World Championships Day Six Preview and Predictions: Lilly King, Zac Stubblety-Cook Favored in 200 Breaststroke

zac stubblety-cook world record
Zac Stubblety-Cook -- Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

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World Championships Day Six Preview and Predictions: Lilly King, Zac Stubblety-Cook Favored in 200 Breaststroke

At the most recent World Championships in Gwangju, Zac Stubblety-Cook finished fourth in the men’s 200 breaststroke, but he is now the man in the event, having captured Olympic gold last year and recently becoming the first man to ever break 2:06 at the Australian Championships. He will be the heavy favorite to capture gold again in Budapest. Meanwhile, a trio of Olympic silver medalists will hope to improve to gold in events where the Olympic champion is absent, and the men’s 800 free relay will see Great Britain as the big favorite while the United States hopes to return to the medal podium following a disappointing fourth-place finish in Tokyo.

Women’s 100 Freestyle

Just like in the 200 freestyle, the Australian who topped Siobhan Haughey for Olympic gold (Emma McKeon) will be missing, opening up the door for Haughey in an event where she is tied for sixth-fastest in history. While Haughey was widely viewed as an Olympic medal favorite in the 200 free, her improvement in the 100-meter race was more surprising, but she carried her speed through the fall on the ISL circuit and at the Short Course World Championships, where she won gold medals in both races.

Haughey will be challenged here by world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom, who set the mark of 51.71 leading off a relay five years ago in Budapest, but ironically, Sjostrom has never won a gold medal at a major international meet in this event. In the absence of McKeon and Olympic bronze medalist Cate Campbell, two other Aussies will be in the medal mix after swimming 52-mid performances at the Australian Championships, Mollie O’Callaghan and Shayna Jack, while 2016 co-Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak has a shot after finishing fourth in Tokyo. Great Britain’s Anna Hopkin is another returning Olympic finalist here. The Americans will have long odds of winning a medal in this race with teenagers Torri Huske and Claire Curzan competing internationally in this event for the first time.

Gold: Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong
Silver: Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia
Bronze: Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker is skipping this meet, Olympic bronze medalist Annie Lazor did not qualify for the U.S. team in this event, and Tokyo fourth-place finisher Evgeniia Chikunova is out of Worlds along with all of her Russian teammates. That leaves Lilly King as the big favorite for gold here after she became the seventh swimmer ever to swim under 2:20 on her way to Olympic silver last year. King was fourth in 2017 before a questionable DQ in prelims ruled her out of the event in 2019, so she will be aiming for her first World Championships medal in this event.

While the Americans have long odds at a medal in the previous event, they will be favored for two medals here as Kate Douglass enters the meet ranked No. 2 in the world this year and 16th all-time with the 2:21.43 she used to edge out Lazor at the U.S. International Team Trials in April. Douglass broke King’s all-time record in the 200-yard breast at the NCAA Championships this year. Olympic finalists Kaylene Corbett (South Africa), Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood (both Great Britain) could all be in the mix, as could Lithuania’s Kotryna Teterevkova, Australia’s Jenna Strauch and Italy’s Francesca Fangio.

Gold: Lilly King, USA
Silver: Kate Douglass, USA
Bronze: Molly Renshaw, Great Britain

Men’s 200 Backstroke

Since winning Olympic gold in this event in 2016, Ryan Murphy has been the silver medalist at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships and at the Tokyo Olympics, so Evgeny Rylov’s absence will open up the door for Murphy’s return to favorite status. Murphy holds the top time in the world this year at 1:55.01, and he should have a 1:54-low or possibly 1:53-high in store for Budapest. Even without Rylov in the field, Murphy will have familiar competition from Great Britain’s Luke Greenbank, the bronze medalist in Gwangju and Tokyo.

Also representing the U.S. here will be Shaine Casas, a multi-talented 22-year-old who won the 100 back short course world title in December and took silver in the 200 back, but the 200-meter event will be Casas’ only swim in Budapest. His Trials time of 1:55.46 ranks him second in the world. Hungary could have a competitor in the mix with Tokyo fifth-place finisher Adam Telegdy, while France’s Mewen Tomac, Australia’s Mitch Larkin, South Africa’s Pieter Coetzee, Germany’s Lukas Martens and Japanese veteran Ryosuke Irie are the only non-American swimmers to post times under 1:57 so far in 2022.

Gold: Ryan Murphy, USA
Silver: Luke Greenbank, Great Britain
Bronze: Shaine Casas, USA

Men’s 200 Breaststroke

It’s really hard to envision anyone beating Zac Stubblety-Cook, whose world record is more than two seconds faster than the 2022 best time of any swimmer who will race in Budapest. Stubblety-Cook has unbelievable closing speed as he showed in the Olympic final, when he trailed by more than a second with 50 meters to go before splitting an insane 32.24 to overtake and surpass Arno Kamminga. Maybe someone else can swim a 2:06 in Budapest, but 2:05 is Stubblety-Cook’s territory alone.

Kamminga surely wishes there was a 150-meter breaststroke since he was the silver medalist behind Adam Peaty in the 100 as well as the silver medalist here, but he will be in good shape for another 200-meter medal at Worlds. Japan always produces strong 200 breaststrokers, and this year’s representatives will include Yu Hanahguruma and Ryura Mura. American Nic Fink, who edged out Kamminga to win the short course world title last year, has a medal shot, and so do Tokyo bronze medalist Matti Mattson, Great Britain’s James Wilby and Sweden’s Erik Persson. France’s Leon Marchand is better known as an IMer, but his best stroke is breaststroke, so he has an outside shot here.

Gold: Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia
Silver: Arno Kamminga, Netherlands
Bronze: Ryura Mura, Japan

Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay

With Olympic gold medalist Tom Dean handling leadoff duties and Olympic silver medalist Duncan Scott on the anchor leg, the foursome from Great Britain dominated the Olympic final of the 800 freestyle relay and finished just three hundredths off a world record that has lasted since 2009. However, Britain’s roster will be in flux this year with Scott withdrawing from the World Championships. Dean and veteran James Guy all returning to the roster, and Joe Litchfield will join them, but it is unclear who will handle the fourth leg. Guy was the world champion in the 200 free back in 2015, and he split 1:44.40 on the Tokyo relay, faster than anyone in the field except Scott.

That Olympic final also marked the first time the United States had missed the Olympic medal podium in any swimming relay ever. While stalwart Townley Haas has retired, the Americans return their first two swimmers from Tokyo, Kieran Smith and Drew Kibler, and those two swimmers actually hold the two fastest times in the world this year in the 200 free. Carson Foster has also been in the 1:45-range in 2022, and the fourth member of the team is likely to be Trenton Julian. All of those swimmers are 22 or younger, so the Americans’ momentum is pointing up again in this relay after the recent weak stretch. Australia will have some turnover from its bronze-medal winning Olympic squad, but Zac Incerti and Elijah Winnington provide two strong legs, and Italy will also have a shot to move into medal contention with a group led by Marco De Tullio. Russia took silver in this event in Tokyo but will be missing from the World Championships.

Gold: Great Britain
Silver: United States
Bronze: Australia

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