American Katie Ledecky won her 21st World Championships medal with a 4×200 free relay gold on Wednesday night while swimming the second fastest relay split of all-time.
Canada’s Summer McIntosh also set two world junior records in the 200 fly and 200 freestyle.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding 15-year-old McIntosh in the lead-up to the World Championships this year as one of the future stars of the sport.
At 14, she made the Olympic final in the 400 freestyle and finished just off the podium in her first-ever international meet.
At 15 she swam the fastest 400 IM time in six years. And now just two months before her 16th birthday, McIntosh is officially a world champion – taking the 200 butterfly on Wednesday night in the Hungarian capital with a 2:05.20. The time is a new world junior record, lowering her own record from the semifinals of 2:05.79.
“It means a lot to be world champion, it’s like a dream and it’s especially great to win this title in the 200m fly, this is what I wanted to do as this is my favorite event,” McIntosh said. “In the last 50m I literally gave everything I could, all my energy, all my focus to finish the race like this.”
McIntosh, who swims for coach Ryan Mallette, stayed controlled early, staying with the leader Zhang Yufei of China. Last year’s Olympic champion played to her strengths on the opening 100, with the only sub-1:00 first 100 at 59.68. But Zhang seemingly did not have the training that helped her to Tokyo gold last year, and McIntosh pounced on the third 50, splitting a 32.45 and taking the lead ahead of USA’s Regan Smith and Zhang, with USA’s Hali Flickinger lurking.
Smith had kicked out further than anybody, but it was not enough as McIntosh pulled away, splitting a controlled 32.58 as she became the youngest swimming world champion since Ye Shiwen won the 200 IM in 2011 at age 15.
Flickinger won the silver at 2:06.08 while Zhang won the bronze at 2:06.32. It’s Flickinger’s second straight silver after finishing runner-up in 2019.
“Now I’m happy to have a medal for the US, we’ve just dived into the race and Summer was just too strong for us today,” Flickinger said. “She had an amazing time anyway.”
Zhang was also the bronze medal winner in the 100 fly on Sunday night. Zhang is the first swimmer to claim a medal in both the women’s 100 and 200 butterfly at the same world aquatics championships since Australia’s Jess Schipper in 2009.
“To be honest, I’m not really pleased, I couldn’t keep up with the leaders,” Zhang said. “But it’s still my best time this year. This 2:06 is fine but all in all I’m not happy with this swim. Of course, I’m happy that I won a medal but I’d be happier with the silver since the gold was out of reach this evening.”
It may have been a letdown for swimming fans that were hoping to see Cesar Cielo’sworld record erased from the history books – the 46.91 surviving multiple tests from the likes of Caeleb Dressel, Kyle Chalmers and most recently David Popoviciof Romania.
The 17-year-old seemingly cruised to a 47.13 in last night’s semifinals, nearly 24 hours removed from the fastest 200 freestyle in ten years, with many believing that a world record was a definite lock for the star pupil of coach Adrian Radulescu.
Nonetheless, it was not to be on Wednesday night, with Popovici swimming a 47.58 to take the 100-200 freestyle double. But Popovici was challenged for everything he had, with France’s Maxime Grousset nearly pulling off the upset of the meet, which goes to show the aura already surrounding the 17-year-old kid, with many comparing him to the likes of Ian Thorpe.
“I’m a bit prouder of the 200m win, still, this was great too,” Popovici said. “I did good things but I think it’s just the beginning of a long journey. Now I’m here to enjoy the benefits of the my hard work I did the past. It’s a great moment for me and I’m ready whatever the future beholds for me. You know, my neck is quite heavy because of the medals – so I need to strengthen that part for the next meets. Now I’m going home and enjoy the reaction of the fans.”
Popovici is the second man to win the men’s 100m freestyle at the Worlds before his 18th birthday, after American Andy Coan won in 1975 at age 17. And surprisingly, the men’s 100-200 free double has only been done one other time – USA’s Jim Montgomery at the inaugural World champs in 1973.
Grousset won his first major international medal with a 47.64 to win silver. After placing fourth at the Olympics last year, he won the first of France’s three medals on the night. The success of the French team – Grousset credits Leon Marchand winning the 400 IM on the very first night of finals.
