Select Swimmer Absences Make For Unique Doha World Championships

Adam Peaty of Great Britain prepares to compete 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
Adam Peaty will make his global long course return in Doha -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Select Swimmer Absences Make For Unique Doha World Championships

The meet now known as the World Aquatics Championships was first held in 1973 to provide aquatics athletes with a true global competition outside of the every-four-years Olympic Games. Between Olympics Games in 1976 and 2000, the World Championships was held once per quadrennium, but in the 21st century, the schedule has shifted to odd-year championships, making Worlds a sufficiently unique event to develop its own prestige. A world title is not the equivalent of an Olympic gold but is certainly an important honor in a swimmer’s career.

But now, with the 21st edition of the World Championships underway in Doha, Qatar, with less than six months to go before the start of the Paris Olympics, many of swimming’s biggest names are sitting out this meet to prioritize their Olympic preparation.

On the women’s side, there’s no Katie LedeckyAriarne TitmusSummer McIntoshMollie O’CallaghanKaylee McKeownRegan SmithLilly KingZhang Yufei, Torri Huske or Alex Walsh, all individual gold medalists within the last two years.

For the men, the absentees include Leon MarchandDavid PopoviciQin HaiyangCaeleb DresselKristof MilakKyle Chalmers, Bobby FinkeZac Stubblety-CookThomas CecconRyan Murphy, Sam Short and Maxime Grousset.

This is the third World Championships within 20 months, whereas previously the meet had never been held in consecutive years. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 and shook up swimming’s calendar, but a long line of rescheduled meets meant that this shortened, three-year Olympic cycle would include three editions of the global meet while no previous four-year cycle had ever seen more than two World Championships.

The condensed racing schedule since Tokyo and other factors led to a few of the above-mentioned champions missing one of the previous World Championships in 2022 or 2023. These championships will offer plenty of value for aquatic sports: final quota spots for the Paris Games will be determined in all disciplines. The already-completed 10-kilometer open water races finalized the fields for the same events at the Olympics, with only the three medalists from last year’s Worlds holding automatic passes to Paris beforehand. No problem with that procedure; open water typically does not allocate all its spots until the months before the Olympics.

In pool swimming, World Aquatics’ decision to use Doha results as the primary relay qualifier brought controversy, forcing swimmers to peak for this meet so close to the Olympic qualifying season. But a change to the procedures means that most finalists from the Fukuoka Worlds last year are probably safe for Paris.


Claire Curzan — Photo Courtesy: Emily Cameron

No further qualification will be at stake in the individual events, but plenty of swimmers are taking advantage of elite racing opportunities. That list includes British breaststroke dynamo Adam Peaty, making his first long course global appearance since the Tokyo Olympics, plus distance stars Florian Wellbrock and Gregorio Paltrinieri, both of whom struggled last July in Fukuoka. For Americans Claire Curzan and Michael Andrew, Doha is a chance to re-build momentum after missing out on qualification for last year’s Worlds.

An international meet right now surely has value for some swimmers in their Olympic preparation, but most Doha participants are using the meet as a tuneup rather than an all-in championship meet.

Could this meet be shortened to less than eight days? It could be cut down to five or six by eliminating semifinals in 200-meter events or perhaps even all events. With the Doha schedule, top swimmers will be able to cruise through qualifying rounds like they never would be able to at major meets.

The entry lists show that in the women’s 200 IM, the 16th-seeded time is 2:14.44; at the much-stronger 2023 meet, it was 2:11.39. In the men’s 200 breaststroke, the time required for 16th in the entries drops from 2:09.68 to 2:11.39.

A world title holds less cachet when the meet is held four consecutive years (including a 2025 Worlds in Singapore) than when it’s on an every-other-year or every-four-years basis. The timing of this meet will end streaks, including Ledecky’s unprecedented run of six consecutive world titles in the 800 freestyle.

Now, a swimmer such as Simona QuadarellaIsabel Gose or Erika Fairweather will be considered the reigning world champion heading into the Paris Olympics. Make no mistake, these are all fine swimmers, but not nearly the caliber of 800-meter swimmers as Ledecky or even the women who joined her on the podium at last year’s Worlds, Li Bingjie and Titmus.

This year’s World Champs has a different look. Some big names are missing, giving world titles a unique sense.

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Swim fan
Swim fan
25 days ago

Enough about who’s not there and let’s focus on those that took the time and energy to go. Good for them.

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