THE BIG PICTURE: FINA’s substitute Worlds in Budapest making quite a splash: 45% in and two world records, 14 world leaders and 22 U.S. medals? Crazy!

American swimming superstar Katie Ledecky: now a 17-time World Championships gold medalist!

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Let’s be clear, the international sports world is still reeling from the coronavirus and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games from 2020 to 2021. But in swimming, where the top athletes only see each other three times in four years, the 2022 FINA World Championships at Budapest’s Duna Arena are proving to be a showcase.

Remember, this event was supposed to be held in Fukuoka (JPN) in May, but the continuing pandemic knocked the event out, only to be quickly picked up by Hungary, trying to re-build its own tourism standing with more major events.

With just 19 of 42 swimming events completed (four days of eight), the quality of swimming measures up with Tokyo, or any other meet for that matter. Consider that so far, in individual events on both the Tokyo and Budapest programs::

Men: of 6 completed events so far, five were faster in Budapest.
Women: of 7 completed events so far, two were faster in Budapest.

Now look at the times from Budapest that are world-leading performances for 2022, and their rank if in the top-10 all-time performances list:

Men/100 m Free: 47.60, David Popovici (ROU)
Men/200 m Free: 1:43.21, Popovici [no. 5 performance ever]
Men/400 m Free: 3:41.22, Elijah Winnington (AUS) [no. 10]
Men/800 m Free: 7:39.36, Bobby Finke (USA) [no. 7]
Men/100 m Back: 51.60, Thomas Ceccon (ITA) ~ World Record [1]
Men/50 m Breast: 26.45, Nic Fink (USA) [no. 5 performer]
Men/100 m Breast: 58.26, Nicolo Martinenghi (ITA)
Men/50 m Fly: 22.57, Caeleb Dressel (USA) [no. 4 performer]
Men/200 m Fly: 1:50.34, Kristof Milak (HUN) ~ World Record [1]
Men/400 m Medley: 4:04.28, Leon Marchand (FRA) [no. 2]

Women/1,500 m Free: 15:30.15, Katie Ledecky (USA) [no. 6]
Women/100 m Back: 57.65, Regan Smith (USA) [no. 6]
Women/100 m Fly: 55.64, Torri Huske (USA) [equal no. 5]
Women/200 m Medley: 2:07.13, Alex Walsh (USA) [no. 10]

So of the 16 individual events at least partially contested so far, there have been 2022 world-leading performances in 14 and top-10 all-time performances in 12! There were two individual-event world records in Tokyo; there have been two already in Budapest:

Men/100 m Back: 51.40, Thomas Ceccon (ITA); old, 51.95, Ryan Murphy (USA), 2016
Men/200 m Fly: 1:50.34, Kristof Milak (HUN); old 1:50.73, Milak, 2019

(And just for good measure, there have also been two American Records:

Men/800 m Free: 7:39.36, Bobby Finke
Women/100 m Fly: 55.64, Torri Huske)

This is crazy!

New stars like Romania’s 17-year-old Popovici are emerging, and there will be continuing focus on Canada’s 15-year-old sensation Summer McIntosh, who won a women’s 400 m Freestyle silver behind Ledecky and set a World Junior Record of 2:06.79 in the 200 m Fly semis.

Italy’s Benedetta Pilato – age 17 – scored an impressive win in the women’s 100 m Breast in 1:05.93, with American superstar Lilly King fourth in 1:06.07, suffering from the impact of a recent bout with Covid-19. This stuff happens in championships.

But the American team performance is another impressive show of domination by veteran and new swimmers. Yes, some of the top Australian and British swimmers are skipping the meet – the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (ENG) is a target for several – and there are the usual injuries and mishaps. But the continuing greatness of Ledecky and Dressel – who withdrew from the men’s 100 m Free semis with a medical issue, but might be back for other events – is being balanced by the youngsters like Katie Grimes (16: women’s 1,500 m Free silver), Claire Curzan (17: women’s 100 m Back bronze), Torri Huske (19: women’s 100 m Fly gold) and Alex Walsh (20) and Leah Hayes (16), who went 1-3 in the women’s 200 m Medley, sandwiching Australia’s triple Tokyo gold medalist Kaylee McKeown.

After 19 of 42 total swimming events, the U.S. already has 22 medals; next best is Australia with seven. The U.S. team record is 38 total medals from 2017.

It’s an impressive show of swimming strength in a year in which everything still seems a little off-kilter. And the 2023 meet in Fukuoka (JPN) should be even better.

Four more days to go in Budapest.

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