World Championships Swimming Medal Predictions: 50/100/200 Freestyle

Jun 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Start of the Women's 800M Freestyle champion ship heat during the Championship Finals of day four at the George F. Haines International Swim Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

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Pre-coverage of the World Championships is sponsored by Wylas Timing. Each week leading up to the start of the swimming competition at the FINA world championships, Swimming World will offer medal predictions for the 42 events set to be contested in Kazan, Russia.

Commentary by Jeff Commings, Swimming World Senior Writer

When it comes to sprint freestyle at a major international swim meet, it’s always difficult to know who will emerge victorious. Sprint freestyle involves not only explosive speed, but great technique and strong mental fortitude. And because the races are among the shortest on the event program, there’s hardly any time for a swimmer to break away from the field and easily claim the win.

The world championships in Russia could officially mark the emergence of a new generation of sprint champions in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles. With this being the year before the Olympics, everyone is on the lookout for the man and woman who will go into Rio with the target on their backs.

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Photo Courtesy: Wylas Timing

Men’s sprint freestyle at the world championships

50 freestyle

Brazil’s Cesar Cielo is in danger of losing the world 50 free crown that he’s owned since 2009. He’s looking to become the second man in history to win the same individual event four consecutive times, and the one-length race in 2015 will be his toughest challenge.

With a home crowd ready to push him to multiple gold medals, Vlad Morozov is in position to earn gold in the 50 freestyle. Olympic champion Florent Manaudou is back to his Olympic gold medal-winning form this year. Cielo’s teammate Bruno Fratus could put together something major after getting some race rehearsal at the Pan American Games.

Cielo won the 2013 gold medal with a 21.32, and the race might be that fast in Russia. I’m sensing a 21.35 will be what it takes to win, and the four mentioned above can swim that fast. So too can Americans Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin, who will be looking to end the USA’s world championship medal drought in this event that goes back to 2007. Though Adrian is best in the 100 free, surely the daily grind of training next to 50 free specialist Ervin will help both of them.

Anyone who gets in the final of the men’s 50 free has a chance to win. George Bovell of Trinidad and Tobago got a surprise bronze in 2013, and is still swimming well. Greece’s Kristian Gkolomeev will be looking for a long course breakthrough after two years of success in the short course collegiate pool. Hungary’s Kristian Takacs, Japan’s Katsumi Nakamura and Italy’s Marco Orsi have all broken 22 seconds this year, and will have to replicate those swims for a chance to be in the top eight.

Men’s 50 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Vlad Morozov
Silver: Florent Manaudou
Bronze: Cesar Cielo

Morozov, Vladimir-9

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

100 freestyle

With two-time world champion James Magnussen not competing at the world championships, who will take his place as the new world champion? Will Morozov return the crown to Russia and officially become the successor to the great Alex Popov? Or will the American duo of Adrian and Jimmy Feigen guide the USA to a 1-2 finish?

The 100 free final in Kazan could be one of the fastest ever. In 2013, four swimmers broke 48 seconds, but I believe at least six will do so this year. The final sometimes turns into a tactical race that is more about the place than the time, and we often see swims that are a bit slower than expected. Of course, nerves and the immense waves in the pool play a factor.

Lots of young talent is emerging in this event, and it’s making for very exciting possibilities in Russia. Australia’s Cameron McEvoy upset Magnussen and Adrian at last year’s Pan Pacific championships in the 100 free, showing that he is ready to take the throne. But, he didn’t break 48 seconds at the Australian trials, so we’re left to wonder if there is more in the tank, or is a 47-second swim not in the cards for McEvoy this year.

The biggest surprise to come from the Pan American Games last week was the 47.98 by Santo Condorelli leading off Canada’s 400 free relay. Condorelli heads to his first world championships tied with Morozov for the fastest time in the world, and the only two swims under 48 seconds this year. If he makes it into the 100 free final, can Condorelli drop time again when surrounded by seven of the fastest in the world?

