frankly speaking, I didn’t have a goal to set a world record,” Chupkov said. “My goal was to swim better than my personal best, and now this result is like a point where I stay, and I know I have to be better, and I will try to be better.”

Consider the men’s 200 breast of the past three decades. Mike Barrowman of the United States set the world record six times, first cracking 2:13 in 1989 with a 2:12.90 and then finally coming close to the 2:10 barrier with a 2:10.16 in 1992.

The next quantum leaper came a decade later, when Kosuke Kitajima first broke 2:10 with a 2:09.97. Kitajima would lower the record twice more, with a 2:09.42 a year later and then, after Brendan Hansen took three turns at the record, getting down to 2:08.50, Kitajima donned shiny suit legs to swim a remarkable 2:07.51.

fina world swimming championships, rieder's richter scale

Five others, Australia’s Christian Sprenger, Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta, the Japanese duo of Akihiro Yamaguchi and Watanabe and then finally Wilson, all took turns with the record before Chupkov, his near-2:05 performance the next in the sequence of generational leaps forward in the 200 breast—a leap not unforeseen but no less brilliant.

For that, the Richter scale records massive seismic shockwaves from the men’s 200 breast final: 8.

Two more world records went down on night six in Gwangju, both marks previously belonging to Americans best described as legends. Certainly, none can forget Michael Phelps’ decade-and-a-half of pure greatness, and perhaps no World Championships race of his is better-remembered than the 2009 100 fly duel with Milorad Cavic in Rome, when the duo became the first men under 50 in a shiny suit showdown.

The Missy Franklin era came and went much more quickly, but her prime, which opened up at the 2011 Worlds in Shanghai and lasted through four golds in London 2012 and six in Barcelona 2013, was no less magical. Franklin ended up leaving little impact on the world record books, but her 200 back of 2:04.06 stood the test of time, 0.75 faster any other female and 1.60 ahead of anyone else in a textile suit.

Both of those world records are now gone, replaced by Caeleb Dressel’s 49.50 in the 100 fly and Regan Smith’s 2:03.35 in the 200 back. Dressel’s accomplishment we could see coming, his 49.86 from Budapest two years ago just fractions behind Phelps’ best effort. And Dressel admitted that all day, he had targeted this one for a semifinal takedown.

“I woke up today and I wanted to do it. I thought I was ready to do it,” he told Swimming World’s Craig Lord. “I didn’t want any other any thoughts besides going under that 49.82.”


Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Still, the work isn’t done, not with a 50 free final scheduled for minutes before his 100 fly and a rested Kristof Milak, the other man who has taken down a Phelps record this week, awaiting him in the 100 fly final with similar sub-50 potential.

But Smith dropping almost three seconds from her lifetime best to not only top Franklin but leap past her? That never crossed anyone’s mind as remotely possible.

“I’m in shock. I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. It’s crazy but I am very happy with what I was able to do,” Smith said. “I really just wanted to get myself in a good lane for tomorrow night’s final and I just hoping to slip under 2:06, that was my goal. If I (went) 2:05-mid or something, that would (have been) amazing. I exceeded my expectations and I’m super, super happy.”

fina world swimming championships, rieder's richter scale

Smith is entered to compete stateside next week at U.S. Nationals, and after that semifinal stunner, our minds race with thoughts that she could throw down scorching efforts in the 100 back, the 200 free or the butterfly events. The 100 back she may well get a shot at in Gwangju as part of the U.S. women’s 4×100 medley relay, but first, she will have business to complete in the 200 back final, with her first-ever senior-level gold medal on the line.

For a pair of semi-final world records for impressive Americans, dual readings of 9 on the scale.

Speaking of the United States, how does Simone Manuel keep winning the 100 free at every major meet under the sun? That’s now three stunners in four years, in Rio 2016, Budapest 2017 and Gwangju 2019. None will top the 2016 gold-medal tie with Penny Oleksiak in terms of pure shock value, but consider the circumstances of her latest triumph.