“It’s fantastic. It’s the beginning of a dream,” Grousset said of his silver.
He follows in the footsteps of some of the great French sprinters before him, including Olympic champion Alain Bernard, who Grousset said was his biggest inspiration.
The bronze went to Joshua Liendo of Canada at 47.71. Liendo had been targeting the 100 freestyle coming into this meet, and had taken the race out with intention, splitting a 22.53 at the 50, ahead of Popovici (22.72) and Grousset (22.73), as he battled to the very end with them.
“It felt great, I felt like I could have swam the first 50 a little better,” Liendo said. “The last 50 was a fight and it came down to the wire, but it was a fun race.”
Liendo, age 19, won his first individual medal at the global level, as he had won silver in this event at the 2019 World Juniors in this same pool, and it was one of Canada’s four medals won on the night.
“Summer is a beast! I was watching (the 200 fly) before I came to the ready room and I was like, ‘jeez this kid is insane,’” Liendo said of McIntosh. “She got my blood flowing and got me pumped up.”
The final notably was without the two-time defending World champion and the reigning Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel of the United States, who scratched out of the remainder of the championships on “medical grounds.” Dressel had won the 50 butterfly on Sunday night and led off the gold medal-winning 4×100 free relay with a 47.67.
Canada’s Kylie Masse returned to the gold medal dais Wednesday night when she won the 50 backstroke final with a 27.31. It wasn’t a best time for Masse, but it adds to her silver from the 100 back on Monday, as well as the two gold medals she won in 2017 and 2019 in the 100 back.
Masse, who trains in Toronto with coach Ryan Mallette, had been in silver medal position for a while the last couple years, winning all three silvers at the World Short Course Champs in December and again the two individual silvers in Tokyo last summer. This was her first golden moment in nearly three years.
It was in this pool in 2017 that Masse broke the first world record of her career in the 100 backstroke.
“This is a special one for me,” Masse said. “My dream came true when I got this lane for the final so I tried to enjoy this evening’s swim. In 2017 I couldn’t make the final in the 50m, I think that time I was not ready for that. Now I’m super happy with this time and with the gold.”
It was hard to discern the winner with the naked eye, but USA’s Katharine Berkoff was right behind with the silver medal at 27.39. Berkoff wins the first long course Worlds medal of her career after a World short course medal in December.
“I’m super excited to be here, this is my first long-course Worlds so being one of the medallists is super cool,” Berkoff said. “I’m totally lucky to be on the podium tonight with these girls.”
The bronze went to France’s Analia Pigree, who won one of three medals for France on the night, bringing the total to six medals through five days, which matches the nation’s highest since 2015.
“It’s been a good race, to be honest I didn’t really have a plan, kind of zero, honestly,” Pigree said. “I was just excited to be in the final and even more excited to get a medal.”
France may have just found its next swimming star in the lead-up to a home Olympics in two years time. 20-year-old Leon Marchand of France won the 200 IM gold medal in Budapest with a 1:55.22, doubling up in IM gold medals as he sits sixth all-time and second fastest European behind Laszlo Cseh (1:55.18).
Marchand follows up his 400 IM gold from Saturday, where he swam the fastest time in 14 years to get closer to Michael Phelps’ 4:03.84 than any man has ever before. Marchand’s gold here is his third of the meet, and France’s sixth overall through five days. He is also the second man representing France to claim a medal in the men’s 200 IM at the Worlds, after his father Xavier Marchand took silver in 1998.
“That was amazing, it was exciting to race with these guys but it was pretty stressful too,” Marchand said. “I saw everybody was going so fast over the first three legs that I had to do a big sprint in the last 50m and that was really painful. I think I did really good underwater work and pretty much happy to win this event too.”
Marchand, who swims for coach Bob Bowman in the United States, gives the French Swimming Federation some excitement as the Paris Olympics nears, but he made sure to shut down any Paris hype.
“I’m trying not to focus on Paris because each year there is a big meet and I want to go step by step. I’m very excited for Paris and it’s going to be a great meet but I am trying to focus for next year and I will see after.”
But there is excitement in the current day over the rest of the team’s performance in Budapest – the team has won six medals from four different swimmers.
“There is a positive environment in the French team and everybody knows that they can do something each race,” Marchand said. “That’s the first time I’ve felt that in this team and that’s great.”
