World Championships Day One Preview and Predictions: Rising Stars Battling Veterans for 400 IM Title

Lukas Martens -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships Day One Preview and Predictions: Rising Stars Battling Veterans for 400 IM Title

The 19th edition of the FINA World Championships will begin June 18 on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, with swimming’s signature meet outside of the Olympic Games returning to the Duna Arena that hosted so many memorable performances in 2017. Many of swimming’s biggest names are sitting this one out as the prepare for other major competitions later this summer or recharge their batteries after the delayed Olympic Games, but this meet remains the most significant swimming competition of 2022.

The meet will follow a similar competition schedule to the previous eight editions of the World Championships and feature 42 events. In addition to the 35 events contested at last year’s Olympics, the World Championships lineup also includes the 50-meter events of each stroke and a mixed 400 freestyle relay. As usual, the first day of competition will include finals of the men’s and women’s 400 freestyle and the women’s and men’s 400 freestyle relay, while the men’s 400 IM will also move to the opening day.

We will go event-by-event to preview what will transpire over the course of eight days of racing in Budapest.

Men’s 400 Freestyle

In Tokyo, Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui stunned the world by holding off the favored Australians and stealing away a gold medal from lane eight, but Hafnaoui was surprisingly missing from the entry lists for Worlds. The favorite here is 20-year-old German Lukas Martens, who holds the world’s fastest time in the 400, 800 and 1500-meter events entering the meet. It is the eight-lap event where Martens has the best chance of securing gold, with his April performance of 3:41.60 sitting a second-and-a-half faster than anyone else has recorded since 2019.

Australia holds the second and third-fastest times in the world with Elijah Winnington and Mack Horton. Winnington was the favorite in the event at the Olympics, but he ended up falling to seventh, while 2016 Olympic champion Horton returns to race this event after Winnington and eventual Olympic silver medalist Jack McLoughlin were Australia’s representatives last year. Short Course World Champion Felix Aubock of Austria and Olympic bronze medalist Kieran Smith of the United States are the other central figures to watch here.

Gold: Lukas Martens, Germany
Silver: Elijah Winnington, Australia
Bronze: Mack Horton, Australia

Women’s 400 Freestyle

Before Ariarne Titmus out-dueled Katie Ledecky to win Olympic gold in the women’s 400 free last year, the duo had previously faced off at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju where Titmus pulled what was considered a shocking upset over an ill Ledecky, who had been aiming for her fourth consecutive world title in the event. Now, Titmus is the Olympic champion and world-record holder, but she will be absent from these Worlds. That means Ledecky, with her season-best time of 3:59.52 that ranks second in the world, is the clear favorite to win gold here.

However, recent trends point to 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh posing a serious challenge to the 25-year-old American. McIntosh finished fourth in this event at the Olympics after sitting in third place for most of the race, and she swam a time of 4:01.59 at Canada’s Trials in April. A sub-4:00 performance will happen, and it could be in Budapest. Olympic bronze medalist and short course world champion Li Bingjie of China will also be in the mix, and the other swimmers to go under 4:04 so far this year are Aussies Lani Pallister and Kiah Melverton and American Leah Smith. Smith missed the Tokyo Olympics, but she was medalist in the 400 free at the 2016 Olympics and at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships.

Gold: Katie Ledecky, USA
Silver: Summer McIntosh, Canada
Bronze: Li Bingjie, China

Men’s 400 IM

This one should be good. The men’s 400 IM will feature a handful of gold-medal possibilities with no clear favorite, and each of the swimmers has different strengths. Going out hard from the beginning will be Japan’s Daiya Seto, the reigning world champion in this event, and he will try to hold on and rebound from a disappointing Olympics where he shockingly missed the final. The Olympic gold medalist last year was Chase Kalisz, who clobbered the field on the breaststroke leg in the Olympic final.

The new faces in the mix include American Carson Foster, the No. 1 ranked swimmer in the world for 2022 but not an Olympian after Kalisz and Jay Litherland (who eventually grabbed silver in Tokyo) overtook Foster at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and France’s Leon Marchand, now training at Arizona State University after making his Olympic final debut in Tokyo last year. Marchand dropped his lifetime best to 4:10.38 in April, and he ranks fourth in the world, while Foster sits third at 4:09.33. Also moving into the 400 IM this year has been Great Britain’s Duncan Scott, the Olympic silver medalist in the 200 free and 200 IM, and if Scott is close with 100 meters to go, he will have the best finish. Japan’s Tomoru Honda and Australian Olympic bronze medalist Brendon Smith are other medal possibilities.

Update 6/14: Scott announced that he was withdrawing from the World Championships because of struggles in his recovery from a recent bout of COVID-19. Although Scott has not previously raced the 400 IM at a major international competition, he was our initial pick for gold because of his impressive results over the past year.

Gold: Carson Foster, USA
Silver: Leon Marchand, France
Bronze: Daiya Seto, Japan

Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay

Australia became the first team to break 3:30 in the 400 free relay at last year’s Olympics as the group of Bronte CampbellMeg HarrisEmma McKeon and Cate Campbell won gold by more than three seconds. Three of those swimmers are absent from this year’s World Championships squad, including the dominant female swimmer at the Olympics after winning seven total medals (McKeon), a veteran who is arguably the finest female relay swimmer in history (Cate Campbell). And Australia is still the heavy favorite to win a world title in this race.

That’s because Australian swimmers are ranked first, second, third and fifth in the world in the 100 free. The group includes Mollie O’Callaghan (52.49), Shayna Jack (52.60), Harris (53.09) and Madison Wilson (53.19). Sure, the Americans have some solid depth here, but the fastest U.S. swimmer so far in 2022 is Torri Huske at 53.35. It would take a team with multiple 52-second swimmers to have a shot at the Aussies. Canada will return swimmers such as Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak from its Olympic-silver-medal-winning relay while aiming for another podium finish here, while China could surprise and make a medal run if Zhang Yufei and Yang Junxuan are added to the quartet.

Gold: Australia
Silver: United States
Bronze: Canada

Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay

The United States has won every major title in the 400 free relay since 2016, when Caeleb Dressel first stepped into the leadoff role, and a group consisting of Dressel plus three other swimmers with 48-low or 47-high capabilities should be enough to capture a world title. The three other swimmers from last year’s Olympic-gold-medal-winning quartet are not on the World Championships team this year, so the relay will include Brooks Curry and two out of Ryan HeldDrew KiblerHunter Armstrong and Justin Ress. Curry narrowly missed his first 47-second swim at the U.S. International Team Trials, while Held has been 47-mid in his career.

Meanwhile, Italy won an unexpected silver medal last year, and the Italians return their entire quartet from Tokyo, Alessandro MiressiThomas CecconLorenzo Zazzeri and Manuel Frigo. Australia is likely to use Kyle Chalmers here after his 46.44 anchor split propelled his team to Olympic bronze. Great Britain will miss Duncan Scott in this event, but the British team should be strong and well-balanced quartet with Lewis BurrasTom Dean, Jacob Whittle and likely James Guy, and Canada’s group led by Short Course Worlds 100 free bronze medalist Josh Liendo and Ruslan Gasiev has a shot as well.

Gold: United States
Silver: Great Britain
Bronze: Italy

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1 year ago

I am all in on Kalisz taking gold on 400 IM. He always steps up

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