World Championships: Top 10 Women’s Performances – Which Katie Ledecky Swim is No. 1?

LEDECKY Katie USA 1500m Freestyle Women Final Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 20/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Top 10 Women’s Performances – Which Katie Ledecky Swim is No. 1?

We have reached the conclusion of the eight-day pool swimming slate at the World Championships in Budapest, and the week produced a pair of individual men’s world records and another in the mixed relay as well as a wide range of new world champions, from 15-year-old breakout star Summer McIntosh to 28-year-old Sarah Sjostrom winning a gold medal at a sixth different edition of the World Championships. Sure, there will be plenty more elite racing this year, and Worlds was missing a handful of the usual suspects, but this was the best stretch of 2022 without a doubt.

With a brief lull in major competition approaching before the Commonwealth Games and European Championships later in the summer, let’s evaluate the best performances from Budapest, beginning with the women’s side. This list will include 10 performances, with a swimmer only eligible to make the list for one swim. As usual, these rankings between different events is subjective, and our pre-meet expectations will influence how we make sense of each performance.

1. Katie Ledecky, USA, 800 Freestyle Relay Split (1:53.67)


Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

There was no doubt that Katie Ledecky would be the female swimmer of the meet as she was the only swimmer in Budapest to leave with three individual gold medals. Ledecky was brilliant throughout the meet as she won gold medals in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle, and her 800-meter gold was the most historic swim of the week as she won her fifth consecutive world title to extend her decade of dominance in the race. In each race, she swam faster than she has in years. But let’s be honest: there was little doubt that Ledecky would capture gold in any of her individual races. There is no one in the world closer to her in the 800 free, and 400 free world-record holder Ariarne Titmus was absent.

So Ledecky makes the list for her split in the 800 free relay, where she split 1:53.67 to vault the Americans from third place to first by more than a second. Ledecky has played a key role for the U.S. in that event for a decade, and the majority of those swims have resulted in gold medals, but this was the fastest split of Ledecky’s career and the third-fastest 200-meter split ever. Moreover, the Americans were by no means favored for gold here, and missing the podium was a realistic possibility. But Ledecky, combined with Claire WeinsteinLeah Smith and a stunning 1:54.60 anchor split from Bella Sims, secured gold.

2. Alex Walsh, USA, 200 IM (2:07.13)

WALSH Alex USA Gold Medal 200m Individual Medley Women Final Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 19/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Alex Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

At the U.S. International Team Trials, Alex Walsh established herself as the world-title favorite in the 200 IM as she broke 2:08 for the first time, and she topped herself by obliterating the field in the event at the World Championships. It sounds cliché, but Walsh truly has no weaknesses in the event. She was ahead after the butterfly leg and did not let star backstroker Kaylee McKeown cut into the deficit on backstroke. By the end of the breaststroke leg, Walsh was 1.38 seconds ahead, and gold was secure. She dropped a second-and-a-half from her silver-medal winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics, and her time of 2:07.13 made Walsh the fifth-fastest performer ever in the event, while the time was the 10th-fastest effort all-time (the quickest since 2016). This 20-year-old is undoubtedly the name to circle in the shorter medley event moving forward.

3. Summer McIntosh, Canada, 200 Butterfly (2:05.20)


Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Three female swimmers won multiple individual gold medals in Budapest. Two of those three are already among the greatest swimmers in history, Katie Ledecky and Sarah Sjostrom, while the third was 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh. McIntosh was deemed a rising star in 2021 as she placed fourth in the 400 freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics, but she showed off her wide range of talents with four medals in Budapest: silver in the 400 free, gold in the 200 butterfly, bronze in the 800 free relay and gold again in the 400 IM. McIntosh was considered a favorite in the 400 IM after swimming under 4:30 earlier this year, and she entered with a shot in the 200 fly as well, but she would be facing off against three veterans who won Olympic medals in the event last year. But McIntosh took over the lead at the 150-meter mark and pulled away to win by more than a second — against the likes of Hali FlickingerZhang Yufei and Regan Smith. Her final time of 2:05.20 was a new world junior record and quick enough to make McIntosh the 12th-fastest performer in history.

4. Torri Huske, USA, 100 Butterfly (55.64)


Torri Huske — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

In her Olympic debut last year, Torri Huske narrowly missed the Olympic podium in the 100 butterfly, but at this World Championships, she showed poise and confidence as she stormed to her first world title in the event. The field was weaker than in Tokyo with Olympic medalists Maggie Mac Neil and Emma McKeon out, and Zhang Yufei was not at her best, but Huske lowered the American record and finished less than two tenths off the world record as she secured gold. That swim came at the beginning of a meet where Huske took an enormous step forward overall. She established herself as the premier U.S. 100 freestyler while earning a bronze medal in that event. She was key in four medal-winning relays, two of them golden. But it was this 100 fly that was a crowning achievement in her career thus far.

5. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden, 50 Freestyle (23.98)


Sarah Sjostrom — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

After an Olympic year marred by injury, Sarah Sjostrom was back to being the best 50-meter swimmer in the world this year. She did not compete until the fifth day of the World Championships, but the back half of the meet belonged to this 28-year-old veteran. Sjostrom took silver in the 100 free and won her fourth consecutive world title in the 50 fly. Finally, she finished the meet by winning the second world title of her career in the 50 free, her mark of 23.98 two tenths clear of the field. No, she did not approach her 2017 world record of 23.67, but consider that Sjostrom has now won world titles at six separate editions of the World Championships, spanning 13 years. She is favored to break Michael Phelps’ mark for individual medals at the World Championships at next year’s Worlds in Fukuoka.

6. Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia, 100 Freestyle (52.67)


Mollie O’Callaghan — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Mollie O’Callaghan was a prelims relay star at the Tokyo Olympics, and she was rewarded for those efforts with two gold medals and a bronze, but she made huge strides in 2022 as she masterfully took over the spot as the world’s premier 100 freestyler. Consider who was missing for Australia: Emma McKeonCate Campbell and Bronte Campbell, all world or Olympic champions in this distance, and all part of a world-record setting effort in the 400 freestyle relay last year. In Budapest, O’Callaghan swam the leadoff leg to keep the 400 free relay title in Aussie hands, and she won the individual 100 free crown after turning in last place but storming through the field on the second 50. O’Callaghan also anchored Australia to gold in the mixed 400 free relay and won three silver medals (200 free, mixed 400 medley relay, women’s 400 medley relay) — and she is only 18 years old. Not bad for a World Championships debut.

7. Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania, 50 Breaststroke (29.70)


Ruta Meilutyte — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

It was 10 years ago that 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte stunned the world by claiming Olympic gold in the the 100 breaststroke in London. Meilutyte broke world records a year later, and she remained a solid performer on the world stage for a while longer, but she retired in 2019 and was later suspended for missing anti-doping tests while in the process of retiring. But once that suspension expired, Meilutyte decided to return to swimming, and at age 25, she is a world champion yet again. She came really close to winning gold in the 100 breast, finishing less than a tenth behind winner Benedetta Pilato and claiming bronze, and then she turned the tables and secured gold in the 50 breast. The gold medal was her first at a major international competition since 2013 — when she was 16. Now, Meilutyte is 25, and her comeback success story has been astounding.

8. Katie Grimes, USA, 400 IM (4:32.67)


Katie Grimes — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

You could make a case for Katie Grimes as the most impressive performer of the meet who did not win a gold medal. That’s because Grimes had two individual swims, and both resulted in silver medals. She came in behind teammate Katie Ledecky in the women’s 1500 freestyle, and then she touched just six tenths behind Summer McIntosh in the 400 IM to secure another silver. Grimes was mostly known for her distance freestyle entering this year, but she won the 400 IM at the U.S. International Team Trials and then dropped three seconds off her best time in Budapest. Gold medalist Summer McIntosh is an elite freestyler (one of only four women in history to break 4:00 in the event), but Grimes was running her down on the last 100 meters of the IM. The 16-year-old from Las Vegas has a promising future in the distance freestyle events and the 400 IM, and she’s actually not done in Budapest yet: she is scheduled to race the 10-kilometer open water event Wednesday.

9. Kaylee McKeown, Australia/Phoebe Bacon, USA, 200 Backstroke (2:05.08 & 2:05.12)


Kaylee McKeown — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The best race for gold in a women’s event came in the 200 backstroke final, so let’s give props to both swimmers in the hunt. The favorite was 20-year-old Australian Kaylee McKeown, the Olympic gold medalist in the event last year, while the upstart was 19-year-old American Phoebe Bacon, who improved to No. 6 in history in this event at the U.S. International Team Trials in April. Bacon used a gutsy effort in this race in hopes of pulling off an upset, while McKeown had to dig deep to come back and claim the world title. Bacon blasted ahead on the second 50 and never faded on the back end, but McKeown had just enough finishing speed to get her fingertips to the wall ahead, 2:05.08 to 2:05.12. Credit to both for outstanding efforts in this final.

10. Penny Oleksiak, Canada, Mixed 400 Freestyle Relay Split (52.11)


Penny Oleksiak — Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

Penny Oleksiak did not win any individual medals in Budapest, but she anchored four Canadian relays, and all of them reached the podium. In both the women’s 400 freestyle relay and mixed 400 freestyle relay, Oleksiak’s closing splits were the difference in Canada earning silver medals ahead of the United States, and she secured bronze medals with her anchor legs on the 800 free and 400 medley relays. She rounds out this list of top performances in recognition of her sizzling 52.11 split on the mixed relay, where Oleksiak dove in a quarter-second behind American anchor Claire Curzan but blasted ahead on the final length. Six years after Oleksiak, then 16, tied for Olympic gold in the 100 free, she has developed into a clutch performer on relays for a Canadian team in the midst of perhaps its best stretch, and she now has nine World Championship medals in her career, surpassing former distance star Ryan Cochrane as the most successful Canadian swimmer in the history of the FINA World Championships.

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Dazed and Confused
1 month ago

Torri Huske continues to get no respect. All of those mentioned in the article are deserving. However, how does Walsh’s 200IM swim rank over Huske’s 100 Fly? As David Rieder correctly points out, Walsh’s swim was the 10th fastest 200IM effort making her the 5th fastest 200 IMer of all time. However, by any objective measure, that is not a better swim than Huske’s 100 Fly. Huske’s 100 Fly was the 5th fastest 100 Fly of all time, making her the 4th fastest woman ever to swim the 100 Fly. Last time I checked, the 4th fastest of all-time is better than the 5th fastest of all-time and the 5th fastest time ever is faster than the 10th fastest time ever. In addition to the time rankings, Huske’s 100 Fly broke an American Record while Walsh’s 200IM broke no records.

Why is it that Torri Huske is constantly overlooked and disrespected?


Thomas, please see the full feature on Torri Huske that ran today and focused on her breakout meet and move into the world’s upper echelon of performers. To claim disrespect based on one ranking of performances is off base.

Dazed and confused
1 month ago

The article u are referring to was written after thr comment was made. No way to know what was coming. Thanks for highlighting thr article.

1 month ago

Bella Sims is not getting enough love for her relay split.

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