World Championships Preview — Women’s Sprint Freestyle: Emma McKeon Returns to Battle for Gold (Predictions)

Emma Mckeon of Australia celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50m Freestyle Women Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 17th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Emma McKeon -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships Preview — Women’s Sprint Freestyle: Emma McKeon Returns to Battle for Gold

Two years ago in Tokyo, Emma McKeon achieved the most prolific Olympic performance ever by a female swimmer. Yes, ever. McKeon won seven Olympic medals at those Games, albeit with one additional relay opportunity with the mixed medley added to the lineup for the first time to go along with her key legs on the Australian women’s 400 medley relay and 400 and 800 freestyle relays. But individually, McKeon was dynamite as well, earning bronze in an extremely tight 100 butterfly final before dominating the fields in the 100 free and 50 free.

McKeon had never before won individual gold at a World Championships or Olympics, and she had typically not even raced the individual sprint freestyle events, with sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell often occupying Australia’s two spots at major meets. Now 29 years old, McKeon returns to Japan for the World Championships after skipping last year’s edition of the meet in Budapest. She is the second-fastest performer ever in the 100 free and ranked fifth all-time in the 50 free, but her competition will be stiff.

The reigning world champions that McKeon will face come from opposite ends of the swimming spectrum: one is an Australian teammate 10 years younger while the other is a familiar same-age rival from Sweden.

Previous Events:

Women’s 50 Freestyle
WR 23.67 Sarah Sjostrom SWE Budapest (HUN) July 29, 2017
CR 23.67 Sarah Sjostrom SWE Budapest (HUN) July 29, 2017
WJR 24.17 Claire Curzan USA Cary (USA) May 14, 2021
Women’s 100 Freestyle
WR 51.71 Sarah Sjostrom SWE Budapest (HUN) July 23, 2017
CR 51.71 Sarah Sjostrom SWE Budapest (HUN) July 23, 2017
WJR 52.70 Penny Oleksiak CAN Rio de Janeiro (BRA) Aug. 11, 2016


Chen Yujie (CHN): Fifth at Worlds in the 100 free last year, Chen swam times of 24.53 in the 50 free and 53.26 in the 100 free at Chinese Nationals. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Kate Douglass (USA): The surprise winner of the 100 free at U.S. Nationals, Douglass will have a harder time reaching the podium in the 100 free than her other two individual events, the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke. Douglass will swim the 100 free and 200 breast on the same day, but the freestyle event will occur before breaststroke, so the ramifications of short rest would only affect her breaststroke. Douglass ranks ninth all-time in the 100 free at 52.57. Contending in: 100 free

Siobhan Haughey (HKG): Haughey, the Olympic silver medalist in the event, returns to global long course competition after missing last year’s Worlds with injury. She is probably stronger in the 200 free, but her 100 free best time of 52.27 ranks tied for sixth all-time, and she ranks second in the world this year at 52.50. Contending in: 100 free

Anna Hopkin (GBR): A finalist in the 100 free at the Olympics and in the 50 free at last year’s Worlds, this 27-year-old from Great Britain finds ways to contend year after year. She won bronze in the 50 free at the Short Course World Championships in December. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Shayna Jack (AUS): Jack had a very good chance at a 100 free medal last year before a hand injury knocked her out of the meet. This year, Jack ranks fifth-globally in the 100 free but did not qualify to swim the event at Worlds with McKeon and Mollie O’Callaghan claiming the two Aussie spots. Jack will be in the medal conversation in the 50 free after edging out McKeon to win the event at Australian Trials, her time of 24.22 ranking third in the world. Contending in: 50 free

Emma McKeon (AUS): So far in 2023, the gold medalist in both events from Tokyo has been as fast as 24.26 in the 50 free (fourth in the world) and 52.52 in the 100 free (third in the world). We’ll see if McKeon can hold off her competition to win her first individual long course world title. Contending in: 50 free & 100 free

Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS): O’Callaghan, 19, is the defending world champion, having used an incredible second 50 to overtake the field last year. She later took down Jack and McKeon for gold at the Commonwealth Games. O’Callaghan swam her best time (52.48) to overtake McKeon for the win at Australian Trials. However, O’Callaghan did suffer a knee injury in June, so we’ll see if she can regain full form in time for Fukuoka. Contending in: 100 free

Sarah Sjostrom (SWE): Sjostrom is the world-record holder in both sprint freestyle events, but she will only compete in 50-meter races (free and fly) this year. She is the reigning world champion in the 50 free, and her top time this year is 23.82, almost two tenths faster than anyone else in the world. Contending in: 50 free

Marrit Steenbergen (NED): The versatile Steeenbergen could qualify for several individual finals in Fukuoka, and she currently ranks seventh in the world in the 100 free at 52.98. Steenbergen was the European champion last year in the 100 and 200 free, and at Short Course Worlds, she won the 100 IM while earning 100 and 200 free bronze medals. Contending in: 100 free

Gretchen Walsh (USA): At U.S. Nationals, Walsh achieved her long-awaited long course breakthrough, qualifying for Worlds in three individual events (50 free, 50 fly and 100 fly) and also in the 400 free relay. Entering Worlds, she sits sixth in the world in the 50 free at 24.31. Contending in: 50 free

Kasia Wasick (POL): The 31-year-old Wasick earned her first global long course medal with a 50 free silver at last year’s Worlds behind Sjostrom. She also took silver at the European Championships (again behind Sjostrom) and at the Short Course World Championships (behind McKeon). Contending in: 50 free

Abbey Weitzeil (USA): She missed the World Championships team altogether in 2022, but Weitzeil has rebounded majorly this year. She swam her best times in both sprint events at Nationals, with her 100 free time of 52.92 ranking sixth in the world and her 50 free mark of 24.00 ranking second. Weitzeil nearly knocked off Simone Manuel’s American record (23.97) while moving to 11th all-time in the splash-and-dash. Contending in: 50 free

Zhang Yufei (CHN): Zhang is better known for her butterfly abilities, but she was fifth in the 50 free at Worlds last year and owns a season-best mark of 24.40. Contending in: 50 free


Women’s 50 Freestyle

Gold: Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)
Silver: Emma McKeon (AUS)
Bronze: Abbey Weitzeil (USA)

It will be really hard to top Sjostrom, who will be aiming for the third world title of her career in this race. McKeon and Weitzeil are the best bets to join her under 24, although Wasick (and possibly Jack and Walsh) should be in the mix as well.

Women’s 100 Freestyle

Gold: Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS)
Silver: Siobhan Haughey (HKG)
Bronze: Emma McKeon (AUS)

This one should be extremely tight, and either American could certainly end up on the podium here. But we think O’Callaghan’s finishing speed will again prevail in the final.

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1 year ago

Semis of Women’s 100 free is before the 200 breaststroke – same order as finals.

1 year ago

Easy mistake. The Worlds schedule is the craziest one I’ve ever seen.

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