There were plenty of comeback stories in the pool on Thursday night in Budapest, with Lilly King, Ryan Murphy, and the U.S. men’s 4x200 free relay rebounding from disappointing performances to capture gold medals at the 19th FINA World Championships. Australia also celebrated two more gold medals in Hungary.
Women’s 100 Freestyle - Mollie O’Callaghan Follows In Footsteps of Australian Greats; Sjostrom Picks Up 17th Individual Medal
Australia might need to start listing women 100 freestylers as one of its biggest exports.
18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan becomes the fifth Australian to be World champion in the 100 freestyle, joining the likes of Jodie Henry (2005), Libby Lenton (2007), Cate Campbell (2013), and Bronte Campbell (2015). Add in Emma McKeon’s gold from Tokyo last year and the Australians have a stranglehold on this event.
“It feels very surreal,” O’Callaghan said. “I don’t feel like I’m a world champion just yet. Last year, I was just swimming relays and this year individuals, so it’s a bit of a big flip for me. I guess it hasn’t sunk in.”
O’Callaghan relied on the strength of her back half, flipping sixth at the 50 at 25.96, and coming home in a 26.71, which was faster than anyone in the field by 0.69. O’Callaghan’s back half had turned a lot of heads in the semifinals, splitting 26.42-26.43 en route to the top seed, as she had earlier won silver in the individual 200 free on Tuesday as well.
O’Callaghan, despite coming in as the top seed, struggled with nerves.
“I was very nervous during the warm-up and was in a little panic as my leg cramped,” O’Callaghan said. “Last night I felt really down and was extremely nervous. That’s why I’m so happy now because of this result. I got so excited when I realised that I had won this final because I had no expectations before the race. I’m also happy because I could compete with such strong swimmers.”
O’Callaghan is the youngest to win the women’s 100 free world title (18 years, 82 days) since Nicole Haislett (18 years, 22 days) won for the USA in 1991.
O’Callaghan, who trains with coach Dean Boxall at St. Peters Western, won ahead of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at 52.80 as she was leading at the 50 turn at 25.35. Sjostrom picked up her fifth straight medal in this event, winning four silvers and a bronze from 2019. Sjostrom also won her 17th individual medal at the World Championships. Only Michael Phelps has won more overall.
“I’m feeling so good, this is my seventh silver,” Sjostrom said. “Still, I’m so-so happy with one like never before because I’m competing against such young ladies around me so here in the final I’m the most experienced one. That was a great competition. I (will) continue swimming and see how my body reacts and what the future holds for me.”
O’Callaghan gave her respects to Sjostrom in the mixed zone.
“Over the past 2020 and 2021, (Sjostrom) is definitely one of the freestylers I have looked up to since that has been my transition (from backstroke to freestyle). Swimming against her was just incredible. It’s very inspiring.”
USA’s Torri Huske won the bronze medal with a 52.92, improving on her best time to win her fourth medal of the week, as she is the first swimmer to do so in Budapest. Huske also won gold in the 100 butterfly on Sunday.
“I’m really happy with the podium as it was a field of fast people,” Huske said. “To be able to race with the best, makes me happy and makes me stronger and makes me improve.”
Women’s 200 Breaststroke - Redemption Time as Lilly King Redeems Wins First-Ever 200 Gold
USA’s Lilly King finally broke through to win her first ever international gold medal in the 200 breaststroke. Ever since she made her international debut as a junior in 2014, King has been known as a 100 breaststroker, winning the Olympic gold medal in 2016 and setting the world record in 2017.
But as of late, King has had more success in the 200 breaststroke, by evidence of her gold medal on Thursday night after missing the podium in the 100 on Monday. King swam a 2:22.41 to follow up her silver from Tokyo last year.
“I guess I’m a distance swimmer now, which kind of stinks for me,” King said with a laugh after the race. “But I’m welcoming this next chapter of my career and happy with that one.
“I think this was my coach’s master plan all along,” King joked. “Maybe he is getting what he wants finally.”
King swims for Ray Looze at Indiana University, who indicated to Swimming World Magazine she was not at her best this week. So winning the gold medal in the 200 meant just a little more to come back after a disappointing swim in the 100. The race did not feature Olympic champion and world record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker, but King can officially call herself a 200m breaststroke world champ for the first time.
The silver went to Australia’s Jenna Strauch at 2:23.04 as she picked up her first Worlds medal.
