Australia and China added to their medal tallies on Wednesday night in Fukuoka as Tunisia and France also played their anthems on night four of swimming at the Marine Messe.

Men’s 800m freestyle - Ahmed Hafnaoui beats the fastest field ever assembled as five under 7:40

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Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui blistered the final 50 of the 800m freestyle final with a 26.24 to run away from the fastest ever field where three continental records were broken. Hafnaoui won his first World Championships gold and his second medal of the week with a 7:37.00 to win the 800m over Australia’s Sam Short (7:37.76) and USA’s Bobby Finke (7:38.67).

It was a lot of adrenaline when you see all these guys next to you battling for the gold, Especially the 400 World champion Sam Short. He is pretty fast in the last 100 so I just waited until the last 50 and tried to win.
By Ahmed Hafnaoui

It was anybody’s race for 750 meters as Hafnaoui, Short, and Germany’s Lukas Martens went stroke for stroke for 15 lengths of the pool, trading the lead back and forth.

“Massive ‘PB’ that’s what I’m more happy about,” Short said. “I was just stoked to be in that race with four legends. I have to rewatch the race but from what I saw in my lane, it probably played out to my expectations. I didn’t expect Lukas to go out as hard as he did but I definitely expected Ahmed to really send it. We kind of drove the pace and that’s why the time overall for the whole race was super quick.”

Early on, Martens took the lead and took the guys with him under world record pace in the early stages. On Tuesday, the eighth place time in the heats was faster than it has ever been at a major meet, so it was expected to be a fast final. The world record of 7:32.12 from 2009 wasn’t expected to be challenged, but it was a blistering pace on the first 400m as the leaders turned at 3:47 halfway.

Between 300 and 600 meters, the lead exchanged hands three times between Martens, Short, and Hafnaoui. USA’s Finke and Ireland’s Dan Wiffen stayed in touch with the lead pack early, and based on the last two major 800m finals in Budapest and in Tokyo, everyone in the venue knew what Finke could have up his sleeve if he was close.

By the 700m mark, Short looked to take control but Finke remained within a second of the lead, sitting in fourth. As the five swimmers flipped at the 750m, all eyes in Marine Messe darted to Finke as he turned on his finishing kick, but it was Hafnaoui, who had a finishing kick of his own. The Tunisian, who trains with coaches Cory Chitwood and Luke Ryan at Indiana University in the United States, split 26.24 to Finke’s 26.79, and Hafnaoui won the gold.

“I’m happy I didn’t get Finke’d like at the TYR Pro swims in Knoxville,” Hafnaoui said. “We were chatting a lot about going as fast as I can on the last 50, and I think I have more speed than the other guys. I just put my head in the water and went fast.”

Short (7:37.76), Finke (7:38.67), and Wiffen (7:39.19) each broke their respective continental records in getting second, third, and fourth, while Martens faded to fifth at 7:39.48. Hafnaoui and Short now sit third and fourth all-time in the event, while Finke moved up to seventh, and Wiffen up to ninth.

“The race was a good best time, a new record so I can't complain about it,” Finke said. “I always, always like to win. I don't like losing so that part kind of stings a bit, but it just gives me motivation going into the next year.”

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Hafnaoui won Tunisia’s second World Championships medal in this event after Oussama Mellouli won silver in 2009.

Women’s 200m freestyle - Mollie O’Callaghan takes down the oldest women’s world record

At last, the oldest women’s long course world record is off the books as Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98 200m freestyle from the 2009 World Championships falls to the way of Australia’s Mollie O’Callaghan who swam a 1:52.85 on Wednesday evening in Fukuoka.

If I am being honest I am just really shook at the moment, coming into this I did have an injury. I was just expecting to have fun and I was going to be happy with whatever I did. To come away with the world record, it’s just amazing! I did not know I was moving that fast in the final 50. I just turned and saw the other girls and I thought to myself ‘right now I just need to go’. I don’t care how hard it is or if it hurts, I am just going to push, and I come last and completely die, then that’s alright and I gave it all I can. I want to say a big thank you to (coach) Dean (Boxall) and all the support team. I definitely could not have done that without them.
By Mollie O'Callaghan

The pace was set by reigning Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus of Australia, who was gunning for the world record after reclaiming her 400m free World title and world record on Sunday night. At the 100m mark, Titmus flipped at 55.23 ahead of Canada’s Summer McIntosh (55.82) and Hong Kong, China’s Siobhan Haughey (55.93), with O’Callaghan in fourth (55.94).

At the 125m mark, it looked like Titmus had the World title wrapped up. So many times over the years she would motor home the last 75 meters, and when she flipped at the 150m mark 0.38 under world record pace, it seemed unlikely she would get beat and the only thing standing in her way would be Pellegini’s blistering last 50. Titmus flipped at 1:24.00 with O’Callaghan (1:24.74), McIntosh (1:24.77), and Haughey (1:24.80) in tow.

