Women’s 4x50m Medley Relay

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The USA has been a constant presence at the podium at the four editions this event was contested with two golds (2016, 2018) and two silvers (2014, 2021) – otherwise, the landscape is quite colourful. The first title went to the Danish, who also got a bronze in 2016, and the last was landed by Sweden. France came third in 2014, Italy was second in 2016, and China in 2018, while the Dutch grabbed the last two bronzes – all in all, seven nations shared the 12 medals on offer.

This event was a perfect indicator for the 4x100m medley relay which is usually held on the last day. During the last four editions, winners of the 4x50m went on to clinch the 4x100m crown too (DEN, USA, USA, SWE). On the contrary, the minor spoils never went to the same nations in the 100m, which stood on the podium after the 4x50m.

There has been one more regularity: so far, all four championship finals ended in a new world record, though last time it was ‘only’ tying the WR – so the record is shared by the USA and Sweden.

The women’s free relays were the playing ground of the USA, Australia and Canada – 11 out of 12 medals went to these three nations, and the Netherlands clinched a bronze.

Men’s 4x50m Medley Relay

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Since 1993, 122 relay finals were staged at the short-course Worlds (including the six contested here already) – but only two produced dead heats for the title. It both happened last year in Abu Dhabi, one was this event’s final which saw the US and Russia sharing the gold (the other was the women’s 4x100m free).

After the inaugural final, won by Brazil, the next three editions brought a Russia v USA duel for the title – the Russians pipped the Americans in 2016 and 2018 before they touched the wall at the very same time last year.

Unlike among the ladies, the 4x100m went to the same nation only in 2014 and 2016, in 2018 the USA hit back on the last day, while in Abu-Dhabi Italy, the bronze medallist in this event, went on winning the longer ones.

As for world records, only 2014 saw two marks, Russia set one in the heats, and Brazil bettered it in the final. Otherwise, the records fell at the Europeans in every four years (2013, 2017, 2021) – Italy got close to the 1:30 barrier last November, missed it by 0.14sec.

Men’s 800m Freestyle

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This is the event’s debut at the short-course Worlds.

This can be gold No. 2 for Gregorio Paltrinieri, the Italian won the 1500m free convincingly.

Runner-up Damien Joly of France did not enter to this race, but bronze medallist Henrik Christiansen of Norway should be in the podium mix again.

Since this event has rarely appeared in the programme at short course meets, the World Record was not really targeted. Consequently, this is the longest-standing mark on the short-course WRs’ list, men and women included. It’s still held by Aussie legend Grant Hackett – and he swam his 7:23.42 here in Melbourne, back in 2008.

Women’s 400m IM

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Top qualifier Leah Smith of the USA is conquering uncharted waters: spending her career in mid-distance freestyle events (and amassing medals over 400 and 800m), her first real try in the IM at a major event might become a huge hit.

Canada’s Tessa Cieplucha may eye a title defence – if she succeeds, she would be the third one in this event who could win back-to-back golds. Two giants managed to achieve that in the past: Ukraine’s legend, Yana Klochkova (4-time Olympic champion) and Hungary’s 3-time Olympic gold medallist Katinka Hosszu. Klochkova indeed won this three times in a row (1999-2000-2002), while Hosszu twice (2016-18).

Contrary to the men, there is no chance for a 200-400 double as the winner of the 200m IM Kate Douglass has not entered to this event (just like the other two medallists Alex Walsh and Aussie Kaylee McKeown. The classic pair of golds in IM wasn’t a rarity in the past, Klochkova could do it first, then she repeated it (2000-2002), China’s Qi Hui did it at home in 2006 (in Shanghai) and Mireia Belmonta also had it 2010, before Hosszu copied Klochkova’s feat and did it twice (2016-18). Last year it was ‘only’ a national double, Kieplucha and Pickrem delivered the respective titles for Canada.

Just like among the men, there was one great with the IM treble so far: Hosszu won all medley events in 2016 and 2018. She and Klochkova also achieved the Olympic–short course World double winning these two titles in the same year. The Ukrainian did it in 2000, while Hosszu in 2016, and they did both in 200m and 400m.

After the event’s first winner Dai Guohong set a new WR at the inaugural edition in Palma di Mallorca in 1993, the record remained untouched for nine years, when Klochkova smashed it, then it stood for another six years. During the shiny era, it was bettered five times – before the grand duel of Katinka Hosszu and Mireia Belmonte commenced. Between 2013 and 2017 the pattern remained the same: the Hungarian set a record, and the Spaniard overwrote it. For five years, it belongs to Belmonte (4:18.95).

Men’s 400m IM

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History could be in the making. If Daiya Seto wins the event, he becomes the first swimmer ever to claim six straight world titles in the same event. This never happened before, not even at the long-course championships. In the history of the short-course Worlds, the Japanese swimmer is currently tied with GBR’s James Hickman who finished atop in the 200m fly five times between 1997 and 2004. While Seto wasn’t really convincing in the 200m IM, he finished only 5th (had won it last year), then he bounced back as the runner-up in the 200m fly and won the 200m breast on Thursday.

Winning back-to-back titles in this event has been business as usual before Seto as well. First Aussie Matthew Dunn won three in a row (1995-97-99), then Ryan Lochte did the same (2006-08-10), and then Seto took over the reign in 2012.

Between the Dunn and the Lochte eras, Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli was the surprise winner in 2004 – later he became the first in history to claim Olympic title in the pool (1500m free in 2008) and in open water swimming (10km in 2012).

