FINA’s new Champions Series had an entertaining debut in front of an interested crowd in Guangzhou (CHN) in late April and is now ready for its second leg, at the famed Duna Arena in Budapest (HUN), with a capacity of about 5,000.
The program order has been changed around a little, but the components are the same:
● 50-100-200-400 m Freestyle
● 50-100-200 m Backstroke
● 50-100-200 m Breaststroke
● 50-100-200 m Butterfly
● 200 m Medley
● Mixed 4×100 m Freestyle, 4×100 m Medley
The fields are generally of high quality, at least on paper, and the Budapest edition has – as expected – more European and American swimmers compared to the Guangzhou line-up. Some of the expected highlights:
● 50-100 m Freestyles: The 2016 Rio champ, Anthony Ervin of the U.S. is matched up in the 50 m with the silver and bronze winners from the 2017 Worlds, Bruno Fratus (BRA) and Ben Proud (GBR). Proud won in Guangzhou, ahead of Vladimir Morozov (RUS), who is also in the field. Rio silver winner Pieter Timmers (BEL) won the 100 m in Guangzhou, ahead of Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) and Morozov. France’s Mehdy Metella, the 2017 Worlds bronze winner, joins the party in Budapest.
● 200 m Free: Rio silver winner Chad le Clos (RSA) and 2017 Worlds bronze medalist Aleksandr Krasnykh (RUS) are in, but Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys beat Le Clos in Guangzhou, finishing second to China’s Yang Sun.
● 50-100-200 m Backstrokes: The amazing Matt Grevers, the London 2012 100 m Back champ, is in the 50-100 m races and still going strong at 34. He’ll race against Kolesnikov, who won the 50 m race in Guangzhou, and 100-200 m Guangzhou winner (and Rio silver medalist) Jiayu Xu of China. Xu is also in the 200 m Back, against American Jacob Pebley, the 2017 Worlds bronze medal winner.
● 50-100-200 m Breaststrokes: Brazil’s 2017 Worlds 50 m silver winner Joao Gomes Jr. will face American Michael Andrew, but Felipe Lima (BRA) beat them both in Guangzhou. Worlds silver winner Kevin Cordes (USA) will be looking to beat Italy’s Fabio Scozzoli and Anton Chupkov (RUS), who were 1-2 in the Guangzhou 100 m. Chupkov, the 2017 World Champion at 200 m, won that race in China, but now faces Rio 200 silver winner Josh Prenot (USA) and world-record holder Ippei Watanabe (JPN).
● 50-100-200 m Butterflys: 2017 World Champion Proud (GBR), silver medalist Nicholas Santos (BRA) and bronze winner Andriy Govorov (UKR) will battle again against Andrew (USA) in the 50 m; Santos beat Andrew in Guangzhou. Rio silver winner Le Clos will be battling two home favorites: Hungarians Kristof Milak (2017 Worlds silver in 100) and the legendary Laszlo Cseh, the 2015 World Champion. Le Clos is the 2017 World 200 m Fly champ, but lost to Rio 2016 silver medalist Masato Sakai (JPN) in Guangzhou; they will be in a re-match, but with Cseh and Milak as well.
● 200 m Medley: The 2017 World Champion, Chase Kalisz of the U.S., is here, but will have his hands full with China’s Sun Wang, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and winner in Guangzhou.
● 50-100 m Freestyles: The big star of the Guangzhou leg was Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, and she’s back for more in the 50-100-200 m Frees and 50-100 m Flys. She won four and one silver the first time out and will be favored in all five in Budapest. Rio Olympic champ Pernilla Blume (DEN) will challenge in both; Egypt’s Farida Osman will be a factor in the 50 m and Rio co-100 m gold winner Penny Oleksiak (CAN) should be Sjostrom’s main competition.
● 200-400 m Free: Italy’s 2008 Olympic gold medalist and 2009-11-17 World Champion Federica Pellegrini will challenge Sjostrom, along with China’s Bingjie Li. Pellegrini, who won world titles in the 400 m Free in 2009-11, will face Li, who earned a 400 m Worlds bronze in 2017 and an 800 m Free Worlds silver.
● 50-100-200 m Backstrokes: Australia’s outstanding Emily Seebohm will be in all three races, but with a considerable challenge at 50 m from the 2017 World Champion, Brazil’s Etienne Medeiros. At 100 m and 200 m, home favorite Katinka Hosszu will be the focus; she was the Olympic 100 m champ in Rio and the 200 m Worlds silver medalist (to Seebohm) in 2017.
● 50-100-200 m Breaststrokes: Russian star Yuliya Efimova is in all three and won Rio silvers in the 100-200 m and world titles at 50 m (2009-13), 100 m (2015) and 200 m (2013-17). She will be challenged at all three distances by the American pair of Katie Meili, the Olympic bronze medalist at 100 m and Worlds bronze medalist at 50 m in 2017, and Molly Hannis, who was second in Guangzhou in the 50 m (to Imogen Clark/GBR) and 100 m (to Shiwen Ye/CHN).
● 50-100-200 m Butterflys: Sjostrom won the 50-100s in Guangzhou and will have familiar company from the Freestyle races in Osman (EGY) in the 50 m, and Blume (DEN) and Oleksiak (CAN) in the 50 and 100 m, plus Rio 2016 bronze medalist Dana Vollmer of the U.S. in the 100 Fly. Hosszu will headline the 200 m Fly, along with teammate Boglarka Kapas (HUN).
● 200 m Medley: Hosszu is the dominant performer in this event, winning the Rio gold and the 2017 Worlds. Britain’s Siobhan O’Connor won silver in Rio and will challenge Hosszu again.
A great meet ahead? Maybe, but it should be entertaining at the very least. The prize money for each event is $10,000-8,000-6,000-5,000 ($812,000 total) and $16,000-12,000-8,000 for the relays ($72,000 total); there is also a $20,000 bonus for a world record.
NBC’s Olympic Channel will have coverage in the U.S. at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday and Sunday. Look for live results here.