Fascinating, intense and dramatic battles, new meet records and world records, and a few mishaps were all a part of the 19th FINA World Championships held in Budapest, Hungary.

At the end of the swimming competitions, United States of America took the top spot in the rankings with 45 medals — 17 gold, 12 silver and 16 bronze. Australia and Italy finished second and third, respectively.

The Ledecky-Sjoestroem domination

Awarded the ‘best female swimmer’, Katie Ledecky of the U.S. showed the world why she is seen as one of the best swimmers of all time, breaking several records at the championships. Before the championships, she was placed third for the most gold medals at the world championships with 15 medals, only behind Ryan Lochte(18) and Michael Phelps (26). The absence of Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, the only swimmer to have defeated the American in the 400m freestyle in a major international competition, worked in Ledecky’s favour. Ledecky won comfortably by creating a new championship record of 3:58.15. She did have a little challenge from Canada’s rising star Summer McIntosh and American Leah Smith, which she brushed aside. Two days later, she won her fourth 1500m title in 15:30.15. Ledecky bagged her 18th gold at the worlds by winning the 4×200m freestyle relay along with her team-mates Claire Weinstein, Smith and Bella Sims and created a new championship record, clocking 7:41.45. On June 24, the 25-year-old American became the second swimmer to win 19 gold medals at the world championships. In winning the 800m freestyle crown, she became the first swimmer in the history of this competition to win in an individual event five consecutive times.

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While Ledecky made her mark in long-distance swimming, the shorter distance races were the Swede Sarah Sjoestroem’s forte. Having lost the gold to Aussie teen Mollie O’Callaghan in the 100m freestyle, Sjoestroem had a lot to prove in her other individual races. She won the 50m butterfly for the fourth time by clocking a time of 24.95 and levelled with Phelps on a record eight gold medals in butterfly events at the worlds. The Swede bounced back emphatically after her team lost the women’s 4×100m medley relay and finished outside the podium as she won the 50m freestyle on the last day of the competition and clocked 23.98, thereby securing her 10th gold at the world championships.

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Complete domination: USA's Katie Ledecky poses with her gold medal following the women's 800m freestyle finals during the 2022 FINA World Championships at Duna Arena in Budapest. She is the first swimmer in the history of the competition to win in an individual event five consecutive times. - AFP

 

The Milak Magic

The most awaited matchup was the 100m butterfly race between crowd favourite Hungarian Kristof Milak and the celebrated American Caeleb Dressel. However, Dressel withdrew from the competition citing health reasons after winning men’s 4×100m freestyle relay and 50m butterfly event. Milak won the 100m fly comfortably by clocking 50.14, almost 0.80 seconds ahead of Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma. Earlier, he had broken the world record in the 200m butterfly event with a blistering pace of 1:50.34, shaving off 0.39 secs from his previous record. With the 100m and 200m butterfly double, he became the third swimmer after Phelps and Chad Le Clos to achieve this feat at the worlds.

Shocks and surprises

An unexpected incident transpired at the Alfred Hajos Swimming Complex in Budapest, where the artistic swimming women’s solo free final was being conducted. On June 22, American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez sank deep into the pool after losing consciousness before being rescued by her coach Andrea Fuentes. She saw Alvarez drowning after her final routine and jumped into the pool to save the swimmer. The governing body, FINA requested her name to be omitted from the team event even after the apex body said that the swimmer had recovered strongly.

Another American swimmer, Justin Ress, was initially disqualified after finishing first in the 50m backstroke for touching the finish line while still underwater. After what seemed like a lengthy review, FINA overturned the disqualification and Ress was awarded gold with a time of 24.12 as compatriot Hunter Armstrong and Polish teen Ksawery Masiuk bagged the silver and bronze medal.

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Timely help: Team USA’s coach Andrea Fuentes swims to rescue Anita Alvarez (L), from the bottom of the pool. Artistic swimmer Alvarez was performing her solo routine at the time when she fainted. Fuentes dove in immediately and swam to Alvarez, who was inactive. - AFP

The swimming world championships saw its first world record broken by Thomas Ceccon, who won the 100m backstroke with a time of 51.60. Ryan Murphy, the holder of the previous world record of 51.85 in the event, won silver, while his compatriot Hunter Armstrong won the bronze. Four days later, Australia shaved 0.20 secs off the previous world record in the mixed 4×100m freestyle relay to clock 3:19.38 and secure gold. While male swimmers Jack Cartwright and Kyle Chalmers swam the first two laps, Madison Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan swam the third and anchor legs. Canada took the silver while the previous record-holder USA had to make do with bronze.

One major surprise in this championship was Canada’s performance in the pool. Having ranked ninth in the medals tally last year, it claimed the fourth spot this year, courtesy Summer McIntosh and Kylie Masse. While the 15-year-old McIntosh was in the form of her life, participating in her first world championships and winning four medals — two gold, one silver and one bronze, Kylie won three, one medal of each colour.

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Italy was placed third in the medals tally with five gold, two silver and two bronze. Gregorio Paltrinieri produced a stunning championship record in the 1500m freestyle performance clocking 14:32.80, while   Nicolo Martinenghi and Benedetta Pilato won a gold and silver each to help the country finish in the top three behind USA and Australia.

In topping the medal table, the U.S. stamped its supremacy. Incidentally, America’s gold medal haul of 17 is the same as the total number of medals won by Australia.

India’s performance

India’s Kushagra Rawat failed to make it through to the 400m freestyle finals after clocking 3:59.69 in his heats. He was almost 16 seconds slower than the fastest qualifier Felix Auboeck of Austria and was placed 33rd overall. Rawat improved his overall heats ranking in the 800m freestyle with a 23rd-place finish after clocking 8:15.96 and was almost 31s slower than Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk, the fastest qualifier in the event.

Apart from Rawat, the other Indians who took part included Sajan Prakash, Ridhima Veerendra Kumar and Kenisha Gupta. They competed in two events each.

Sajan participated in his first tournament after an injury break in the 100m and 200m butterfly events. Hungary’s Kristof Milak was the fastest qualifier in both the events clocking 50.68 in 100m and 1:54.10 in 200m butterfly as Sajan finished 42nd overall in the 100m fly with a time of 54.39 while ranking 25th in his marquee 200 fly clocking 1:58.67.

Ridhima clocked 1:05.41 and 2:35.78 to be placed 35th and 22nd in the 100m and 200m backstroke events. She fell behind the frontrunners, Americans Regan Smith and Phoebe Bacon, by almost 7s and 27s in the 100m and 200m events, respectively. The 19-year-old Kenisha finished 40th overall in the 50m freestyle and 32nd in the 100m freestyle with a timing of 26.72s and 57.99s, respectively. The Indians did not qualify for the semifinals or finals of any event.