Another wild card making his world championships debut will be Ning Zetao of China. He set an Asian record of 47.65 last year, and that time could win a medal. Also on the cusp of a sub-48 second swim is Brazilian Matheus Santana, the junior world record holder. I expected him to be much faster than he was at the Pan American Games (he finished seventh with a 49.58), but perhaps he was hedging his bets for a major performance at world championships.

As for the Americans, it’s hard to guess how well they’ll do. Since there was no taper meet before worlds, I’m not 100 percent sure of their level of speed in 2015, especially with Adrian since he bowed out of a couple of 100 free finals recently.

Men’s 100 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Vlad Morozov
Silver: Nathan Adrian
Bronze: Cameron McEvoy

nathan-adrian-santa-clara-2015 (3)

Photo Courtesy: JD Lasica

200 freestyle

Ryan Lochte has been shut out of the 200 freestyle medals at major international meets since 2012. He won this event at the 2011 world championships, but has been fourth or fifth for the past three years. Perhaps this is his year to get back on the medal stand, and his chances are better with the withdrawals of Yannick Agnel and Kosuke Hagino due to illness and injury.

Another athlete who hasn’t been up to form in the 200 free recently is world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany. But he’s at the top of the world rankings in the event, suggesting a resurgence for the 28-year-old. The 1:45.60 he swam in April will be necessary for him to get a medal, as Lochte has the potential to do that as well.

Lochte’s teammate Conor Dwyer is a serious gold medal possibility as well. Dwyer snuck in for silver at the 2013 worlds, and has been performing well since then. Like Biedermann, Dwyer tends to let others push the pace at the beginning and accelerate in the second half. He’ll need to keep in contact with the likes of Lochte in order to make his strategy work.

McEvoy and Aussie teammate David McKeon could be a strong 1-2 threat, and have the speed to shock the field and burn them out quickly. Sebastian Verschuren of the Netherlands and Brit James Guy are likely to get into the final, where they could produce lifetime bests and be in the medal hunt.

But the strongest threat comes from China’s Sun Yang, who is looking to become the first to win four freestyle gold medals at one world championships. Yang skipped out on the 200 free in 2013, but reports indicate that he’s in the event this year with gold on his mind. I get the sense that Sun’s 1:45.75 from April was not done at full strength. Sun is the only contender to have swum under 1:45 in the past three years (1:44.98 at the 2012 Olympics), so the capacity is there for him to give China its first 200 freestyle championship.

Men’s 200 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Sun Yang
Silver: Conor Dwyer
Bronze: Ryan Lochte


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Women’s 50 freestyle

Cate Campbell appears to have the 50 and 100 freestyle titles locked. But since having shoulder surgery, she hasn’t raced much, and that might affect her in Russia. She still put up some impressive times in the few races she’s done since Australian nationals in April, but so have a lot of her challengers.

The 50 freestyle, surprisingly, is not Campbell’s best event. Since winning bronze as a 15-year-old in the 50 free at the 2008 Olympics, she’s grown into a better 100 freestyler. That’s evidenced by the fact that the only 50 free gold medal she’s won since 2008 was last year’s Pan Pacific championships. She’ll be looking to dethrone Ranomi Kromowidjojo as world champion, with four others with a shot to do so as well.

Cate Campbell needs to look no further than younger sister Bronte for a challenge. The two are first and second in the world, but not by much, indicating that the women’s 50 freestyle finish could be just as close as the men’s race.

Fran Halsall got the gold at last year’s Commonwealth Games in the 50 free with a 23.96, posting the fastest swim in a textile suit (which Cate Campbell tied a month later). Though she “only” swam a 24.37 at the British nationals, look for her to get under 24 seconds in Russia. Another challenger to the 24-second barrier is Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who swam a lifetime best 24.20 last month.

Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace had a phenomenal win in the 50 free at the Pan American Games, and will use that momentum to get onto her first world championship podium. Her explosive speed is unmatched by the other top ladies in the field, but she’ll have to keep them at bay in the final 10 meters.

