World Championships: Leon Marchand Threatens Michael Phelps’ World Record En Route to 400 IM Gold

MARCHAND Leon FRA celebrating Gold Medal ER 400m Individual Medley Men Final Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 18/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Leon Marchand Threatens Michael Phelps’ World Record En Route to 400 IM Gold

It was a matter of time before Leon Marchand unleashed an epic performance in the long-course pool, an effort that would match the excellence he flashed at the NCAA Championships in the spring. Well, that day arrived at the World Championships on Saturday, with the Frenchman producing the second-fastest swim in history in the 400-meter individual medley, not far off the world record of the legendary Michael Phelps.

Putting the race out of reach with a spectacular breaststroke split, Marchand captured the first world title of his career behind a time of 4:04.28. Marchand was ahead of Phelps’ world-record pace heading into the freestyle leg and while he fell just short, the fact that the 20-year-old challenged Phelps’ standard of 4:03.84 – set at the Beijing Olympics – was downright stunning. Marchand’s time is No. 2 in history, a European record and the fastest time in a textile suit.

The American tandem of Carson Foster and Chase Kalisz grabbed the silver and bronze medals, thanks to respective times of 4:06.56 and 4:07.47. The swim was a two-second personal best for Foster while Kalisz was two seconds quicker than the time he turned in to win gold in the event at the Olympic Games.

Coached by Phelps’ mentor, Bob Bowman, Marchand has been a star-in-the-making for several years, and cemented that status at the NCAA Championships, where he won crowns for Arizona State in the 200 medley and 200 breaststroke. But Marchand still needed a defining moment in the long-course pool, and that is exactly what he delivered at the Duna Arena in Budapest.

“The NCAA meet is a very intense meet,” Marchand said. “I think I learned a lot about myself. I need to have fun in racing. I think that is what I did today. I am just very free in the water and able to give everything for each race.”

Marchand had his hands full with Foster at the midway point, with the American actually holding the lead through the butterfly and backstroke legs. Foster turned at the 200-meter mark in 1:58.18, Marchand lurking at 1:58.66. But the French star left no doubt about the outcome of the race shortly into the breaststroke leg. Emulating Kalisz, who has been known to demoralize the field on breaststroke, Marchand surged to an insurmountable advantage and moved 1.11 seconds ahead of Phelps’ world-record pace at the 300-meter checkpoint. Marchand split 1:07.28 on the breaststroke, compared to the 1:10.32 of Foster.

The pressure Marchand brought on the third 100 continued on the freestyle leg, which he covered in 58.34. That split was key, as it nearly matched the 58.06 of Foster and didn’t let the American make a move. It wasn’t until the final length in which Marchand slipped behind Phelps’ world-record pace. As a reminder, when Phelps established that global standard, it was the opening race of the 2008 Olympics, in which the all-time great went on to capture a record eight gold medals.

Marchand is the second member of his family to earn a medal at the World Championships, joining his father, Xavier. At the 1998 World Champs, the elder Marchand was the silver medalist in the 200 individual medley, placing behind the Netherlands’ Marcel Wouda.

“It is very special because my father supports me every day,” the younger Marchand said. “He gave so much advice about swimming, about everything, so I am just very happy to bring him this medal, to keep going (with) this swimming family.

“He told me very early that swimming is very hard and to be able to be at this level today, you need to train a lot. I think it’s been five or six years I am just dedicating my life to swimming, so I think that is a good gift for me and for my family because they have to wake up with me every day, bring me to practice and that is pretty cool.”

When Marchand committed to compete for Arizona State, the decision united a youthful and developing talent with Bowman, the man who molded the career of Phelps and also guided – along with Jack Bauerle – the emergence of Kalisz into one of the world’s premier medley performers. Over the course of the collegiate season, Marchand routinely posted impressive performances, punctuated by Swimmer of the Meet honors at the NCAA Championships.

“First, most of the credit for this swim goes to Nicolas Castel, Leon’s longtime coach in France,” Bowman told Swimming World. “He did a fantastic job of teaching him the skills, gradually introducing him to training and bringing him to the Olympic level.

“I was very pleased with the way (Marchand) split the race and managed his energy throughout. Leon works harder than anyone else, so he deserves this swim. I’m excited to see him keep progressing.”

As a finalist in the 400 medley at the Tokyo Olympics, Marchand’s long-course skill set has never been doubted, and a countdown of sorts was on: When will the French youngster pop a big one on the international stage? That answer was supplied in Budapest, and it bodes well for what Marchand might have in store in the 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley, events he’ll contest later in the meet.

For Foster, his silver medal was a key breakthrough for a guy who, like Marchand, has been surrounded by expectations since his teenage years. Last summer, Foster narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics, but popped the top time in the world later in the summer. By reaching the podium in Budapest and clocking a best time, the University of Texas headliner has taken the next step in his career.

As for Kalisz, his effort was the latest in a long line of stellar performances in the 400 medley. The 28-year-old proved that even the “older” guys can get the job done. While Kalisz was well back of Marchand and Foster through the butterfly and backstroke legs, and sitting sixth in the field, he relied on his experience and knowledge that his back half could be a game-changer. Indeed, Kalisz made a move on the breaststroke leg, his split of 1:08.45 moving him into third. Kalisz gave chase of Foster down the stretch, his 57.68 freestyle split enabling the veteran to post one of his fastest times in several years.



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