“It’s a dream come true,” Strauch said. “I was just hoping to make the final here and get all the experience I could and use it to get better in training, so to walk away having stood on the podium has exceeded all my expectations.”
Strauch, age 25, had come back from illness to win Australia’s first breaststroke medal at Worlds since Leisel Jones in 2011.
The United States also picked up a bronze with Kate Douglass at 2:23.20. Douglass’ bronze makes the USA the first nation since China in 2001 to win multiple medals in the women’s 200 breaststroke.
“The plan was to build through the whole race but at the and I was rather concentrating on the first 100,” Douglass said. “I’m really happy because that was my first international 200m final and getting a medal is just an extra.”
Men’s 200 Backstroke - Ryan Murphy Grabs First-Ever World Title With Pride
USA’s Ryan Murphy has already collected a number of accolades in his illustrious swimming career - two Olympic gold medals individually from Rio 2016, a world record, and a place on Michael Phelps’ last gold medal relay ever.
Murphy though had never won an individual World Championship title; that changed Thursday with a gold in the 200 backstroke, winning in a dominating fashion at 1:54.52. It is off his overall best time, but it is a special win for him, as he picks up his fifth career gold medal at the World Championships.
“It’s really special,” Murphy said. “This is a really hard sport. For someone like me, I have one focus meet a year - one week out of 52 is what I’m focusing on for the rest of the year. There is a ton of work that goes into this, not just on my end but my coaches and teammates. So to come in and win a medal for myself and the people that helped me and for my country is really special.”
It was an extra special race for Murphy, as his parents, grandparents, and fiance were all in attendance in Budapest, something that they were not allowed to do last year during the Olympics.
Murphy, who trains with coach Dave Durden at the University of California, Berkeley, has served as captain of the USA team during this trip, just a few days before his 27th birthday.
“I think back to 2014 when I was the youngest guy on the team, and I had some really good people that were leading us back then,” Murphy said. “It is cool to think that I’m in a position to mentor the young guys now and in years from now, there will be someone else leading the team and they’ll probably look to some things that I did to help them out.”
Great Britain’s Luke Greenbank finished with the silver medal after two straight bronzes at the 2019 Worlds and 2020 Olympics. Greenbank’s time of 1:55.16 is not a personal best either but gives him his first individual silver.
“I’m more relaxed than yesterday,” Greenbank said. “The semi-final was too fast, so today I tried to be more relaxed and focus on my own race. I’m satisfied with this result and love to be here. It is my fourth time in Budapest and I (have) never left disappointed so far, especially because of this great crowd and atmosphere.”
The United States was able to celebrate two on the medal stand with rookie Shaine Casas in the bronze medal spot at 1:55.35. It was a new best time for Casas, and adds to his growing collection of medals - he won gold and silver individually at the World Short Course Championships in December.
“It’s quite bittersweet, to be honest,” Casas said. “Nobody comes here to finish second or third, everybody wants the gold. In the heat of the moment I was really upset, kind of cooled down a little bit and accepted what happened. It’s kind of hard to get everything you want instantly but it’s still going well, still have a lot to do and a lot to improve. I’m trying to take baby steps. Bronze is better than none, I’m in a really competitive team and happy to be part of the success.”
Men’s 200 Breaststroke - Zac Stubblety-Cook Wins The Lot - World Title Accompanies Olympic Gold & World Record
Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook finished the ultimate trifecta for a swimmer - adding a World Championship gold medal to Olympic gold and a world record. Stubblety-Cook won the gold medal in Budapest on Thursday night with a 2:07.07 in the 200 breaststroke, which was off his 2:05.95 world record from the Australian Trials in May, but enough to officially crown him as the best man in the world for the second straight year.
“You know, I started very hard and over the first 50m as I was swimming I told myself ‘Oh no, that’s so hard,’” Stubblety-Cook said. “That was a tough race, obviously because this is the World Championships final but now I feel great. This year, after the Olympics, is very different, different expectations, different tasks but I’m happy to be here and I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
Stubblety-Cook didn’t change much about his preparation with the world record success earlier this year, but it still hadn’t quite sunk in that he is the fastest man ever in the event.
“I like to keep it the same and keep the process the same,” Stubblety-Cook said of his preparation after Trials. “Obviously it’s a different feeling when you look up at the board and see your name next to the world record. When the event was announced it was strange, especially in the heats, seeing my name flash up with a 2:05.9. It was different but exciting. At the end of the day, I’m swimming freely and enjoying swimming and that’s the most important thing to me.”
