With under a month to the 19th FINA World Championships, Australia was one of the last countries to hold its trials for the global showcase competition that will take place June 18 - July 3 in Budapest, Hungary.
After 21 swimming medals at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, the Australian Dolphins were going to have a different looking team for Budapest, with gold medalists Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon withdrawing from the world champs’ consideration to focus on the Commonwealth Games.
Titmus still managed to put on a show for the fans in Adelaide, breaking the world record in the 400 freestyle with a 3:56.40, taking down the legendary mark of 3:56.46 from American Katie Ledecky in 2016. Titmus became the first swimmer in history to break a Ledecky record, and the first Australian to hold the women’s 400 free record since Tracey Wickham set it in 1978 which stood for nine years.
Titmus also won the 200 freestyle in 1:53.31 as she inched closer to the oldest women’s long course record on the books - Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98 from 2009. Titmus launched herself into swimming immortality, having already won the Olympic gold medal from last year while adding the world record this year.
At just 21-years-of-age, the sky seems to be the limit for Titmus as she leads the charge as perhaps the best swimmer in the world two years out from the Paris Olympics. Ledecky is regarded by many as the top women’s swimmer in the sport, and Titmus is the first person to break a world record with her name attached to it. Those two are not done with their rivalry any time soon.
She won’t be in attendance in Budapest this year however, as the Australians will instead be represented by teenage sensation Lani Pallister in the 400 (4:02.21), 800 (8:17.77) and 1500 free (15:55.40).
Pallister was the swimmer of the meet at the 2019 World Juniors in Budapest, and after some bouts with illness in 2021, is back on track in winning both the 800 and 1500 last week to put herself on her first international senior team. Pallister is following in her mother's footsteps and now part-time coach, Janelle Elford, who swam in the 1988 Olympics and won three medals at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.
Pallister won both the long distances ahead of Kiah Melverton in the 800 (8:22.64) and Moesha Johnson in the 1500m (16:00.74) as she will return to the site where she swept the 400, 800, and 1500 at the World Juniors with relative ease. Now just a few weeks shy of her 20th birthday, a spot on the podium is within her reach in the arena where it all started.
Melverton will also race the 400 free alongside Pallister with her 4:04.49 from the last day of the meet.
Another world record was set last week in Adelaide, with Zac Stubblety-Cook and his 2:05.95 in the 200 breaststroke, becoming the first man to break 2:06 in history, following up his gold medal from last summer with a world record swim. Stubblety-Cook has brought the 200 breaststroke world record into unseen territory with his approach to racing the event as well as how fast the event has gotten. Joining Stubblety-Cook in Budapest is the last Australian to set the world record in the event, the reigning 2019 Worlds silver medalist, fellow 23-year-old Matthew Wilson.
Stubblety-Cook also won the 100 breaststroke, just getting under the A cut with a 59.60.
The meet in Adelaide also saw the rise of 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan, who qualified for Budapest in a total of five individual events. O’Callaghan most notably won the 100 freestyle with a world-leading 52.49 and was second in the 200 free to Titmus at 1:54.94 and ahead of Madison Wilson (1:55.86), who is on her fourth Worlds team.
O’Callaghan made her debut last summer at the Olympics, swimming on all three prelims relays for the Australian women, winning three medals. This year, she will likely have a much bigger role within the team and will get a lot of racing under her belt next month. After a relay breakthrough last year, this year looks to be her individual breakthrough.
She also qualified in both the 100 and 200 backstroke after finishing second to Olympic champion Kaylee McKeown in both races. McKeown, who will turn 21 a few weeks after racing is done in Budapest, also won both the 200 (2:09.15) and 400 IM (4:31.74).
McKeown last year elected to not swim the 200 IM in Tokyo despite having the number one time in the world to ensure she was at her best for the 100 back, which paid off for her. This year, she is going to try that 100 back/200 IM double, where medals are possible in both. Her 100 back last week put her fourth in the world for 2022, while her 200 IM ranks her second.
McKoewn still holds the world record in the 100 back, but it may take that fast to win in Budapest in a couple of weeks when she races the likes of Tokyo medalists Regan Smith (USA) and Kylie Masse (CAN). If she chooses to swim all four of the races she qualified in, then McKeown could be one of the stars in Hungary with the possibilities of upwards of six medals.
McKeown, who is still relatively young in the sport, will be joined in the IMs by teenagers Ella Ramsay in the 200 (17) and Jenna Forrester (18) in the 400.
