SWIMMING Preview: New, $1.03 million FINA Champions Series debuts Saturday in Guangzhou

Swedish swimming sprint superstar Sarah Sjostrom

Well, it’s here. While the International Swimming League promises to revolutionize professional swimming with its team-based meet series that is supposed to start in October, a tangible result of its efforts is the new FINA Champions Series, a sort-of “All-Star Game” program for swimmers with good paydays attached to each event.

There are three meets, starting with Guangzhou (CHN) this weekend, followed by Budapest (HUN) on 11-12 May and Indianapolis (USA) on 31 May-1 June.

There are just four invited swimmers per event, all of high caliber, with payouts for each event of $10,000-8,000-6,000-5,000 for a total of $812,000 per meet, and $16,000-12,000-8,000 for the Mixed 4×100 m Free and 4×400 m Medley relays that end the program each night. That’s $1.028 million in prize money for each meet, and FINA is paying appearance fees and travel costs for all of the athletes for each meet.

Is this a good idea? Yes, sort of. The timing is good for much of the world because it comes just after the rash of national championships in the late March-early April time frame, so most of the world’s swimmers are in good shape. It’s still well before the 12-28 July FINA World Championships, so training schedules are not much damaged for those involved.

Is this a blockbuster waiting to happen? Probably not. There is no build-up to this, as there is for a World Championship or an Olympic Games. It’s an invitational and for swimming, the prize money is good, but it’s only about half what is paid for the Worlds in Gwangju (KOR) later this year. Without a lead-in and more prestige, the meets are on an island and unconnected to the rest of the calendar. But for swimming, it’s an opportunity to get some attention it normally doesn’t get, and that’s good.

What about the events? The program is pretty full, but tilted toward speed rather than distance:

● Freestyle: 50-100-200-400 m
● Backstroke: 50-100-200 m
● Breaststroke: 50-100-200 m
● Butterfly: 50-100-200 m
● Medley: 200 m
● Relays: Mixed 4×100 m Free, 4×100 m Medley

The daily schedule is here. Some of the most interesting match-ups include:


50 m Free: Rio Olympic champ Anthony Ervin (USA) vs. nos. 2-3-4 on the 2019 world list: Ben Proud (GBR: 21.50), Andrea Vergani (ITA: 21.53) and Vladimir Morozov (RUS: 21.55).

200 m Free: Rio re-run with China’s Yang Sun and South Africa’s Chad le Clos; Sun ranks fourth on the 2019 list at 1:45.73.

400 m Free: The Rio silver (Sun) and bronze (Gabriele Detti/ITA) face off and are 1-2 in the world this year at 3:43.36 for Detti and 3:43.73 for Sun.

50 m Back: American Michael Andrew, fifth on the world list for 2019 (24.66) takes on Russian champ Kliment Kolesnikov (no. 6: 24.77) and no. 8 Robert Ginta (BEL: 24.83).

50 m Breast: Andrew (27.17 in 2019) is back, facing world leader Joao Gomes Jr. (BRA: 26.42), no. 2 Felipe Lima (BRA: 26.48) and no. 6 Fabio Scozzoli (ITA: 26.82). Andrew is also in the 100 m Breast.

200 m Breast: Nos. 1-2 in the world for 2019 will face off: Russia’s World Champion Anton Chupkov (2:07.00) and Japan’s world-record holder, Ippei Watanabe (JPN: 2:07.02).

50 m Fly: Andrew is entered in the 50 m and 100 m Fly events; the time leaders in the 50 m is Brazil’s World silver winner Nicholas dos Santos (no. 2: 22.77 in 2019) and Britain’s World Champion Ben Proud (no. 6: 23.25). Andrew is also in the 100 m Fly.

200 m Medley: Andrew will swim in his sixth event here and shocked everyone by beating 2017 World Champion Chase Kalisz at the Tyr Pro Swim Series in Richmond on 13 April. Here he will be swimming World Champs bronze medalist Shun Wang (CHN: no. 2 at 1:56.66 in 2019).


50 m Free: Rio champ Pernille Blume (DEN) has to deal with 2017 World Champion Sarah Sjostrom, 2017 silver winner Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) and Australia’s double Freestyle relay gold medalist Cate Campbell. Sjostrom (23.91), Campbell (24.30) and Kromo (24.48) are 1-2-5 on the world list for 2019.

100 m Free: World list leader Campbell (52.35) is back against Sjostrom (no. 2: 52.76), Blume and sister Bronte Campbell (53.81 in 2019).

200 m Free: Rio silver winner Sjostrom is in a third event, against Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu and China’s emerging star Jianjiahe Wang and 2017 Worlds silver/bronze distance medalist Bingjie Li. Hosszu, Li and Wang are also in the 400 m Free

200 m Back: A Rio rematch between gold medalist Emily Seebohm (AUS) and Hosszu, who took silver; they are both also in the 100 m Back.

50 m Breast: American Molly Hannis, no. 8 in 2019 at 30.69, will face no. 7 Imogen Clark (GBR: 30.68) and China’s Shiwen Ye and Junyang Feng. Hannis will also swim in the 100 and 200 Breast events.

50 m Fly: Sjostrom is back for event no. 4, against Kromowidjojo and Cate Campbell, plus Americam Kelsi Dahlia. Sjostrom won the Olympic 100 Fly title in Rio and the 50 and 100 crowns at the 2017 Worlds in Hungary. Kromo won World silver in the 50 Fly in 2017 and Dahlia took the 100 Fly bronze, but Sjostrom is the world leader in 2019 at 25.34.

100 m Fly: More Sjostrom (no. 5), more Kromo (no. 3), more Dahlia, plus American Dana Vollmer (London 2012 gold, Rio 2016 bronze). In 2019, Sjostrom is the world leader at 56.69.

200 m Fly: Hosszu won the Worlds bronze in this event in 2017 and is no. 2 on the world list at 2:07.18. She will have to deal with Dahlia (2:09.09 in 2019) and China’s Yufei Zhang (2:08.24) and Yifan Zhang (2:09.27).

200 m Medley: Hosszu won Olympic gold here in 2016 and the world title in 2017; she’s the world leader at 2:08.55 and will be heavily favored in event no. 5.

It has not gone unnoticed in FINA circles that Andrew and Hosszu, both plaintiffs in ISL-promoted lawsuits against FINA, have bellied up to the trough for paydays of at least $30,000 and $25,000 and probably more than double that for each.

A great meet? No, but it could have some surprises and it will be fun. That’s a good start; here’s hoping that the attendance in Guangzhou will be good.

NBC’s Olympic Channel has coverage of the meet on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time and 5:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday. Look for results here.