Ten things we learned from the FINA World Championships 2019

World records, Caeleb Dressel's six golds, and Australia's resurgence, these are the biggest talking points from Gwangju 2019, Korea.

By Andrew Binner

From world records to upsets and even tropical thunderstorms, the 2019 FINA World Championships had it all.

Swimmers Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky showed a new kind of mental resilience to match their superb athletic ability, while question marks appeared for the United States in other events.

Gwangju 2019 was the last event at which all of these athletes will compete until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

With that in mind, here are ten things we learned from the 18th FINA World Championships.

1) Caeleb Dressel prospers under pressure

Unlike the last world championships, Caeleb Dressel went into Gwangju as the strong favourite in all of his events, and doubts were raised over his ability to perform with that extra expectation.

But the American silenced any doubters in emphatic fashion, becoming the first swimmer to win eight medals at a world championships, and breaking Michael Phelps's 10-year-old 100m Butterfly world record.

The fact that Katie Ledecky fell ill and couldn't compete in all her races - greatly increasing the pressure on Dressel's young shoulders to deliver for Team USA - made his achievements all the more impressive.

The 22-year-old was the individual star of the 18th FINA World Championships and after acing this test, could go on to be the star of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics next year too.

2) Adam Peaty knows no limits

Project 56? Mission accomplished.

The Brit, who was the only man to swim the 100m breaststroke under 58 seconds coming into the meet, lowered his own world record to a barely-believable 56.88 seconds.

He took home two golds to go with his world record, and there's no telling what's next for the man from Uttoxeter. Project 55, maybe?

"I know how bad I want to go below 56," he said after his final - in which he clocked 57.14. "Even faster now, and I know exactly how to do it."

3) Katie Ledecky can win ugly too

When Katie Ledecky finished second to Australia's Ariarne Titmus in the 400m Feestyle on Day 1 of the swimming competition, shock waves were sent around the swimming world.

It transpired that Ledecky was ill, and pulled out of her 200m Free heats and 1500m Free final on Day 3.

However, despite suffering from 'headaches, an irregular pulse, insomnia and a loss of appetite', the 22-year-old rallied to out sprint Italy's Simona Quadarella and clinch gold on the final leg 800m Free.

While her time was nothing to write home about, the mere fact that she was able to push past significant adversity to retain her world title shows that Ledecky now has the mental fortitude to match her supreme athletic ability.

4) Katinka Hosszu proves age is just a number

In a sport where athletes tend to retire early or suffer from burn out, 30-year-old Katinka Hosszu seemingly keeps getting better with age.

When Hungaria's Iron Lady won the 400m Individual Medley on the final day of competition, she became the first person to win five gold medals in a specific event.

"The lactic acid was so high I couldn't really move," Hosszu said after her 400 IM victory.

"I wanted to celebrate but I just couldn't move.

"It prepares me for Tokyo definitely, because it's definitely much easier having it on the first day."

5) Daiya Seto is Japan’s top prospect for Tokyo 2020

Japan breathed a big sigh of relief in Gwangju, as Daiya Seto became the first Japanese men’s swimmer to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Kosuke Hagino’s absence from competition as he recovers from mental fatigue left a void, and it seems most fitting that a fellow medley swimmer in Seto has filled it.

The ever-smiling 25-year-old won the men’s 200m and 400m Individual Medley world titles and silver in the 200m butterfly, meaning he is the Olympic hosts' best chance for glory on home turf.

Another Japanese swimmer to keep an eye on in the run up to Tokyo 2020 is Katsuhiro Matsumoto, who won silver in the men's 200m Freestyle.

6) Australia v USA rivalry pushing swimming to new heights

Australia are considered the United States' biggest rivals to the United States when it comes to swimming.

The individual and team battles are great for swimming, as their races are conducted with sportsmanship, create excitement in the stands and blisteringly quick times in the pool.

In the 4x200m Freestyle women’s relay, both teams were neck-and-neck the whole way, and despite Australia edging it on the line, both teams broke the world record!

It was then the Americans' turn to break Aussie hearts as they claimed the Mixed 4x100m Free Relay with a world record of their own.

Keep your eye on this sub-plot at Tokyo 2020.

7) World records unearth future swimming stars

It was a very fast pool in Gwangju, with a number of world records - some dating back to the high-tech suit era of 2009 - falling in Korea.

Everyone had already heard of Caeleb Dressel by the time he broke Michael Phelps' 100m butterfly world record. Some may even have known of Anton Chupkov, Russia' Olympic bronze medallist in Rio, when he broke Ippei Watanabe's mark in the 200m breaststroke.

But the Championships have certainly brought some other names into the limelight after their incredible swims.

Take 20-year-old Matthew Wilson of Australia, for example, who tied Watanabe's mark in the 200m breaststroke in the semi-finals before Chupkov lowered it further in the final. Or 17-year-old American Regan Smith, who blitzed the field in the women's 200m backstroke by nearly three seconds to break Missy Franklin's London 2012 best, then added to that by becoming the first woman under 58 seconds in the 100m backstroke on her way to relay gold and a third record in the women's medley relay.

And who can forget Kristof Milak, the 19-year-old Hungarian and one of the stars of last year's Youth Olympic Games? Before Dressel did it in the 100, Milak wrote his name over Phelps' in the 200 fly - a swim rival Chad le Clos described as 'one of the greatest races ever'.

Swimming's next generation is here.

8) China becoming more dominant in diving

It's hard to believe that China can maintain their absolute domination in diving, but they've done it in Gwangju.

The Asian powerhouse won all 12 events that it entered, skipping the mixed-gender springboard as it's not on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic program.

Spearheaded by Olympic champions Shi Tingmao, Chen Aisen and Cao Yuan, no team could match their discipline, accuracy and consistency.

Spare a thought for Great Britain's Jack Laugher though, who came within a whisker of beating his Chinese rivals in the men's 3m Springboard until an uncharacteristically poor final dive gifted the gold medal back to China.

9) Russians underline artistic swimming superiority

Russia are to artistic swimming what China are to diving, such is their talent and success in the sport.

In Gwangju, the Russian artistic swimmers won nine of the 10 events, and the Team Trophy.

In the all-time World Championship medal count Russia leads overwhelmingly with 60 gold and five silver medals.

10) Water polo is alive in Korea!

The FINA World Championships was always going to be a challenge for Korea's men's and women's water polo teams.

The hosts were taking on world and Olympic champions with players that, in some instances, had only played the sport for one month.

It was all the more impressive therefore to see the rate of progression their teams showed in greatly reducing the goals scored against them in each game, and even scoring several of their own.

The women's first goal was a particularly emotional occasion that sent fans and players alike into raptures.

It's safe to say that this won't be the last we see of Korean water polo.


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