World Championships: To USA’s Benefit, Bella Sims Has Forged Identity as Clutch Relay Performer

Bella Sims of United States of America prepares to compete in the Women's Freestyle 200m Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 25th, 2023.

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.


World Championships: To USA’s Benefit, Bella Sims Has Secured Identity as Clutch Relay Performer

Some athletes have an innate ability to enhance their performances under the spotlight, or under conditions that trigger a little extra. Count Bella Sims in that category, and specifically as a go-to performer in relay competition.

Sims is one of the United States’ rising stars, an 18-year-old bound for the University of Florida and already with plentiful experience on the international stage. Earlier this week at the World Championships, the Sandpipers of Nevada-trained Sims finished eighth in the 400-meter freestyle and sixth in the 200 freestyle.

In the 400 freestyle, Sims followed a prelims mark of 4:04.25 with a time of 4:05.37 in the final. In the 200 freestyle, she turned in a career-best of 1:55.45 in the semifinals and backed it up with a solid 1:56.00 in the final. Both of Sims’ individual events featured world-record showings from Australians – Ariarne Titmus in the longer event and Mollie O’Callaghan in the 200 freestyle.

It was Sims’ performance in the 800 freestyle relay that stood out most – not that anyone should have been shocked. As the United States earned the silver medal behind the world-record-setting Australians, Sims cranked out a third-leg split of 1:54.64. The effort helped Team USA clock in at 7:41.38 and marked the second consecutive summer in which Sims dropped a huge outing in the 800 free relay at the World Champs.

Last summer, as the United States took gold, Sims delivered an anchor leg of 1:54.60. To go sub-1:55 in back-to-back editions of the World Championships is impressive on its own merit. Considering the splits were sizable drops from her individual times in the 200 freestyle reveals an athlete who elevates herself in team competition. That trait cannot be taught and is deeply appreciated by coaches and teammates.

“I knew that I had to give it all for this relay,” said Sims, who is coached by Ron Aitken. “It was my last swim. I definitely had to leave it all in the pool. I was pretty accepting of the 200 free, but I didn’t want to bring everyone down with me being not happy with it. You just have to learn how to be happy so that everyone else can be cheery for their races.”

The next year will see Sims prepare for the United States Olympic Trials and the opportunity to nail down a second Olympic berth. Sims qualified as a member of the 800 freestyle relay for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, where she claimed a silver medal for her prelims contributions. On the road to Paris, the 18-year-old will rely on the light persona she brings to the pool deck, an approach she feels is the best key to success.

“Over the past few years, I’ve learned to have fun with it and not everything is very serious,” she said. “The more fun you have, for me at least, the better I do. That’s definitely come with being a vet, I guess.”

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