The 2019 FINA World Championships are almost upon us, with the planet’s top swimmers heading to South Korea to test their mettle against their biggest rivals.
The aquatics extravaganza begins on July 12, with eight days of swimming action kicking off at Nambu University International Aquatics Centre in Gwangju.
There will be around 180 nations competing with 42 gold medals on offer. The USA are clear favourites to top the table after claiming 18 golds in 2017 in Budapest. Great Britain, China and Russia are among those expected to compete for the runners-up spot.
The event began back in 1973 when the first championships were held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. The number of competitors has almost quadrupled in 46 years.
The FINA World Championships: Records and Favourites
Michael Phelps holds the record for swimming gold medals with 26 to his nam. Fellow American Katie Ledecky is going for four individual medals in South Korea, from 200 metres up to 1500 metres.
Ledecky will be joined by world record-holders and Olympic champions including Caeleb Dressel, who will be looking to dominate again after his seven gold medals in Hungary two years ago. Dressel was named the male swimmer of the event in 2017 as he dominated over the shorter races in freestyle and butterfly.
Great Britain’s Adam Peaty will be favourite to take the 50-metre and 100-metre golds in the breaststroke, with the potential to break world records in both.
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom missed December’s short course world championship in China to focus her attention on South Korea, and she is expected to compete again in the 50-metre and 100-metre butterfly after winning golds in both two years ago.
Peaty and Sjostrom were amongst those who set new world records in Budapest back then. Peaty set a time of 25.95 seconds in the semi-finals of the 50-metre breaststroke and Sjostrom in the 50-metre freestyle (23.67 second).
Whilst the host nation will not expect to make a big impact on proceedings, there are high hopes for An Se-hyeon. The 23-year-old aims to go at least one better than her fourth-placed finish in the final of the 200-metre butterfly in Budapest.
South Korea have claimed two gold medals in the history of the championships, both won by Park Tae-hwan. Along with An, he was made an ambassador for the event in Gwangju. The decision to honour Park was somewhat controversial after he tested positive for testosterone back in 2014 and served an 18-month suspension.
Many competitors will be upping their training schedules as they work towards the qualifying times required, with many targeting their respective country’s national championships. As the time cuts are based on world rankings, the qualifying standards vary: the women’s 100-metre freestyle cut in 2015 was 53.08. The women’s 200-metre fly time standard, however, was 2:06.52 in 2017, but is now 2:07.13.
Sjostrom and Peaty are among the favourites for their primary events, with the two pitched against their biggest threats: Denmark’s Pernille Blum in the 50-metre freestyle and Russia’s Kirill Prigoda in the 50-metre breaststroke, respectively, in the early betting for the championships.
If you’re lucky enough to be heading to South Korea, the ticket sales platform allows you to reserve and purchase seats online here.
Photo by Michal Vrba