Men’s 200 Freestyle | Scott vs. Dean vs. Hwang vs. Smith vs. Kibler vs. Popovici

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Seven of the top eight return from last year’s Olympic final, including the entire podium. Reigning Olympic gold medalist Tom Dean and silver medalist Duncan Scott, both from Great Britain, sit fourth and sixth in the world rankings this year, but due to their pedigree are still two of the main favourites for the gold medal.

The two fastest times in the world belong to the Americans Kieran Smith and Drew Kibler, who are making their Worlds debuts this summer. They swam in Tokyo last year, with Smith finishing sixth in the individual final before swimming a 1:44.7 on the 4x200 free relay lead-off. Kibler split a 1:45.5 last year in the relay and was a 1:45.3 individually in April. In a race as tactical as the 200 free, the race could realistically go to anyone, but Smith and Kibler have mastered the mix of speed and endurance this year, and that could help them in Budapest.

Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo, who led the Tokyo final for 175 meters before fading badly to seventh, is a quiet force in this event as he ranks seventh in the world for 2022. He was World Short Course champ in December, swimming over the top of Scott and Smith, so he has shown the capability of stepping up in the big moment, after getting a good taste of that in Tokyo at age 18. Now 19, he looks ready to take the next step and be the world champion.

Another teenager, 17-year-old David Popovici of Romania, has proven to be the real deal when he finished fourth in last year’s Tokyo final in the 200 as the fastest 16-year-old of all-time. But Popovici still has yet to make an individual podium at an international meet, something that could change in Budapest. His only question mark is what kind of shape he is in because he hasn’t raced much this year.

Add in Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys, who touched first in Gwangju but wound up disqualified for a false start, as well as another rising star in South Africa’s Matthew Sates, and the men’s 200 free has the billing of one of the all-time classics.

Men’s 1500 Freestyle | Finke vs. Paltrinieri vs. Romanchuk vs. Martens vs. Wellbrock

The longest race in the pool on the last day of the meet will certainly be one of the best of the entire week. Three years ago in Gwangju, Florian Wellbrock, Mykhailo Romanchuk, and Gregorio Paltrinieri went stroke for stroke the whole 1500 meters, with Wellbrock out-sprinting Romanchuk. In Tokyo last year, Wellbrock, Romanchuk, and Bobby Finke had a nearly identical race with Finke coming out on top.

Paltrinieri had been sick with mononucleosis last year, but when healthy he is faster than any of those three guys, swimming a 14:33 in August 2020 to sit second all-time. The winner may not break the world record, but those four mentioned all rank in the top ten all-time. Neither of them are leading the world rankings, however, with that distinction going to Germany’s Lukas Martens, who, as a relative newcomer to the world scene, is 11th all-time.

Martens has the fastest time in the world at 14:40, with Paltrinieri (14:44), Finke (14:45) and Wellbrock (14:47) following him. Romanchuk (14:54) has been training with the Germans as the Ukrainian has had to find other training locations this year due to the war. The race is going to come down to the last 100 as it has in the last two major meets, it is just a matter of who will have enough speed with 100 to go to take the gold medal.

Men’s 100 Breaststroke | Kamminga vs. Martinenghi vs. Andrew vs. Fink

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Adam Peaty has won the last three World titles in the 100 breaststroke, but will not be racing in Budapest to nurse an injury in his foot. That leaves the door absolutely wide open for someone else to take the throne as the fastest man over two lengths of the pool breaststroke.

Arno Kamminga was last year’s silver medalist and swam under 59 seconds a total of 12 times in 2021, so you know what he is going to bring to the table. Kamminga has been as fast as a 58.6 in 2022 as he only sits fourth in the world.

The United States' Nic Fink (58.37) and Michael Andrew (58.51) sit atop the world rankings this year. Both of them have a lot of experience at the World Championships, but neither have stood on the podium individually at a long course Worlds. However, both are having careers years this year in 2022 and either could be the first American man to win the 100 breast at Worlds since 2007.

Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi won bronze last year in Tokyo and enters as the third fastest man of 2022. He also ranks fourth all-time behind Kamminga and Andrew, and at age 22 has finally hit the potential he showed as a World Juniors champ in 2017.

The race could go any way here, as James Wilby, the silver medalist from Gwangju 2019, could keep the title in Britain if any of the above guys falter.

Men’s 100 Butterfly | Dressel vs. Milak

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Perhaps the race of the meet for the Hungarian fans in Budapest, world record holder Caeleb Dressel will line up alongside the 200 butterfly world record holder Kristof Milak in front of his home fans. In 2017, a 17-year-old Milak exploded to the silver medal and a world junior record in front of the Budapest crowd, while a 20-year-old Dressel won his first butterfly title, nearly breaking Michael Phelps’ world record.

Two years later in 2019, having both erased Phelps’ butterfly world records in Gwangju, Dressel won the 100 final again with Milak placing fourth.

In 2021 on the sport’s biggest stage in Tokyo, they swam the two fastest times in history with Dressel coming out on top again at 49.45 with Milak in at 49.68. They both finished over a second ahead of the bronze medalist Noe Ponti of Switzerland in a classic showdown.

Now the rivalry comes to Milak’s home country, where the crowd should certainly be in favour of him. The world rankings tell a similar story to the last five years, with Dressel on top at 50.01, and Milak in fifth at 51.03. Milak will definitely not roll over in the challenge, and Dressel hasn’t shown much deterrent against anybody.

If anyone is to break up the top two, it could be the USA’s Michael Andrew, who is tied for third in the world at 50.88. However, Andrew hasn’t made the podium individually at a major international meet, so if he can get his week started with a podium spot in the 100 breaststroke or 50 butterfly, then that could bode well for the rest of his week.

Canada’s Joshua Liendo, who is one of the rising stars in the sport, is tied with Andrew for third at 50.88 in the world rankings. At age 19, Liendo was 11th in Tokyo last year after a promising junior career, and a medal is definitely in his sights this year.

Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma, who is ranked second in the world at 50.86, was tenth last year in Tokyo and also poses as a threat to the podium. But the main race here is on Dressel and Milak, and although a world record might not be the forefront, it will be a classic showdown between two living legends in the sport.

Men’s 400 Individual Medley | Seto vs. Kalisz vs. Foster vs. Scott vs. Marchand

This race could realistically go to any of the top five ranked in the world. Last year, the entire Olympic final was separated by two full seconds, with American Chase Kalisz coming out on top while reigning World champion Daiya Seto sat on the sidelines. Seto was expected to challenge for gold with Kalisz last year, but faded to ninth place in the heats and did not get a second swim.

Add in that motivation to erase the pain of last year, and Seto could be the guy to beat after he swam to a world short-course gold in December and the fastest time in the world for 2022 in April. Kalisz ranks fifth in the world this year, but was world champ in 2017 and has stepped up in the big moment, so he cannot be counted out.

Last year though the top time in the world belonged to American Carson Foster, who swam a 4:08 at a small meet in Texas just hours before the Olympic final. This is Foster’s first major international meet, but he has shown he has eased the pain a little bit from missing the team last year by swimming the third-fastest time in the world this year as well as a spot on the podium at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m).

Then there is France’s Leon Marchand, who was sixth in Tokyo. At age 20, he is one of the budding superstars in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics, and these Worlds could be the stepping stone for him. He raced to bronze in Budapest at the 2019 World Juniors, but this will be his biggest test of his career to try to take down the likes of superstars Seto and Kalisz, who have each won the last four World titles.

Great Britain’s Duncan Scott tried his hand at the 400 IM at the British Trials and put up a 4:09 to sit second in the world rankings. We haven’t seen him race a 400 IM at the major international level long course, but he did race to silver last summer in the 200 IM so he is for sure a formidable force in the 400.