But O’Callaghan found something on the last lap, running down Titmus to out-split her teammate 28.11 to 29.01 and she sprinted enough to catch the world record line - the first of her career at 1:52.85.

“I was a wreck afterwards,” O’Callaghan said. “I was like ‘was that me?’ I couldn’t explain it in the moment, there was tears of happiness and I am so proud of myself to do that. It’s such an unexpected moment.”

Titmus won silver at 1:53.01, which is her lifetime best by 0.08.

“To be completely honest, I wanted to win that,” Titmus said. “I thought I had a great swim in me and that was a great swim, it was my personal best. But Mollie swam exceptionally well tonight so she deserves the gold.

“If not to win, it's great having someone from Australia on top of the podium. It is ‘one-two’ for our country. We are having a great meet here and I just feel blessed that I get to contribute to the success of the team.”

McIntosh broke her own world junior record to win bronze at 1:53.65, her first medal of the week.

“It's always nice to go and get on the podium again at my second World Championships for

long course,” McIntosh said. “I was really happy with that race and 200m Freestyle has always been a really fun race to go head to head with others. It was a super close race, so just learning from that and learning from my splits and things to work on.”

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Haughey was fourth at 1:53.96, just 0.04 off her best time.

The pair, who train at St. Peters Western with coach Dean Boxall, are a promising 1-2 punch for the Australians heading into the 4x200m freestyle relay tomorrow.

O’Callaghan wins Australia’s third World title in the 200m freestyle as she joins the likes of Hayley Lewis (1991) and Giaan Rooney (2001) as winners of the event for the Aussies.

Men’s 200m butterfly - Leon Marchand keeps it rolling with butterfly gold; Honda lifts Fukuoka with bronze

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France’s Leon Marchand proved why he is the best male swimmer in the world right now, swimming to his second gold medal of the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka with a 200m butterfly gold medal at 1:52.43.

The time puts him third on the all-time list as he took control of the race at about 65 meters and did not let up. It was expecting to be wide open without world record holder and reigning World and Olympic champion Kristof Milak of Hungary, who is not in Fukuoka due to the fact he admitted he was not physically or mentally ready to compete at the highest level this year.

Marchand pounced on this opportunity, although it may not have mattered as he swam the fastest time in the world this year.

“I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and keep going,” Marchand said, who also swam the 200m IM later in the session. “It has been very good in the past few days. In terms of navigating the ‘doubles’, this is really good training for me. If I want to add more swims in the next few years, I want to be able to do that.”

The Frenchman won by over a second over Poland’s Krzysztof Chmielewski, who backs up his 2022 World Juniors gold medal from last year with a silver on the senior stage at 1:53.62.

“I’m very happy,” Chmielewski said. “I didn’t expect that. I was just swimming and wanted to just break my personal best and I didn't expect any more. In juniors it was much easier for me to win and here it is much harder.”

Japan’s Tomoru Honda, who was the Olympic silver medalist and the Worlds bronze medalist from last year, won the bronze to give the Marine Messe crowd a big boost and Japan’s second medal of the swimming program at 1:53.66. Honda looked to challenge for the gold medal after posting the fastest time of the season amongst those qualified for Fukuoka as he moved into contention on the final turn, but it was not enough as he got out-touched by Chmielewski.

“I’m so happy about getting a medal,” Honda said. “I swam calmly at the start, but I felt a rush when I saw the other swimmers after the turn. Getting a medal was the goal and regardless of the color, I’m just happy that I got a medal.”

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Chmielewski, who turned 19 in June, was joined in the final by 16-year-old Thomas Heilman of the United States and 18-year-old Ilya Kharun of Canada as the future looks bright for the event as we move towards Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. Heilman and Kharun, who both train in the United States, tied for fourth at 1:53.82.

USA’s Carson Foster, who came in as the top seed after semis, finished sixth at 1:54.74.

Men’s 50m breaststroke - Qin Haiyang makes it double for China’s third gold medal

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China’s Qin Haiyang won his second gold medal of the championships with a 26.29 in the 50m breaststroke, backing up his win in the 100m on Monday night as he is the first Asian man to win the 50m breast gold since Kosuke Kitajima won bronze in 2005.

Qin just missed his Asian record he set in the semi-finals at 26.20 as he has taken a few stabs at Adam Peaty’s world record of 25.95 from 2017.

Today I feel extremely lucky for this 50m breaststroke,” Qin said in a press conference through a translator. “Before the race I did not feel as good as before so today I will say I am lucky to get this gold medal, but in the future I hope to use my true power to win this gold medal.”

Qin shared the podium with teammate Sun Jiajun, who won bronze at 26.79 as it was the first time China had a medalist in this event at the World Championships.

“I feel very happy because this is my first time to stand in a world class competition and as a medalist,” Qin said.

Nic Fink of the United States snagged a silver at 26.59 after winning the event last year as this is his second silver of the week in Fukuoka.