The American duo of Simone Manuel and Ivy Martin will have to put up superior times in the semifinals to secure a spot in what will be a very packed final. Manuel will have to swim right on her best time of 24.56, while Martin will have to find a couple of tenths to make her world championships finals debut.

Women’s 50 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Cate Campbell
Silver: Fran Halsall
Bronze: Sarah Sjostrom

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

100 freestyle

This is where Manuel has the best shot for an individual medal. Her 100 freestyle has improved dramatically in the past year, and her 46.09 American record in the 100-yard freestyle should translate to close to an American record in the long course pool. Amanda Weir has owned the American record of 53.02 since 2009, and Manuel is on the right track to challenge it.

Manuel and Campbell are the two best candidates for 100 free gold, but not the only ones. Femke Heemskerk of the Netherlands looks to keep her country’s sprint freestyle tradition alive, as does reigning Olympic champion Kromowidjojo. Expect Bronte Campbell and Sjostrom to take the race out hard and keep Cate Campbell fighting for every meter of that race.

Missy Franklin continues to excel in the 100 free, which is great for Team USA’s relays, but she’s still just outside of the medal picture. Look for her to storm home in the final 25 meters to get into the top six.

Women’s 100 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Cate Campbell
Silver: Femke Heemskerk
Bronze: Simone Manuel

Jun 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Femke Heemskerk (NED) won the Women's 100M Freestyle in a time of 53.64 during the Championship Finals of day four at the George F. Haines International Swim Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

200 freestyle

Though Heemskerk and two-time world champion Federica Pellegrini should not be counted out, the women’s 200 free battle for gold will be between Franklin and Katie Ledecky. These two have pushed each other to new heights in the past two years, and that will continue as they attempt a U.S. 1-2- finish. We can only guess how Franklin would have fared at last year’s Pan Pacific championships in the 200 free without her back injury, but it’s certain she’s hungry to defend her 2013 world title.

Ledecky will have the endurance to finish the race harder than Franklin. Franklin will look to her speed to open an early gap at the beginning stages of the race. Could the race result in an American record, breaking Allison Schmitt’s 1:53.61? If Ledecky wins, it’ll put her in great position to win four freestyle gold medals. She and Sun Yang could repeat as Swimmers of the Meet if they are able to pull off that distinction.

After Sjostrom announced that she’s taking the 200 freestyle off her world championships schedule, the race opens up greatly. Ledecky, Franklin, Pellegrini and Heemskerk are the top four ladies in medal contention, but strong>Emma McKeon has the capacity for a swim under 1:55 that could get her on the medal podium.

No one else in the world appears to have the ability to break 1:55 this year.

Women’s 200 freestyle medal predictions

Gold: Katie Ledecky
Silver: Missy Franklin
Bronze: Femke Heemskerk


Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

Previous world championships medal predictions
Medley relays
Individual medley
Distance freestyle
Freestyle relays

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8 years ago

Ning Zetao will be a swimmer that we better keep our eyes and ears open for. After an impressive 2014, I’m expecting Zetao to continue his good form leading up to Rio 2016.

8 years ago
Reply to  petriasfan

You beat me to it, Petriasfan. You know how it is with the Chinese, they can either fade to obscurity or step up and win medals. He’s in the conversation about the gold medal, and also in the one for those missing finals!! I have a gut feeling he’ll be more in the former convo than the latter this summer.

8 years ago

Now that Sjostrom takes 200 free off her schedule, I peg her to definitely medal in 100 free. In fact, she may beat Cate for gold.

100 free bronze will be between Bronte and Heemskerk.

As for men 100 free, I feel indifference. The event lost its lustre after the fastest swimmer in the past 5 years not competing.