Two days earlier, Cate Campbell had out-split Manuel 51.10 to 52.37 on the mixed 4×100 medley relay anchor leg to steal away a gold medal by two hundredths. Just one day earlier, Manuel had barely qualified for the 100 free final, finishing in seventh position, although Manuel looks to have been conserving energy for her 4×200 free relay leadoff swim later in that session.

fina world swimming championships, rieder's richter scale, ryan murphy

In a reversal of usual happenings, the always fast-finishing Manuel took off from the beginning and led by four tenths at halfway, and after that, no one was catching her—including either of the two women that have broken 52 from a flat start, Campbell and Sarah Sjostrom.

Campbell had been expected to win gold and dip into 51 territory again, but for whatever reason, in the big finals, Manuel continues to shine brightest. Yet another gold medal scores her a 7 on the Richter scale.

While the Americans stormed out at the beginning of the session with Manuel’s gold and then the pair of semifinal world records, Russia actually dominated the medal table on night six in Gwangju, winning three golds and a silver. Before Chupkov’s record triumph and the men’s 4×200 free relay silver, Yuliya Efimova and Evgeny Rylov delivered exactly what was expected of them in the women’s 200 breast and men’s 200 back, respectively.

Rylov’s form this week, which included an unexpected silver in the 100 back and then a 51.97 leading off the mixed 4×100 medley relay, made him the undisputed favorite to repeat as 200 back world champion, particularly considering the struggles of Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy.

But Rylov had to fight off a strong closing burst from Murphy in and out of the final turn to secure gold. Rylov has actually been a smidge quicker than his 1:53.40 from Gwangju, and no doubt, he will have to be even better to claim Olympic gold next year in Tokyo.

Efimova, meanwhile, had no trouble capturing her third world title in four tries in the 200 breast, even if her 2:20.17 didn’t dip under the 2:20-barrier. No doubt, though, the final lost some of its luster with Lilly King’s prelims disqualification, especially since King’s improvement over the four-lap race had put her into Efimova’s range.

fina world swimming championships, rieder's richter scale

In their only head-to-head matchup in the 200 breast this year, King actually beat Efimova with a 2:21.39 at the FINA Champions Series in Indianapolis in May. And the event was already missing Annie Lazor, the American who posted a 2:20.72 in May but did not qualify when the U.S. team for Gwangju was picked last year.

Credit to both Rylov and Efimova for taking care of business, but both events promise more in the 12 months to come. A recording of 5 for these two events on the Richter scale.

A five-team drag race in the men’s 4×200 free relay rounded out the night. Great Britain, the U.S., Russia and Australia all entered the day with legitimate gold-medal hopes and then Italy jumped into the fray with an impressive preliminary effort. Australia’s victory, hinted at in the composite analysis but otherwise unexpected, continued the best all-around effort for the Dolphins at a major championships in years.

Clyde Lewis and Kyle Chalmers, seemingly Australia’s best 200 freestylers, had the team in third after two legs, but Alexander Graham (1:45.05) and Mack Horton (1:44.85) had more than expected in the tank to pull away and win by a full second.

Australia has now won five gold medals this week, four of them on relays, and 14 total medals. In comparison, Australia won just 10 medals at both the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds, with three golds in 2016 and just one in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Russians finished their night with an amazingly solid and consistent relay, with all four swimmers recording times between 1:45.38 and 1:45.56, while the Americans (third) and British (fifth) each saw big drop-offs that hurt their causes. For the U.S, Townley Haas anchored in 1:45.16, fighting tooth and nail to edge out Italy and Britain for a podium spot, but he has been as quick as 1:44.14 on a relay in the past.

fina world swimming championships, rieder's richter scale, ryan murphy

Britain, meanwhile, saw Duncan Scott lead off in 1:44.91, which would have won him gold in the individual 200 free, but James Guy couldn’t come home quicker than 1:45.45—the same James Guy who punctuated a British gold medal two years ago in Budapest with a 1:43.80 anchor split.

Another exciting relay and yet another shining moment for Australia records a Richter scale 7, with just two days to go at the World Championships.

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