Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

What a day in Gwangju once more, three world records fell in the evening session and all were smashing at its best. Primus inter pares was Caeleb Dressel who could bring down the penultimate Michael Phelps WR standing, the American beat the Great’s 100m fly shiny standard by 0.32sec. Compatriot Regan Smith came next as she shattered the seven year-old 200m back WR by 0.71sec and Russia’s Anton Chupkov was also in record-beating form in the 200m breast, he lowered it by 0.55sec. Russia enjoyed a great day, Evgeny Rylov and Yulia Efimova retained their respective 200m back and 200m breast title, just as Simone Manuel in the women’s 100m free. The Aussie men won a brilliant 4x200m free relay race to earn gold in this event after 16 long years.

Though usually the finals are in the spotlight, two US semi-finalists somewhat stole the show as Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith both set new World Records in their respective events, in the 100m fly and the 200m back.

Dressel’s effort took a man as Michael Phelps’ other supersuit mark was the target from Rome but the 23 year-old American rocket didn’t let it last till the final tomorrow. Note, that he had already put the writing on the wall two years ago, coming 0.04sec shy of Phelps’ WR in Budapest so his current performance was not that surprising as Kristof Milak’s blast two days ago in the 200m as the Hungarian had to cut 2sec from his PB while Dressel needed only hundredths. Watching his 46.96 bomb being dropped yesterday in the 100m free final everyone was convinced that Caeleb had the necessary speed to bring down the penultimate MP WR standing. He actually shaved off more than just hundredths, was well under the WR pace at the 50m turn and cut 0.32sec from the 2009 time to win the SF with 49.50sec, way ahead of two young chasers, Russian Andrei Minakov and Milak. As of now, the grand Michael’s only WR surviving is his 4:03.84 in the 400m IM from Beijing 2008 and after the happenings here one would find it risky to state that it will stay for too long.

Though Dressel is not really keen to be compared to Michael Phelps, based on times, he is now faster than his great predecessor has ever been in the 100m fly, even in a supersuit - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

Regan Smith was a splash in the previous years among the juniors but her 2:06.01 morning swim in the 200m back already forecasted something big for the evenings coming. And the American just switched to top speed right at the beginning, not really caring that it was only a semi-final. Aged 17, it was raw power in its prime, beautiful strokes and breath-taking speed, ending up in smashing Missy Franklin’s 2012 WR by 0.71sec and producing the first-ever sub-2:04 swim in history. Well, it was closer to a sub-2:03 indeed as she stopped the clock at 2:03.35...

Would you believe it?

As for the medals at stake, we have some great stories to tell from Day 5 as well. Session after session we see firm proofs that finals are all about racing and times are less important. Personal bests, qualifying times do not win medals, whatever you achieved in the previous days, in the given moment you have to be up to the task again.

In the session opener the showdown between Cate Campbell and title-holder Simone Manuel promised an Aussie win as Campbell bested the American in two anchor legs in the relays. In the 4x100m free it was 51.45 v 51.92sec. Surprisingly, in the mixed medley Cate was even much faster despite starting well behind Manuel, it was 51.10 v 52.37 while edging out her rival at the wall by 0.02sec. Ah, and in the semis Manual was struggling too, barely made the cut and had to swim on Lane 1...

The fastest ladies on Earth

However, in the final it was Manuel all the way. She went out the fastest and did a clean job as she kept 0.39sec from her lead to retain her title, world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom was just out-touched by Campbell by 0.03sec for the bronze.

Next came a Russian treble in three 200m races in a span of half an hour – the nation’s title-holders successfully extended their respective reigns. Yulia Efimova kicked off the party with a big win in the 200m breaststroke, she was way ahead of the others and came home with a comfortable margin of 2.35sec ahead of South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker.

Efimova has also become member of the "10-year apart" club as she managed to grab her third gold in the 200m breast, ten years after her first 50m title in 2009

Evgeny Rylov followed with a copy-paste performance from Budapest, he didn’t let Olympic title-holder Ryan Murphy (USA) lead for a metre during the race and kept a 0.72 margin till the end (it was 0.60 between them in 2017). 

