World Championships Day Seven Preview and Predictions: Katie Ledecky Could Win Historic Fifth Consecutive Gold

Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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World Championships Day Seven Preview and Predictions: Katie Ledecky Could Win Historic Fifth Consecutive Gold

Two women will have an opportunity to achieve a record fifth consecutive world title in one event this week in Budapest. Katinka Hosszu has two chances (200 IM and 400 IM), but while she is a medal contender in each race, she is by no means a gold-medal favorite. Katie Ledecky, on the other hand, is a big favorite in the 800 freestyle, and it does not hurt that Olympic silver medalist Ariarne Titmus will be absent from the World Championships.

The other big story of day seven is Caeleb Dressel’s pursuit of three gold medals in one day. That has only been accomplished twice in World Championships history — by Dressel in 2017 and again by Dressel in 2019. The events include the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and mixed 400 free relay, and while Dressel remains an overwhelming favorite in the splash-and-dash, the others will be tougher.

Women’s 50 Butterfly

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom is the big favorite here to capture a fourth consecutive world title in the 50 fly. In all likelihood, Sjostrom would be aiming for a fifth straight title, bur she skipped the 50 fly at the 2013 World Championships. Heading into this meet, Sjostrom holds the fastest time in the world at 25.05, more than four tenths quicker than anyone else, and her 2014 world record of 24.43 is six tenths quicker than any other swimmer in history. Sjostrom is now 28, but she has been winning world titles in butterfly since the age of 15, and she has geared toward sprints more in the later portion of her career, so she is an easy call in this event.

Sjostrom’s primary rival in this event has been the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo, but Kromowidjojo announced her retirement after winning the short course world title in this event in December. That leaves American teenagers Claire Curzan and Torri Huske, France’s Melanie Henique, Sweden’s Louise Hansson and Egypt’s Farida Osman, the 2019 Worlds bronze medalist in this event, as primary challengers. Ikee, a leukemia survivor, sits tied for second in the world with Curzan at 25.49.

Gold: Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden
Silver: Claire Curzan, USA
Bronze: Melanie Henique, France

Men’s 50 Freestyle

Caeleb Dressel won Olympic gold in the 50 freestyle by 0.48, the largest margin of victory in Olympic history. The event has only been part of the Olympic lineup since 1988, but Dressel more than doubled the previous widest margin. And that’s no fluke, either. Dressel was world champion in 2019 by 0.41. Dressel owns a lifetime-best mark of 21.04, and just like in the 100 free, he has been knocking on the door of a Cesar Cielo suit-aided world record (20.91) for years.

The most consistent swimmer aside from Dressel in this event has been 32-year-old Brazilian Bruno Fratus, the silver medalist at the last two World Championships and the bronze medalist in Tokyo, so Fratus is a good bet to get onto the podium once again. Florent Manaudou, the Olympic gold medalist in this event in 2012 and silver medalist in 2016 and 2021, has raced sparingly this year, but he is always a threat, and this event marks another chance for Michael Andrew to reach an individual podium. Short course world champion Ben Proud and 19-year-old Canadian Josh Liendo are also medal possibilities here.

Gold: Caeleb Dressel, USA
Silver: Bruno Fratus, Brazil
Bronze: Michael Andrew, USA

Men’s 100 Butterfly

Minutes after the 50 free final, Caeleb Dressel will be back in the water for the 100 butterfly final. After dominant performances in winning this event in 2017 and 2019, he got a real push from Hungary’s Kristof Milak at the Olympics. Dressel needed every bit of his world-record performance (49.45) to hold off a charging Milak, who surpassed Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic to become the second-fastest man in history. On Milak’s home turf in Hungary and with another year to build strength and speed, Milak was nearly the pick here. Maybe Dressel holds on, but this event is surely a toss-up.

The superstar duo figures to have a big advantage over the rest of the field. Swiss Olympic bronze medalist Noe Ponti will return, and he will try to hold off a group consisting of Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma, Australia’s Matt Temple and American Michael Andrew. An interesting addition to the mix will be Australia’s Kyle Chalmers, one of the best sprint freestylers in the world over the past six years but only in Budapest as a butterflyer.