“I'm very happy with it,” Fink said. “My timing was not great, and I think tonight I was definitely a lot more focused on ‘Team USA’’. So I didn't really know what to expect going into that final. Everything kind of clicked, and I got silver, and I was very happy with that.”

Last year’s silver medalist Nicolo Martinenghi of Italy was fifth at 26.84 behind Australia’s Sam Williamson (26.82).

Mixed Medley Relay - China holds off Australia for first ever mixed medley relay gold

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For the first time in history, China won gold in the mixed medley relay at a World Aquatics Championships. The team of Xu Jiayu (52.42), Qin Haiyang (57.31), Zhang Yufei (55.69), and Cheng Yujie (53.15) held off the best from Australia and the United States with a gold medal at 3:38.57.

“This gold medal means a lot for us,” Zhang said in a press conference through a translator. “We broke the world record (in 2020) but we lost a couple times. The big difference this time, in prelims we got three other swimmers which means we have a lot of talented, young swimmers in China right now. Three of us were born in the 1990s but Cheng Yujie was born after 2000 which means the young people are coming, and also this event means the future of Chinese swim team is getting better and better.”

China set the world record in 2020 and won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and finally broke through with an international gold, winning the nation’s fourth gold medal of the World Championships in swimming.

“Before the race, I was doing a lot of mental preparation because I knew the American and Australian were very strong and very fast,” Cheng said through an interpreter at the press conference. “That’s why I was very ready before the race. During the race, my breathing was on the right and I couldn’t see those two swimmers (from Australia and the United States). In my mind I kept telling myself I needed to be faster and faster and I can’t give them any chance to win. When I touched the wall and looked at the board, I was like ‘ok finally, I can beat them!’”

The Australia team of Kaylee McKeown (58.03), Zac Stubblety-Cook (58.84), Matthew Temple (50.63), and Shayna Jack (51.53) didn’t have enough room to catch the Chinese as they won silver at 3:39.03.

The United States won bronze after winning gold in Budapest last year. The team of Ryan Murphy (52.02), Nic Fink (58.19), Torri Huske (58.19), and Kate Douglass (51.79) won bronze at 3:40.19.

Semis Wrap

Men’s 100m freestyle

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Great Britain’s Matthew Richards keeps swimming races and touching the wall first. After winning a surprise 200m freestyle on Tuesday night, he swam the fastest 100m freestyle in the heats and semi-finals, reserving lane four for tomorrow’s final with a 47.47 in the semis.

Richards will go head to head tomorrow with the World Short Course champ Kyle Chalmers of Australia (47.52) and the fastest man in the world this year in China’s Pan Zhanle (47.61).

Last year’s World champ David Popovici is lurking in fifth at 47.66 behind Hungary’s Nandor Nemeth (47.62) and ahead of World short course 50m champ Jordan Crooks of the Cayman Islands (47.71).

Last year’s silver medalist Maxime Grousset of France (47.87) is seventh while USA’s Jack Alexy (48.06) squeaked into eighth by 0.02.

Women’s 50m backstroke

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In the splash and dash, Regan Smith of the United States broke the American record at 27.10 to lead 100m champ Kaylee McKeown (27.26) of Australia and defending champion Kylie Masse (27.49) of Canada.

Great Britain’s Lauren Cox had a good swim to place third at 27.29 while last year’s silver and bronze medalist Katharine Berkoff (27.49) of the United States and Analia Pigree (27.70) of France also advanced, along with Canada’s Ingrid Wilm (27.71).

China’s Wang Xueer won a swim-off for the final spot at 27.78 over teammate Wan Letian (27.90).

Women’s 200m butterfly

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Lana Pudar of Bosnia and Herzegovina swam to the top time at 2:06.60 as she would win her country’s first ever medal at the World Championships if she could place in the top three tomorrow night.

Last year’s gold and silver medalist Summer McIntosh (2:06.85) and Regan Smith (2:06.83) qualified third and second, respectively.

Australia’s Elizabeth Dekkers (2:07.11) also qualified ahead of Denmark’s Helena Bach (2:07.15), Great Britain’s Laura Stephens (2:07.47), and USA’s Lindsay Looney (2:07.72).

Japan’s Airi Mitsui (2:07.51) also advanced to give the Marine Messe crowd something to cheer about.

Men’s 200m IM

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France’s Leon Marcand (1:56.34) and USA’s Carson Foster (1:56.55), fresh out of competing in the 200m butterfly final earlier, put up the first and third fastest times in the 200m IM semis with Olympic silver medalist Duncan Scott (1:56.50) in between them in second.

Japan was able to advance both its swimmers to the final with So Ogata (1:57.06) and Daiya Seto (1:57.15) placing fifth and sixth after Spain’s Hugo Gonzalez (1:56.58).

Great Britain’s Tom Dean (1:57.18) and USA’s Shaine Casas (1:57.23) also advanced to tomorrow’s final.