FLASH! Sarah Sjostrom Takes Down World Record in 50 Freestyle Semis at Worlds

Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden reacts after competing in the 50m Freestyle Women Semifinal with a New World Record during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 29th, 2023.
Sarah Sjostrom -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Editorial content for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships is sponsored by FINIS, a longtime partner of Swimming World and leading innovator of suits, goggles and equipment.


FLASH! Sarah Sjostrom Takes Down World Record in 50 Freestyle Semis at Worlds

Mere minutes after becoming only the second swimmer to ever win five consecutive world titles in one event, Sarah Sjostrom returned to the pool and shocked herself and the world as she took down her own world record in the 50 free.

Six years to the day after Sjostrom swam a time of 23.67 in the World Championships semifinals, she notched a mark six hundredths faster Saturday evening in Fukuoka, touching in 23.61. Sjostrom did not distinguish herself right off the bat, but around the halfway point, she powered to an enormous lead before she ended up pulling ahead of her heat by more than a half-second. She ended up surpassing every other swimmer in her heat by two-thirds of a second on her way to the quickest time ever.

Sjostrom has been winning world titles for half her life, having first ascended to the top of the podium as a 15-year-old at the 2009 Worlds in Rome. Now, three weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Sjostrom has chosen to focus exclusively on 50-meter races this year, opting out of events such as the 100 fly and 100 free, both events in which she owns the world record.

Sjostrom has waited through most of the week in Fukuoka for her chance to race, but she did drop an early hint of her strong form as she led off Sweden’s 400 free relay in 52.24, her best time in four years and a mark that would have been quick enough for silver in the 100 free. Then, she joined Katie Ledecky as the only swimmer to win five consecutive world titles in one event, doing so in the 50 butterfly final. Then, a quirk in the schedule meant Sjostrom had less than 20 minutes to celebrate before it was back to work in the 50 free semifinals. But the quick turnaround did not affect her in this record-setting effort.

Entering the World Championships, Sjostrom was the only swimmer to break 24 in the 50 free so far this year, having done so on four occasions. She swam as fast as 23.82 on the Mare Nostrum circuit in June, setting herself up as the favorite to win a third world title in the 50 free, having already done so in 2017 and 2022.

That June time was only 15-hundreths behind her world record of 23.67, so perhaps Sjostrom could challenge the record — but in the semifinals, less than 20 minutes after her 50 fly? Unlikely, but Sjostrom ended up notching another remarkable accomplishment in her Hall-of-Fame career.

Behind the world-record breaker, Australia’s Shayna Jack continued a series of exceptional relay performances all week. Jack will be favored to reach the podium on her own for the first time at a major championship after she won the first semifinal in 24.01, just missing the elusive 24-second barrier that only 11 swimmers have ever reached.

Third in the semifinals went to China’s Zhang Yufei in 24.20. Zhang was returning after racing in the 50 fly final, where she grabbed the silver medal behind Sjostrom, but she managed to deliver a good enough swim to put herself in position to chase a fourth medal this week. Zhang has already earned gold medals in the 100 fly and mixed 400 medley relay along with her 50 fly silver.

Abbey Weitzeil of the United States, who swam a time of 24.00 in winning the 50 free at U.S. Nationals last month, placed fourth here in 24.27 as she chases her first individual medal at a major long course competition. A second Chinese swimmer made the final as Cheng Yujie was fifth in 24.56, and Sjostrom’s Swedish teammate placed sixth in 24.63.

The Olympic champion in the event, Australia’s Emma McKeon, snuck into the final as the seventh qualifier in 24.63. McKeon has struggled slightly in Fukuoka, but her lifetime best of 23.81 is second-quickest in this field. A swim-off was required for the last spot in the final between France’s Marie Wattel and the Netherlands’ Marrit Steenbergen after both swimmers touched in 24.68. The Dutchwoman won that in 24.53, edging Wattel by .09.

In addition to Sjostrom and Zhang, two other swimmers returned from the 50 fly to race the 50 free semifinals, but neither American Gretchen Walsh (11th, 24.71) or Egypt’s Farida Osman (16th, 25.34) managed to finish among the top eight.


Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x