After three years in turbulent waters, swimming starts to regain some stability with an extra edition of its long-course world championships in Budapest starting on Saturday.
On the podium, some continuity is assured as two American 25-year-old stars Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky continue their relentless pursuit of medals.
As in other sports, the Covid pandemic caused chaos with the global swimming calendar, with its world championships in odd-numbered years.
Covid delayed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a year and the world championships, also in Japan at Fukuoka, were initially put back to this May and then to July 2023.
To fill the gaps in their schedule, and coffers, world swimming’s governing body FINA wants to move the theoretical 2023 championships to January 2024 in Doha, Qatar, and has added a special edition for this year.
For these reboot championships, FINA opted to return to Hungary, where swimming is big and which hosted the event in 2017.
While these changes to swimming’s rhythms, along with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lingering impact of the pandemic continue to muddy the waters, Budapest promises some stellar showdowns.
‘Felt so lost’
Dressel could chase seven golds. Yet he told a US video interviewer Graham Bensinger that he “felt so lost” after winning five in Tokyo in part because he had not hit his target times.
“I wanted to get away from the water, but then that’s also one of my safe places. So it was, again, a rock and hard place. Yeah, it was a pretty miserable couple months,” he said.
Ledecky has 10 Olympic medals and 18 in the world championships.
She says she’s ready for this out-of-sequence event.
“I don’t feel like this snuck up on me or that it was a shorter year or anything like that,” she told NBC Sports.
Ledecky will enter one fewer race after deciding to drop her shortest distance, the 200m freestyle.
“I definitely have always been somebody that’s valued quality of swims over quantity and medals,” she told US media. “I’ve never set goals for a certain number of medals or certain records like that.”
Ledecky should grab the first gold of the championships on the opening evening in the 400m free. The question is whether she can reclaim her world record from Ariarne Titmus, who broke it at the Australian trials in May.
Titmus, who won the 400m in Tokyo, has chosen to skip the World Championships to focus on the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham starting at the end of July.
Another Australian Emma McKeon, who won a record seven golds in Tokyo, is also heading for Birmingham where Cody Simpson, the pop star, with whom she has been romantically linked, will also be in the team.
Simpson was headed for Budapest in the 100m butterfly, until Kyle Chalmers edged him in the trials and performed a tumble turn and decided to compete in the worlds.
Chalmers, who has been linked romantically to McKeon in the past, then skipped the team announcement in protest at ‘negative’ coverage speculating over the motivation behind his decision.
Another Australian star, Kaylee McKeown, who won three golds in Tokyo as a 19-year-old will race in Budapest and may add an individual medley to her backstroke events.
Briton Adam Peaty, who is nursing a broken foot, is focusing on the Commonwealth Games, as is another Tokyo breaststroke champion, South African Tatjana Schoenmaker.
The Russians are simply banned.
They were third in total medals in the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in 2019 with 16.
Then, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, they won five in Tokyo.
Evgeny Rylov, who won their two Olympic golds, is effectively banned twice. He was suspended by FINA for joining Vladimir Putin on stage at a pro-war rally in Moscow.
In contrast Ukraine’s top swimmer, perennial silver medallist Mykhailo Romanchuk, can expect to be in the spotlight for once.
China will be there but their form is a mystery.
Both their Tokyo individual gold medal winners, Zhang Yufei and Wang Shun are in the 45-swimmer squad, but their preparation has been shrouded by Covid restrictions.
The two selection meets in April, the Chinese National championships and the Chinese Spring Championships, were reportedly cancelled.