World Championships, Day Eight Finals: Sarah Sjostrom Swims Second-Fastest Time Ever in 50 Free; Most Individual Medals at Worlds

Sarah Sjostrom -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships, Day Eight Finals: Sarah Sjostrom Swims Second-Fastest Time Ever in 50 Free; Most Individual Medals at Worlds

Sarah Sjostrom is less than one month away from her 30th birthday, and she has been winning World Championship medals and breaking world records since age 15. But Saturday evening was among the most impressive performances of her remarkable career as Sjostrom captured 50 butterfly gold for her fifth consecutive world title in the event, becoming only the second woman to reach that achievement. Minutes later, Sjostrom knocked off her own world record in the 50 freestyle by six hundredths.

The follow-up performance was nearly as good as Sjostrom beat the field by almost a half-second on the way to the third world title of her career in the 50 freestyle. Sjostrom broke away from a tight line of competitors across the field and pulled away to win by almost a half-second, an enormous margin over 50 meters. Sjostrom touched in 23.62, one hundredth shy of the 23.61Am she swam in the semifinals but ahead of her previous record of 23.67. Sjostrom’s time was more than a tenth ahead of any other swimmer in history (Germany’s Britta Steffen ranks second at 23.73).

The medal marked the 21st individual honor of Sjostrom’s career, breaking a tie with Michael Phelps for most in history. More than half of those medals have been gold, with her 12 titles coming between the 50 and 100-meter races of freestyle and butterfly.

“I’ve very happy with the 50 freestyle. I really enjoy every moment here. I’m super proud that I was able to handle the pressure again. I’ve done this many times of course, but it’s a battle with emotions. So I’m really happy and proud I was able to do that,” Sjostrom said. “I think it’s important to stay humbled, and that’s something I’ve learned. It was 14 years ago I won my first titles. I’ve done this many times. I know I would never take a win for granted. I’m just trying to focus on details and work on them.”

Reflecting on her meet overall, Sjostrom suggested that she was pleased she decided to swim only the 50-meter races this year, especially given that the two swims worked out with historic accomplishments on both occasions. “During the meet, I was watching the 100 free and even the 100 fly and was like, ‘OK, maybe. Maybe I would have a chance there.’

“But in the end, I’m very, very happy that I actually chose to have a light program. I realized the circus around the races, that’s what’s the most exhausting part, actually, not the actual race. It’s all the other points we need to do to prepare for the race and afterwards.’

The battle for silver came down to the touch as Shayna Jack took silver for Australia in 24.10, a bit off the 24.01 she swam in the semifinals to become the 13th-fastest performer in history. Jack had already captured four relay medals in Fukuoka (three gold plus one silver), and this is the first individual medal of her career at a major meet. Jack did not swim the individual 100 free this week after Mollie O’Callaghan and Emma McKeon finished ahead of her at Australian Trials, but Jack swam a time of 52.28 on a relay leadoff that remains tied for fastest in the world.

Following the race, Jack admitted she was emotional after finally getting the opportunity to compete individually at the World Championships and coming through with a medal. Previously, Jack had to withdraw from the 2009 Worlds and missed the Tokyo Olympics because of a doping suspension (she claimed she had unknowingly ingested a banned substance), and in her return to racing at last year’s Worlds, Jack had to pull out of the meet halfway through after suffering a broken hand in a freak accident.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m super proud of myself,” Jack said. “I did have an emotional meeting at the end with Dean once I saw him just because of how great this week has been and what we’ve accomplished this year. Last year, I obviously didn’t get to go to my individuals and didn’t get to do a few of the relays because of my broken hand, and obviously in the past, I wasn’t even swimming. So to be here and representing my country and to be standing on that podium with a silver medal is unbelievable.”

China’s Zhang Yufei, meanwhile, captured her fourth medal of the week with bronze, touching in 24.15 to move into the all-time top-20 in the event. Zhang was the world champion in the 100 fly and helped China to mixed 400 medley relay gold before taking silver behind Sjostrom in the 50 fly.

Abbey Weitzeil of the U.S. missed the podium by one spot, touching in 24.32 for fourth while McKeon, the Olympic gold medalist in the event two years ago, placed fifth in 24.35.


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