World Championships, Day 8 Finals: Lewis Clareburt Blasts Freestyle to Steal Away 400 IM World Title

Lewis Clareburt of New Zealand competes in the 200m Butterfly Men Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 25th, 2023.
Lewis Clareburt -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

World Championships, Day 8 Finals: Lewis Clareburt Blasts Freestyle to Steal Away 400 IM World Title

Over the first half of the men’s 400 IM final, American Carson Foster looked poised to win his first individual world title. Foster built a lead to a whopping 1.66 seconds after the backstroke, but then the field closed in during the breaststroke leg, led by New Zealand’s Lewis Clareburt and Great Britain’s Max Litchfield. Foster’s lead shrunk to six tenths heading into the freestyle, but the typically-strong freestyler ended up fading badly as Clareburt and Litchfield took over.

Over the final two lengths, Clareburt took center stage. The 24-year-old from New Zealand, whose only previous global honor had been a bronze at the 2019 World Championships, posted the fastest freestyle split of the contenders and second-quickest in the field, with only Italy’s Alberto Razzetti, well out of the medal mix, going quicker. Clareburt touched in 4:09.72 to win gold by six tenths.

When I turned to the freestyle I saw the guys sort of next to me. I knew I had a little bit left in the tank to do the last 100. Experience is huge going into a final like that. You have to work to your strengths and try to ensure your weaknesses aren’t as weak as they are,” Clareburt said. “For me the breaststroke is one of my biggest weaknesses and I knew that I had to be at least within striking distance going into the last 100 meters and I was able to do that today.”

Clareburt became the second New Zealand swimmer to win gold this week in Doha, one week after Erika Fairweather did so in the women’s 400 free. “The momentum is huge (for New Zealand),” he said. “The standard this week with three medals, I really wanted to put myself on the podium today and I had to wait all the way until the last day to get it done. I’m just happy with what New Zealand has been able to achieve. We are a country with only four million of us, way down the food chain of sports in terms of funding. We are just happy to be on the podium competing with the best in the world.”

Litchfield took silver in 4:10.40. The 28-year-old from Great Britain has competed sparingly on the international level in recent years due to injury issues, and he reached the medal podium at a global-level meet for only the second time, having previously taken silver at the 2016 Short Course World Championships in the event.

The bronze medal went to Japan’s Daiya Seto, who came from behind to touch out Foster on the freestyle leg, 4:12.51 to 4:12.62. Both men were well off their personal-best times, with both having recorded 4:06s in their decorated careers, but Seto’s closing speed helped him book the final podium spot ahead of the fading Foster.

Unlike his two companions on the medal stand, Seto is no stranger to the 400 IM awards stand, having previously won gold in the event in 2013, 2015 and 2019 plus bronze medals in 2017 and 2023. Seto was also the Olympic bronze medalist in this event in 2016, and he has won an astounding six consecutive short course world titles in the event.

As for Foster, he had previously taken silver behind stunning efforts by Leon Marchand at the last two World Championships and then again this week in the 200 IM, when he surrendered a final-length lead to Canada’s Finlay Knox. But his anticipated gold-medal chance failed to materialize as he fell apart down the stretch.

David Johnston, who swam a big best time of 4:12.51 in prelims to qualify first, was a half-second slower in the final as he and Razzetti tied for fifth in 4:13.05.

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