However, Seto’s record attempt is under serious threat as the winner of the 200m IM, Matt Sates looks poised to complete the 200-400m double. The South African won all three 400m IM races this autumn at the Swimming World Cup, so he is very much set to go all the way in the final.

As for the IM doubles, Dunn did it on all three occasions (1995-97-99), just like Lochte (2006-08-10) and Finnish phenomenon Jani Sievinen also completed it in 2000 – while Seto could make the double only last year, for the first time. Indeed, Lochte set the golden standard of short-course medley swimming in 2008 and 2010 when he completed the triple (100-200-400m IM).

The world record fell only once at the championships, in 2010, thanks to Ryan Lochte. His time remained on top for nine years, before Seto brought it down at a quite unusual place: Las Vegas is famous for many things apart from being the site of world record-breaking swims. Seto set the 3:54.81 at the ISL Finals held in the casino city.

Women’s 50m Freestyle

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Emma McKeon can bring Australia closer to a complete sweep of the freestyle events (which would be unprecedented in the championships’ history – not even during the ‘wildest’ East German era it happened at the long-course meets either). Lani Pallister completed the 400-800-1500m treble, McKeon won the 100m and now she could add the 50m – to let two other swimmers finish the task on the closing day in the 200m.

McKeon, the most decorated athlete not only in swimming but at the entire Tokyo Olympics with seven medals, may also join an elite club of four sprinters with the 50-100m double (three of them did it twice): China’s Le Jingyi (1993 and 1995), Sweden Therese Alshammar (2000 and 2002), Aussie Lisbeth Lenton (2006), Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo (2010 and 2018).

McKeon qualified in second place as Polish Katarzyna Wasick clocked a better time in the semis. Wasick has produced a fines silver run in the last two years, she came second at the 2021 Europeans in Budapest, then she was runner-up at the Olympics too, then in 2022 she had silver again in Budapest, this time at the Worlds, and silver in Rome, at the Europeans (last December she added a bronze in Abu-Dhabi).

Wasick may write history – she would become the first Polish female to earn a medal in any freestyle event at the short-course Worlds. A win would secure a first-ever short-course world title to a female Polish swimmer.

She would also maintain Europe’s surprising dominance in this event. After China’s Le Jingyi won the first two (1993 and 1995), 12 out of the following 13 editions saw a winner from the Old Continent. The Dutch sprint school produced one rocket after the other, their swimmers hit the wall first seven times, Ranomi Kromowidjojo sailed away with four golds alone (2010, 2014, 2016, 2018), the fifth was denied by her archrival, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, Wasick came third behind them.

Kromowidjojo was also busy with bettering the world records. She set a new mark four times, the last, from 2017, is also the first-ever sub-23sec effort from a sprinter (22.93).          

Men’s 50m Freestyle

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Jordan Crooks was once again the top qualifier, like in the 100m, but two days ago he failed to meet his destiny to become Cayman Islands’ first-ever medal-winner at the World Championships. He should only have repeated his effort from the semis to clinch a medal but was unable to reproduce the same speed – now it’s up to him once more.

Second-best qualifier Ben Proud is a specialist in the dash – the Brit has never been a swimmer excelling in the 100m, his world is around the 50m events and in recent years he started delivering. His first gold came at the 2018 Europeans in Glasgow, it was followed by a silver last year in Budapest, but he won again in Rome this August. That gave him second big gold in the summer as he also claimed the world title in Budapest, and also won in Abu Dhabi – so he won the last three majors (Abu Dhabi, Budapest, Rome).

This also means that Proud holds the long-course and short-course world titles at the same time, something only Brazil’s Cesar Cielo and France’s Florent Manaudou achieved earlier.

Proud may deliver Great Britain’s first gold here in Melbourne – so far Adam Peaty’s bronze in the 100m breast is their only podium here.

However, with the speeding Aussie Kyle Chalmers shall swim next to him, Proud cannot take anything for granted. Chalmers already won the 100m, swam a blistering 20.34 in winning the 4x50m relay and was the only participant in the 4x100m final who came inside 45sec so he will reach the top gear once more.

And past champion and world record-holder Florent Manaudou will also be part of the show, though the 2012 Olympic champion will swim in lane 1. And it’s better to keep an eye on him as he clocked the fastest split at these championships when he swam 20.26 as the second member of France’s world champion mixed free relay, which not surprisingly set a new world record.

100m runner-up Maxime Grousset just managed to sneak into the final to swim on lane 8 – however, in this event swimming on outside lanes is not that big of a disadvantage; so it’s a thrilling setup with the two Frenchmen on the two outside lanes (1 and 8).

Retaining his title would put Proud in the company of Venezuela’s Francisco Sanchez (1995-97), Britain’s Mark Foster (1999-2000) and Croatia’s Duje Draganja (2006-2008). In fact, Proud’s compatriot Mark Foster managed to earn seven medals in this event, four golds and three silvers, in a span of 15 years – he won the inaugural 1993 edition and still finished runner-up at the age of 38 to bid a fitting farewell at home, in Manchester 2008. South Africa’s Chad le Clos just equalled this fantastic record by bagging his 7th medal in the 200m fly two days ago – though he still needs to go after Foster’s other unprecedented record of claiming medals 15 years apart.

Foster set new WRs four times in his career – though never at the s/c Worlds. That feat (gold + WR) was achieved twice, first by Draganja in 2008, and then by Manaudou in 2014. The Frenchman’s mark was brought down after five years by Caeleb Dressel in 2019, and he got close to the 20sec barrier with a 20.16 blast in November 2020 when he hit top form at the ‘bubble’ meet of the ISL.