Tokyo silver medalist Kyle Chalmers had initially stated he wasn’t going to be racing in Budapest, but after careful consideration has decided to backtrack on his plans and will indeed be racing the 50 and 100 butterfly in Budapest. Chalmers had been struggling with shoulder injuries for quite some time now and wanted to rest himself for his long-term health but has insisted his shoulders are healthy and is ready to race the world’s best in a stroke he hasn’t contested much internationally.
Chalmers finished runner-up last week in the 100 fly with a 51.67, behind Australian record holder Matthew Temple (51.50). Chalmers will be racing in his third World Championships but will notably not be racing in his pet events - the 50 or 100 free. In his stead, Australia will be represented by Thomas Nowakowski (21.86) and Grayson Bell (22.08) in the 50, and by William Yang (48.55) and Zac Incerti (48.65) in the 100.
Chalmers will still likely be available for a 100 free relay spot if he is deemed healthy enough to race a full program and will give the team a nice boost in those relays.
Another Olympic medalist will be representing the green and gold in Budapest in Brendon Smith, who won both the 200 (1:58.59) and 400 IM (4:11.88) in what will be his first Worlds at age 21. Smith won the bronze last summer in Tokyo in the 400 IM and has picked up right where he left off, putting himself in medal contention again if he plays his cards right. He will be racing alongside Se-Bom Lee in both races, who picked up the A cut on the way to his first Worlds as well.
Elijah Winnington was a two-time winner in Adelaide with victories in the 400 (3:43.10) and 800 freestyle (7:45.30) and was also second in the 200 free (1:46.01) behind Zac Incerti (1:45.80), who enjoyed a nice weekend in Adelaide. Winnington will be swimming in his first World Championships, while Incerti will be in his second. Winnington will race alongside 2016 Olympic gold medalist Mack Horton (3:44.06), who missed the team last year for Tokyo in the 400m freestyle but is back on this year for his fourth World Championships at age 26.
Australia has long had a rich history in distance freestyle, most notably the likes of Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett and Kieren Perkins leading the way in the last three decades. Winnington may be the next guy to take that mantle, and he will have all eyes on him in Budapest to see how he does.
Winnington will also be joined by rookie Sam Short, who was second in the 800 at 7:48.65, and also won the 1500 at 15:05.55, despite miscounting his laps and stopping at the 1400 before realizing he needed to finish his last 100. Short, at just 18, is another promising youngster in the distance events.
Long-time Australian Dolphin Mitch Larkin will be racing in his sixth World Championships after making his debut in 2011 when he was just 18. Now at age 28, he will be racing the 200 back after getting second (1:56.79) to 19-year-old Joshua Edwards-Smith (1:56.71) for his Worlds debut. Edwards-Smith had raced at the 2019 World Juniors when he was just 16 where he was ninth in the 200 back. Now he will get a chance to make his senior debut in the pool where it all began. Larkin also finished second in the 100 back behind Isaac Cooper (54.02) but did not get the FINA A cut of 54.03 as Cooper will be on his way to his first Worlds at age 18. Larkin, who was once the young buck on the team, is now the veteran paving the way for the next generation.
Bowen Gough was one of the top emotional stories of the meet, winning the 200 fly (1:56.49) at age 24. Gough won the 200 butterfly last summer at the Olympic Trials, but was left off the team since he did not get under the FINA A cut. This year, he won the title again, but got under the cut of 1:56.71 and will be off to his first Worlds.
A similar story occurred in the women’s 200 fly, with Elizabeth Dekkers being left off the team last year after finishing second at Trials. This year, she did one better - and was selected to the team with a 2:07.62 in winning the event at age 18, over 17-year-old Abbey Connor (2:08.58) as the two teenagers will be off to their first senior international team trip.
Those two beat veteran Brianna Throssell in the process, but the 26-year-old did win the 100 butterfly early on in the competition with a 57.31 as she is off to her fourth World Championships.
23-year-old Shayna Jack won the 50 freestyle with a 24.14 ahead of 20-year-old Meg Harris (24.50) as Jack will make her return to international racing after failing a doping test in 2019 that saw her suspended the last two years and out of contention for last summer’s Olympics. Jack will also race the individual 100 free after getting second to Mollie O’Callaghan at 52.60 as she will race in her second Worlds.
Jenna Strauch was a two-time winner in Adelaide, taking both the 100 (1:06.69) and 200 breaststroke finals (2:23.26) ahead of Abbey Harkin in each.
Even with some of its biggest names missing, the Australians put on a show for their fans in Adelaide and will look to improve on their four relay gold medals and 19 medals from the 19th FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019.