Marchand won the final ahead of American Carson Foster, who also won silver behind Marchand in the 400. Foster moved up to 13th all-time with his 1:55.71, as he was leading at the 100 mark, before Marchand split a 33.01 on breaststroke to Foster’s 34.20. Marchand’s kick out on freestyle went to nearly 15 meters as the 20-year-old American could not catch him.
This was Foster’s first time under 1:56, joining the 1:55 club that includes 15 members.
“I was excited – that was my goal this season to get down to a 1:55 range so now we have more to improve on and try to break the next barrier and get into the 1:54s.
Marchand and Foster have been racing each other since their junior days, and are now the two best IM’ers in the world, taking the mantle from Daiya Seto and Chase Kalisz.
“He is amazing to race because he is so fast,” Marchand said of Foster. “In this 200 IM, it was a great fight I think. I’m very happy to race him every time because we are improving a lot every time we are meeting so I am very excited.”
“He’s the nicest kid ever so it makes him easy to race,” Foster said of Marchand. “He is obviously very talented so we are going to have some great races in the coming years I hope and it’ll bring the best out of both of us.”
Seto finished with the bronze medal at 1:56.22, just ahead of the 2017 champ Kalisz (1:56.43). It was an improvement on his fourth-place from Tokyo and his sixth place in the 400 on Sunday.
“I have good memories from 2017 – but here my 400m IM was not good at all on the opening day,” Seto said. “So after that, I just focused on this final and I’m happy that I won this bronze medal tonight.”
The women’s 4 x 200m was a race that was expected to come down to the wire, with the top four seeded teams from Australia, China, United States and Canada all vying for the three spots on the podium.
It certainly lived up to expectations early on, with Canada’s McIntosh starting the race off with a new world junior record at 1:54.79, which was faster than the winning time in the 200 free.
The Australians pulled even, with Leah Neale splitting a 1:55.27. But on the back half, the United States pulled ahead and never looked back.
With Katie Ledecky (1:53.67) and 17-year-old Bella Sims (1:54.60) on the last two legs, the United States set a new championship record at 7:41.45. Ledecky’s split was the second fastest in history only to Federica Pellegrini’s 1:53.45 in 2009. It was the first time the United States had won the women’s 4×200 free relay internationally since 2017 as the Australians won silver at 7:43.86 and the Canadians bronze at 7:44.76.
“I realized when we were on the podium it had been a while since we had been up there singing the national anthem together and trying to hit those high pitched notes,” Ledecky said. “That was a lot of fun and to see it all come together – the time was really fast as well so I think we really proved that we came to race and we came to give it our all.”
Claire Weinstein (1:56.71) and Leah Smith (1:56.47) swam the first two legs, helping Ledecky win her record breaking 21st World Championships medal, the most of any female swimmer.
“That was pretty awesome out there,” Smith said. “I’m super proud of my teammates – we all gave it our best and it’s really cool to get the gold.”
It was a new-look U.S. team than the one that won silver in Tokyo last year. Teenagers Weinstein (15) and Sims (17) swam in their first international finals, with Weinstein swimming faster than her 200 free individual.
“I didn’t really make any changes (from the 200 free individual),” Weinstein said. “I wanted to go in with the same race strategy and I think going first gave me a lot more confidence because I knew it was going to be a regular race. I didn’t have to overthink the relay start, that was a good decision. So I did what I usually do and it was just faster this time.”
Sims was put in the anchor spot, usually where Ledecky ends up, but the team had full confidence Sims could take on the likes of gold medalist Yang Junxuan from China, silver medalist Mollie O’Callaghan from Australia, and Olympic bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak from Canada.
When asked if she was nervous going last, she immediately replied, “Oh for sure!”
“She didn’t look it though!” Ledecky said of Sims with confidence.
Sims held her own, splitting a 1:54.60, while O’Callaghan (1:55.94) and Oleksiak (1:55.83) could not catch the young teen.
Yang split a 1:54.18 as the Chinese finished in fourth at 7:45.72.
After Sims’ 1:55 on the anchor this morning, the team put full trust in Sims that she was the best option to go last.
“We had so much confidence in each other and we knew we were all going to deliver,” Ledecky said.