8 years ago
Reply to  aswimfan

It’ll be an awesome race. Any of them could win. Bronte was gaining on Cate at Pan Pacs last year at the end, and ran out of room. I’m also giving Manuel an outside shot at having a breakout performance to medal. And if Kromowidjojo regains her form in time, she’ll be in the mix for podium too. Men’s 100 I agree with Jeff– champions are those who seize opportunities. I have no idea who it’s gonna be and I like it that way! Could be Zetao, McEvoy, Morozov, or even Adrian if he repeats his London feat and peaks just in time. Or none of the above!

8 years ago
Reply to  liquidassets

I think you’ve got Pan Pacs & CommGames mixed up. Liquid. Bronte (C2) dropped under 53 in Glasgow but was 53mid at PP. Whilst Cate (C1) is probably a narrow favourite due to her sheer consistency; this race could do either way between her & Sjostrom. Heemskerk MAY have “something to say” about that but favour the other two & may be fighting for bronze against C2. The most likely “interloper” I see as being Kromowidjojo who has been sub53 but not for a couple of years. Manuel should final but as someone who’s only been “south” of 53.5 once; I don’t see as a major medal chance against those who have been consistently sub53 (often well below) and/or those who have been there/consistent 53flat.

Men’s 100 is essentially a lottery with no clear favourite; plenty with legitimate claims but less than overpowering 2015 form. Likewise with the 200, although I would discount McKeon as he has a consistent form-line of mediocre to “non-performance” in international waters.

Whilst Franklin & Ledecky COULD go 1-2; I see that as far from a done deal and would see Ledecky as the more likely of the two. Unlike the author, I see Heemskerk & Pellegrini as major threats and at least one of these two to be fighting for Gold. IF the race ends up a tactical and thus “slower” race and is decided around 1.54high then McKeon (whom I see tracking at 1.55flat-low) may enter the equation but she’s probably a year away from being a conclusive sub 1.55.

8 years ago
Reply to  liquidassets

You’re right, it was Commonwealth’s where Bronte was gaining on Cate at the end. I remember thinking, “one of these years soon, Bronte is going to pass her.” I agree about Manuel, as I said, outside chance at a medal; there are other more likely interlopers. Next year her chances increase even more, I think.

I pretty much agree with your assessment of the women’s 200 too; I see Ledecky and Franklin as both with good chances to medal– but the color up in the air. Although Ledecky could take it all, this is her first attempt at 200-400-800-1500 and having the 1500 right before the 200 semis is tough–not that she won’t get into finals quite handily, but the cumulative mental drain alone is daunting over two-3 days there. Heemskerk has finally figured out how to pace the race correctly to her advantage, and when I saw Pellegrini throw down the 1:55.00 that raised my eyebrows, things got even more interesting. She’s back, and although she can be erratic, when she’s on, she’s a fighter. Although I get why Sjostrom dropped the 200 to focus on the 50’s an 100’s (where she has some potential for 4 gold, IMHO), it’s a shame–it would have been something like the men’s 200 -called “race of the century” in Athens. Maybe next year at Rio, when there are no 50’s, (and no 1500 for Ledecky, btw), we can see Sjostrom join to have that race!!

8 years ago

The one certain thing is Bronte is getting closer and closer to big sister Cate in both 50m and 100m. She has even beaten her once or twice over recent times. Could they both podium? They seem to inspire and push each other to their absolute limits. The short answer then is yes.

8 years ago

The “professor” is the most exciting sprinter since Ian Thorpe. Now that he has finally knocked off James Magnussen. He will be setting his sights on vanquishing the world’s best.

8 years ago

For me, the jury is still out with regards to McEvoy. He’s shown that he can be just as flaky as Magnussen come relay time; particularly the 4×200 which despite often reading well on paper is an even more mis-firing engine than the AUS 4×100. To date, he hasn’t really shown much over 50 and looks more a 100/200 man than 50/100.

High intelligence doesn’t necessarily equate to being a smart racer; with some it may “go together” but in others it may lead to “overthinking” matters and less optimal outcomes.

8 years ago

Sjostrom has a lifetime best of 23.98 in the 50 free, from last year.