Rylov is in the middle of the photo once more but he was not super happy with his performance

The mission was completed by Anton Chupkov, though that was the closest call and the most exciting final in the evening. And another proof of our motto: racing counts. A day ago Aussie Matthew Wilson equalled Japan’s Ippei Watanabe’s WR in the semis and seemed to be the hot favourite for the title. And Wilson indeed stormed to the front, was swimming under WR pace at each of the first three turns. But that just set up the pace for Chupkov who launched an incredible finish. He was fifth at 150m but found one if not two extra gears, and even though Watanabe also had a late surge, Chupkov’s speed was unmatchable. The Russian covered the last 50m in 31.89, while Wilson’s split was 33.41 and Watanabe’s was 33.15. And finally Tzar Anton could meet his destiny: a year ago at the Europeans he was a bit disappointed for not breaking the WR (was 0.13sec shy in Glasgow), now he shattered it by an amazing 0.55sec (2:06.12).

Tzar Anton finally achieved what he desired most, to have the WR under his belt

The men’s 4x200m free relay was also an outstanding battle as the top five teams were on level throughout the entire race. With 100m to go, James Guy (GBR) turned first but faded a bit and ended up 5th while in the mid-lanes Mack Horton (AUS), Martin Malyutin (RUS), Townley Haas (USA) and Stefano di Cola (ITA) staged a tremendous finish. Horton had left more in the tank and he rushed ahead over the last 30m and built a big 0.96 winning margin till the end. Malyutin could also gain some advantage to finish runner-up but only pure lack decided the faith of the third place as the next three hit the wall in 0.06sec and it was Haas who had the golden or rather bronze touch. 

Watching Mac Horton coming home must have been an amazing feeling for the Aussie team-mates

Quotes

Anton Chupkov, RUS, gold, new WR, 200 m breast

“I’m lost for words. I gave my all in this race. No emotions, no energy left. It was not an easy championship for me. I had some doubts. I didn’t want to race the 100m. But on contrary it gave me practice, speed and confidence and helped to show this time in 200 m.

This is my first World Record, but I hope not the last one. To beat your own WR one day should be pretty cool.”

To my mind, men’s 200 m breast final was the most thrilling throughout the competition. All three medallists swam inside 2.07. It’s fantastic.”

Yuliya Efimova, RUS, gold, 200 m breast

“I’m pleased with the medal and with the result. 2.20,17 – I haven’t swum so fast this season. But I think I could clock even better if there was a real fight.

This is my sixth World Championships gold. I remember my first victory in Rome 2009. It was so easy to win there – like it was done by chance. This gold is not accidental for sure. I worked hard – mentally and physically. It’s difficult to be among the leaders of the world swimming, to keep your position throughout 10 years.

I think I will change my training before the Olympics. I won’t compete in short course events. I was tired after World Cup this year. So I will focus on preparation for Tokyo 2020.”

Evgeny Rylov, RUS, gold, 200m back

“I’m happy with my gold, with defending the title. At the same time my progress is more important for me. If you move forward you will be on the top. If you stop at one level someone else will take you place on the podium. Unfortunately, I haven’t achieved any progress in 200 m back for three years – since Rio Olympics. This fact bothers me. We should find the reason.”

Simone Manuel, USA, gold, 100m free

“Not everybody has a perfect swim every time so I just needed to regroup and put on a good face. I’m a veteran on the team, so I have to be able to show a little bit of poise in these hard moments.”

Caeleb Dressel, USA, new WR, 100m fly

“Just the standard that Michael set, wanted to go after it. I hope he was happy watching me do that.

“Still, both races hurt pretty bad (100m fly and 50m free SFs). There’s a lot that I need to clean up going into tomorrow. These times mean nothing.”

Regan Smith, USA, new WR, 200m back

“It’s really weird to think that this morning it was World Junior and I was stoked with my time this morning, so tonight, to be able to do the swim that I was able to do is crazy and I still don’t believe it. So I’m trying to let it sink in, sit back and get ready for tomorrow again.

I was super happy with my splits, I took it out similar to how I did this morning and then I was able to come home really strong and a lot faster and that was awesome. I’ve been training really hard, getting stronger and focusing on my back half and I hope I can make it even better tomorrow. I’m just thinking about now and I’m very pleased.”