As the pre-Olympic year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on what an exciting year it was in the swimming venue. After the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka saw ten world records fall, the future of the sport was on full display at the World Juniors in Netanya. Additionally, many regional events such as the Asian Games and Pan American Games showcased the best from their respective continents. Today, we look back at some of the best races that occurred this calendar year.

Men’s 400m IM: Leon Marchand takes down the greatest World Record of them all - World Aquatics Championships

Image Source: Leon Marchand celebrating winning gold in the Men's 400m IM in a new world record time of WR 4:02.50 at the Fukuoka Worlds (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

In front of the loudest and largest crowds of the entire two weeks at the World Aquatics Championships, France’s Leon Marchand took down the last world record held by Michael Phelps in the final of the 400m IM. After having the world record attached to his name for nearly 21 years, longer than any swimmer had held a world record in a single event, Phelps relinquished his 2008 mark of 4:03.84 to Marchand, who blasted a 4:02.50 in Fukuoka.

“I don’t think I realized (how fast it was) yet,” Marchand said in his press conference at the Marine Messe. “I’ve been training very hard for it. My goal is to do better than this year. Last year 4:04 was a surprise for me and I’ve been working on my weakness. I got better and did my PB so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Phelps was on hand for the event, providing color commentary for the American TV audience before handing out the gold medal to the Frenchman who will enter 2024 as the face of the Paris Olympics in his home nation. Marchand went on to win the 200m butterfly and 200m IM in Fukuoka, but it was his 400m IM on the first night of swimming that resonated as his best race of the year.

Women’s 4x100m freestyle: Death, Taxes, Australia - World Aquatics Championships

Image Source: Australia was all smiles in Fukuoka, particularly after the women's 4x100m freestyle relay final (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Australia tore apart the record books in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Having not lost the relay at an international meet since 2017, the four Australian women averaged 51.99 to swim 3:27.96 to take nearly two full seconds off the world record from the last Olympics. The team of Mollie O’Callaghan, Shayna Jack, Meg Harris and Emma McKeon put the world record into the stratosphere that only they themselves might touch in the near future.

“We had an amazing time,” Jack said in the mixed zone after the race. “I think that’s what you saw in the pool was just four girls having the best time of their life. It is Australia’s night, we’ve had a phenomenal night and we hope to continue through the meet.”

“This night has been insane already,” Harris said in the mixed zone. “Like you’ve seen amazing things. I think swimming is a team effort.”

It was towards the end of a near-perfect night for the green and gold, as they celebrated gold medals in the men’s and women’s 400m freestyle finals that night, as well as this relay that preceded the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. This performance in the women’s relay was a microcosm of the entire week for the Australians, who won 13 gold medals in the swimming venue.

Women’s 200m freestyle: Mollie O’Callaghan takes down oldest individual women’s world record- World Aquatics Championships

Image Source: Mollie O'Callaghan en route to the win in the Women's 100m Freestyle Final in Fukuoka (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Australia’s Mollie O’Callaghan took down not only her teammate and training partner Ariarne Titmus on the final 50, but the oldest world record on the women’s side from 2009. Titmus set the pace and it looked as if she would run away with it and set her second world record of the meet after demolishing the 400m field earlier in the competition. But on the final 50, she was caught by O’Callaghan, who used her stellar underwater kicks to pull even and overtake Titmus to take down Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98 that stood as the global mark since 2009.

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

It was one of the fastest fields ever assembled with the top four going under 1:54, and O’Callaghan’s 1:52.85 for the gold medal set the table for her to become the first woman to win the 100m and 200m freestyle at the same World Championships.

Men’s 200m breaststroke & the summer of Qin - World Aquatics Championships

Image Source: Quinn Rooney/Getty Image

It seemed every time China’s Qin Haiyang dove in the pool in 2023, he came out on top. Whether it was at the World Championships, the World University Games, the Asian Games, or the World Cup, it was nearly impossible to take down Qin. At the World Championships in Fukuoka, Qin became a household name when he became the first man to win the 50, 100, and 200 of the same stroke at the same World Championships, and it was his 200 to cap off the hat trick that really turned heads.

Qin had shown his strength and speed in winning both the 50m and 100m, becoming the second fastest performer in the Olympic distance. He started his career as a specialist in the 200m breaststroke and IM, and he put that background on full display on night six in Fukuoka, obliterating the world record with a 2:05.48 to take nearly a half second off the existing record.

“People have two sides. There’s a little bit of angel, and a little bit of devil inside,” Qin said in his press conference. “So this afternoon it was kind of a struggle between those two. I told myself, maybe I can lose this race because I’ve already got two gold medals. But before the race, I told myself, when I’m in the pool there is no loser, I don’t want to be a loser, I have to win. That’s why I used my speed, and I used my confidence to win this race.”

And Qin was not done. He returned home to win five gold medals at the World University Games in Chengdu, and an additional six medals at the Asian Games. On the last day of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, Qin split 57.63 in the 4x100m medley relay as the Chinese men scared the world record with a 3:27.01 as the United States set the record at the Tokyo Olympics with a 3:26.78.

As if that wasn’t enough racing, he went to all three stops of the World Cup. He showed no signs of fatigue on the first day in Berlin in the 100m breaststroke, and was able to tie his gold medal winning time from the World Championships with a 57.69, which keeps him as the second fastest performer in history. And Qin wasn’t alone in the race, he won ahead of the Olympic champion Adam Peaty, the 2022 World champ Nicolo Martinenghi and the 2022 World short course champ Nic Fink.