Gold: Caeleb Dressel, USA
Silver: Kristof Milak, Hungary
Bronze: Naoki Mizunuma, Japan

Women’s 200 Backstroke

While the women’s 100 back final sets up as an intense duel between Kaylee McKeownKylie Masse and Regan Smith, the four-length backstroke event sees McKeown entering as a strong favorite. Last year, she clobbered the field on the last 50 to pull away and win Olympic gold, and her best time of 2:04.28 is eight tenths better than anyone else in the field and third-fastest in history behind Smith and Missy Franklin. McKeown is unlikely to reach world-record territory in Budapest, but she should again be able to comfortably out-last the field.

Smith did not qualify for represent the U.S. in the 200 back after Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White posted huge times at the U.S. International Team Trials in April. The two swimmers moved to sixth and seventh all-time in the event, respectively, and they jumped past Olympic silver medalist Masse on the all-time list. It would be a surprise if some combination of McKeown, Masse and the Americans did not comprise the podium, with Canada’s Taylor Ruck and Italy’s Margherita Panziera looming as potential spoilers.

Gold: Kaylee McKeown, Australia
Silver: Phoebe Bacon, USA
Bronze: Rhyan White, USA

Women’s 800 Freestyle

In 2019, illness derailed Katie Ledecky’s World Championships. She withdrew from the final of the 1500 free and skipped the 200 free completely. Then, when she was feeling better, she swam the grittiest race of her career in the 800 free, digging deep to overtake Italy’s Simona Quadarella on the last 50 and win the event for a fourth straight Worlds. In 2022, it’s impossible to overstate the extent to which Ledecky is favored in this event as she aims for No. 5. Her best time is more than nine seconds ahead of any other swimmer in history, and her season-best mark is 4.5 seconds faster than anyone other swimmer’s career best. At the U.S. International Team Trials, she surpassed her gold-medal-winning mark from the Tokyo Olympics by more than three seconds.

The battle will be for determining the other spots on the podium with Quadarella, 2017 Worlds bronze medalist Leah Smith, short course world champion Li Bingjie, breakout Australian swimmer Lani Pallister and the German duo of Sarah Kohler and Isabel Gose as contenders. But this sets up as a Ledecky landslide as she attempts to accomplish something never before seen in the sport.

Gold: Katie Ledecky, USA
Silver: Simona Quadarella, Italy
Bronze: Lani Pallister, Australia

Mixed 400 Freestyle Relay

The mixed 400 free relay has been contested on three occasions at the World Championships, and the Americans have won all three, with Caeleb Dressel handling leadoff duties in 2017 and 2019. He will surely be in that position again with Brooks CurryClaire Curzan and Torri Huske as possibilities to join him, but the Australians could produce an even stronger quartet if their biggest stars compete. Kyle Chalmers, Dressel’s biggest rival in the 100 free, is not swimming the individual event in Budapest but a team of Chalmers, Matt Temple and the swimmers entering Budapest ranked 1-2 in the world in the women’s 100 free, Mollie O’Callaghan and Meg Harris, would be favored for gold.

Canada could be in position for a medal here with Josh Liendo and Ruslan Gasiev set to team with Penny Oleksiak and likely Kayla Sanchez, and Great Britain could produce a strong quartet with Lewis BurrasTom DeanAnna Hopkin and Freya Anderson, and France will have Maxime Grousset teaming up with Marie Wattel and Charlotte Bonnet.

Gold: Australia
Silver: United States
Bronze: Canada

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1 year ago

I think you meant Shayna Jack not Meg Harris? In that mixed free relay

Aussie swim fan
Aussie swim fan
1 year ago
Reply to  Verram

Shayna Jack out injured, Meg Harris next fastest.

Michael Gorvitz
Michael Gorvitz
1 year ago

I disagree with your mix-relay prediction. If Regan Smith don’t lose the first leg, Andrew (Fink) and Dressel will definitely be able to beat more than a second from Stubblety-Cook and Matt Temple (Chambers is untested in fly). This should be enough for Tory Huske to hold off O’Callagsn or Jack.

Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright
1 year ago

This is the mixed free not medley

1 year ago

I believe Ikee Rikako will not compete at Budapest

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