Stubblety-Cook played to his strengths during the race, as he has mastered the art of the fourth 50, running down anyone in his path. At the 100 wall, he turned eighth, but wasn’t more than a second behind the leader. On the third 50, he split a 32.61 to move five spots up to third, and unleashed a 31.98 on the last 50 to win by well over a second.
The back end speed comes from the distance-based training program he swims in with coach Vince Raleigh at Chandler alongside 400 freestyle Olympic medalist Jack McLoughlin.
“I really enjoy training hard and training long,” Stubblety-Cook said. “I’ll stick to my strengths of that back end but I definitely think there is a lot of room for improvement in the 200 breast.”
This is Japan’s ninth medal in the men’s 200 breaststroke since the turn of the century, which is four more than any other country in that timespan. It is Hanaguruma’s first international medal at age 22, joining of the countrymen before him - Kosuke Kitajima, Genki Imamura, Yasuhiro Koseki and Ippei Watanabe.
“I’m so satisfied, happy with the silver,” Hanaguruma said. “I wanted to swim a personal best and this time is a bit slower. I tried to catch Zac, I hope I could do next time. The atmosphere is fantastic and I’m excited to be here.”
Persson won Sweden’s second swimming medal of the championships after Sjostrom’s silver earlier in the 100 freestyle. Persson is also the first Swedish man to win a Worlds swimming medal since Stefan Nystrand in 2007.
“The plan? To be honest, I didn’t really have one,” Persson said. “I just tried to swim as fast as I could. It was great to swim against the best and I’m happy with the bronze.”
Men’s 4x200 Freestyle Relay - United States Eases Pain of Tokyo With Dominating Gold Medal
The United States found its redemption in the men’s 4x200 free relay on Thursday night in Budapest with a gold medal and dominating performance at 7:00.24. The team of Drew Kibler (1:45.54), Carson Foster (1:45.04), Trenton Julian (1:45.31) and Kieran Smith (1:44.35) avenged its fourth place finish from last year’s Olympics, where the United States missed the podium for the first time in an Olympic swimming race.
“Kieran and I were just looking at a photo taken right after we touched fourth at the Olympics last year, and it’s a pretty defeating photo,” Kibler said. “We were looking at it before we came here and were like, ‘we are not going to experience that again.’”
“That was really good redemption,” Smith said. “We all came together with really, really solid splits. One of the fastest we’ve gone in previous years I think - I’m really, really proud of us.”
Both Smith and Kibler returned from last year’s team to win this year’s gold medal, where they swam the opening legs. This year, Smith had expressed interest to his coach Anthony Nesty at the possibility of going last in a relay, which he hadn’t had the opportunity of yet, and he delivered with the second fastest split in the entire field.
Foster and Julian, both rookies on the team, expressed their pride in representing their country on an international relay.
“It was really awesome,” Julian said. “I know being a part of this relay was special and an honor for me. I know the guys in the morning could have all been really good so I was just happy to be on it.”
“It’s something you watch as a young kid when you are watching the Worlds and the Olympics,” Foster said of being on a relay. “To be a part of one with my best friends and teammates - I feel like Drew and I have turned into brothers over the last two years, so to call ourselves World champions is really cool.”
The United States was in a fight early on with the teams from Australia, Brazil, and Korea at the halfway point, but showed its depth in getting all four of its swimmers under 1:46 across the splits.
The Aussies won the silver medal at 7:03.50, while Great Britain won bronze at 7:04.00.
The USA has won four of the five relay events at the 2022 FINA World Championships, with a bronze medal in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay as the exception.
“We were on the outside so my plan was to go fast, so I could get up front and other guys would have free water,” Winnington said. “I managed to get a time just 0.3s off my personal best so I think did my job. In general, after the morning swim we just made the final by an inch and nobody swam their best. As we came out for the finals, I had faith in the team and we managed to get the job done.”
The Brits, missing their superstar Duncan Scott due to illness, won bronze with the team of James Guy (1:46.31), Jacob Whittle (1:46.80), Joe Litchfield (1:47.36), and Tom Dean (1:43.53), the latter swimming the fourth fastest relay split of all-time.
“This relay was in a challenging situation since we don’t have Duncan Scott here,” Guy said. “Winning a bronze without him makes this medal even bigger.”
Hint at What's to Come Tomorrow