Women’s 100m backstroke: Kaylee vs. Regan round 1 - Fukuoka

Image Source: USA's Regan Smith and Australia's Kaylee McKeown after the Women's 100m Backstroke Final in Fukuoka (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Much like the aforementioned Qin, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown became the first woman to win the 50, 100, and 200 of the same stroke at the same World Championships when she took all three backstroke finals in Fukuoka. In all three finals, she raced with American Regan Smith, who took silver on all three occasions. Smith really made McKeown work for each gold medal and the 100m final was a true testament to their budding rivalry.

“It was great being amongst these girls and the Americans, they bring out the best, I loved every minute of it,” McKeown said after the race. “If you are not learning, you are not growing. I had to find a positive and negative and that is exactly what I did. I channelled it in to make it work.”

Smith was out under McKeown’s world record pace at the 50m mark and had even out-kicked her rival underwater, but McKeown found another gear with 15 meters left and out-touched the 2022 World champ at 57.53 to Smith’s 57.78.

“I'm pleased with it,” Smith said after the race. “I think all season I've kind of really struggled the last fifteen meters and I did again but I'm proud knowing that I left it all in the pool. So I think I can't really ask for much more. I'm never going to complain about going 57. I mean, that used to be non-existent so it's cool that I'm one of the few women who can do that. So I'm really pleased overall.”

McKeown remained on a tear through the remainder of the year, breaking her world record at the World Cup in Budapest with a 57.33, concluding her year with a world record in all three backstroke distances in the same calendar year.


Men’s 1500m freestyle: Hafnaoui & Finke go blow for blow for 14 minutes - Fukuoka

Image Source: Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui (gold) and USA's Bobby Finke (silver) celebrate in the Men's 1500m Freestyle Final in Fukuoka (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui and the United States’s Bobby Finke went toe to toe for the entire 1500 meters on the last night in Fukuoka. Leading into the meet, it was expected that Sun Yang’s 14:31.02 from 2012 would need to be taken down in order to win gold, and for about 1400 meters, it looked like that prophecy would come true.

Hafnaoui and Finke, two Olympic champions from 2021, went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Those watching in the venue could barely breathe as they watched two of the best in the world watch each other, waiting to make their move. After the 800m free earlier in the meet in which Hafnaoui took a page out of Finke’s book to finish the race faster than anybody in 26.24, those watching around the world knew these two would be in for a dog-fight to the finish.

As they flipped at 1450, they each turned to their legs - Hafnaoui split 26.23 while Finke was 26.19. The Tunisian did just enough to take down the Olympic champion, but not enough to take down the world record as the scoreboard read ‘Hafnaoui, 14:31.54. Finke, 14:31.59.’

“We’ve been working through the year for the 400m, 800m, and 1500m, and I think I deserve it,” Hanfaoui said after the race. “Bobby is so fast at the end of the race. He pushed us to do the ‘14:31’. It was so close to the world record. I enjoyed the race and thanks to Bobby for pushing me.”

“It's always great to add to the tally,” Finke said. “Racing Ahmed was awesome. He pushed me faster than I thought I could go so I’m looking forward to racing him more often. I know he also has some finishing speed so I knew at the 1000m mark it was probably going to come down to a dogfight in the last fifty, so to be able to race him, and put up a good time, even though it was second, I'm happy with it.”

The crowd at the Marine Messe knew it was a great swim and the two were showered with praise from the rest of the world for the entertainment factor, as Finke won “best male race of the year” at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles Awards show, and Hafnaoui was a finalist for World Aquatics’s “world swimmer of the year” award.

Madi Mintenko holds off Amelia Weber & Ella Jansen in international debut - World Juniors

Image Source: USA's Madi Mintenko in action (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

It came down to the last 200 meters between the teams from the United States, Australia, and Canada, as Madi Mintenko, the daughter of Olympic relay champion Lindsay Mintenko, ran down Australia’s Amelia Weber on the last anchor leg. It was a controlled and poised swim from Mintenko, who split 1:57.45 on the anchor. In what was many of the athlete’s first taste of international racing, the race went back and forth between the two dominant nations in the aquatic venue, as the United States won a thriller over Australia at 7:52.48 to 7:52.68.

“It’s been amazing,” Mintenko said pool-side after the relay. “I have no words to describe it. Swimming with these girls is such an honor and I’m so glad I was able to bring it home for them.”

Not lost in the action was Canada, who anchored with Ella Jansen, who was anchoring after winning silver in the 400m IM less than an hour before. Jansen nearly stole the gold medal from the Americans and Australians, closing in 1:56.94, the fastest of anyone in the field, but was just on the outside with bronze at 7:53.09.

Rachel Stege crashes the Chilean party - Pan American Games

Image Source: USA's Rachel Stege leaves a wake with her furious finish at the PanAm Games 1500m final (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Kristel Kobrich’s 1500m freestyle final was the hottest ticket in town at the Pan American Games in Santiago. Kobrich, who has competed at every World Aquatics Championships since 2003, had never done a major meet in her home nation and had the opportunity of a lifetime to deliver a 16 minute party for the Chilean people at age 38 as her career continues to tick on. And it almost came true, but Rachel Stege of the United States timed her race perfectly, running down Kobrich on the final 50 to set the Games record at 16:13.59.

Kobrich won the silver medal at 16:14.59, which was her sixth Pan American Games medal in as many appearances.