With over seven weeks remaining until the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the swimming from around the globe are doing their final bits or preparation. With the impending Olympic Trials for the United States, Australia, and France occurring over the next few weeks, many swimmers who have already secured qualification competed at the Mare Nostrum series in the Mediterranean. With these valuable racing opportunities done in the same time zone as Paris, there were some big swims across the three cities.

Here are five takeaways from the Mare Nostrum.

Ippei Watanabe is the Model of Consistency

Image Source: Hiroyuki Nakamura/World Aquatics

After missing out on the chance to swim at a home Olympics in 2021, Japan’s Ippei Watanabe is the fastest man in the world in the 200m breaststroke in 2024. Watanabe, age 27, swam 2:06.94 back in March to lead the world rankings, and no one has gone under 2:07 since. Across the three Mare Nostrum stops, Watanabe won all three 200m breaststroke finals, breaking 2:08 each time, swimming as fast as 2:07.62 in Canet-en-Roussillon.

Watanabe was the first man in history to break 2:07 back in early 2017 and followed that up with two straight bronzes at the World Aquatics Championships in 2017 and 2019. But when it came time to qualify for a home Olympics in 2021, Watanabe finished third at the Japanese Trials. Since then, he has changed coaches with a new outlook on the sport, experiencing his recent success with coach Naoki Takashiro.

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Racing at the Mare Nostrum, Watanabe was able to race two of his main competitors for this summer in teammate Yu Hanaguruma and reigning Olympic silver medallist Arno Kamminga. They say racing is the best training and Watanabe has been able to take on his main rivals and beat them head to head in the same country the Olympics will be held in.

Pending on how this month’s Olympic Trials go in Australia, France, and the United States, Watanabe is looking like the man to beat in the 200m breaststroke eight weeks out from Paris.

Sarah Sjostrom is the Sprint Queen

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At 30, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom has shown no indication she is slowing down as she approaches her fifth Olympics this summer in Paris. Sjostrom swam 23.84 in winning the 50m freestyle Skins on the final day in Monaco, her 34th trip inside 24 seconds, the most of any swimmer all-time. It wasn’t quite a meet record, as she fell just short of her 23.82 from last year, but Sjostrom is the model of consistency.

The list of swimmers to swim in five Olympic Games is short, and Sjostrom will join that list when she lines up behind the blocks this summer in Paris. It’s hard to believe she only has one career Olympic gold medal, but her results at the Mare Nostrum show she is in a class of her own when it comes to the 50m freestyle.

Image Source: Mike Lewis/World Aquatics

Kate Douglass of the United States currently sits second in the world rankings for 2024 at 23.91, a time that Sjostrom has bettered four times this calendar year alone. Although the Olympic final is a different kind of aura and pressure, it’s going to take an awful lot to beat Sjostrom over one lap of the pool.

In 2021, not even a broken elbow sustained months before could stop Sjostrom, as she won silver in the 50m freestyle for her fourth trip to the Olympic podium. Now healthy, she could be enjoying another historic year in her career.

Kristof Milak Begins to Look Like His Old Self

Image Source: Mike Lewis/World Aquatics

It had been nearly four years since Hungary’s Kristof Milak had gotten beat in a 200m butterfly race, and after getting second in Barcelona behind Korea’s Kim Min-seop, Milak returned with a vengeance in Monaco, scoring a 1:53.94 to sit second in the world rankings for 2024.

Much has been said about his conditioning, or lack thereof, and although his 200m results in Monaco are three seconds slower than his best time, Milak is back in the conversation for a medal in Paris in the 100m and 200m butterfly. Milak was also 50.75 in the 100m in Monaco, beating the reigning Olympic bronze medalist Noe Ponti of Switzerland in the process.

Milak sat out international racing in 2023 on the backs of his two golds at a home World Championships in Budapest in 2022, citing he was not “on the level either physically or mentally to race against the worlds’ best swimmers.”

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In 2024, Milak is the defending Olympic champion in the 200m butterfly, and it’s going to take an awful lot to defend that gold in Paris, based on his recent results. Japan’s Tomoru Honda is ranked number one in the world this year, and France’s Leon Marchand will be the crowd favourite come Paris as the 2023 World champion. Those two are currently standing as the two favorites for gold, but Milak’s 1:53 in Monaco came in a head to head with Honda, showcasing he still has the competitive edge and the ability to take on the world’s best.

The 100m is a bit more difficult to call with the defending Olympic silver medallist currently sitting fourth in the world with his swims, but Milak’s results at the Mare Nostrum are promising for his swims in Paris that he can still be competitive with the world’s best.

The only question remaining for Milak, who will be 24 come Paris, will be whether he can manage all three rounds of the 200m and 100m butterfly successfully.

David Popovici is Locked In

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It’s hard to believe David Popovici is only 19-years-old. After winning two World titles in 2022, the Romanian couldn’t return to the podium at the World Championships in 2023. As he approaches his second trip to the Olympics, Popovici turned heads with his 1:44.74 in the 200m freestyle in Barcelona, taking a win over reigning World champ Hwang Sun-woo of the Republic of Korea.

It’s foolish to assume Popovici wasn’t going to come to Paris prepared, but after what the world saw in 2023 at the World Aquatics Championships - fourth place in the 200m freestyle and sixth in the 100m as the world record holder, that 1:44 was a nice reminder that Popovici is one of the main players for the stacked men’s 200m freestyle in Paris.

Popovici is still only ranked third in the world this year with this swim, but he is the only active swimmer to have been under 1:44 in his career after he was 1:42.97 in Rome two years ago at the European Championships. He’s been known to be a big rest swimmer, and perhaps that 1:44 was an indication that something big is on the horizon for Paris.

Anastasia Gorbenko Keeps Getting Better and Better

Image Source: Mike Lewis/World Aquatics

It seemed every time Anastasia Gorbenko swam, she set a new Israeli national record. Of the three records she broke, her 4:34.87 in the 400m IM in Monaco, brought down from her 4:37 from the World Aquatics Championships in February, put her fourth in the world for 2024. Her 200m IM (2:08.55) in Barcelona put her seventh, and her 200m backstroke (2:08.54), an improvement of over two seconds from February, put her just outside the top ten globally.

Gorbenko, age 20, won her first long course Worlds medal in February in the 400m IM, and her recent results show that she’s knocking on the door for an Olympic medal, something Israel Swimming has never achieved. If she can continue on this trajectory, it could be a big summer for her.

Who Was Your No.1 Standout Performer on the 2024 Mare Nostrom Swim Tour?