NewsSwimmingKatie LedeckyHunter ArmstrongRyan MurphyKate DouglassRegan SmithKatie GrimesNic Fink

What We Learned About U.S. Swimmers At The World Championships

by Chrös McDougall

Regan Smith, Lilly King, Gretchen Walsh and Kate Douglass pose for a photo.
(L-R) Lilly King, Gretchen Walsh, Kate Douglass and Regan Smith pose during the medal ceremony of the women's 4x100-meter medley relay finals at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships on July 30, 2023 in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

U.S. swimmers showed they’re competitive across the board this past week, with Team USA earning a podium finish in 34 of the 42 pool events contested at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships that wrapped up Sunday in Fukuoka, Japan.

And though Team USA’s seven gold medals trailed the numbers put up at recent world championships, the squad’s 38 total medals — including 20 silvers — easily topped the overall medal table, with Australia coming in second at 25. Australia led the gold-medal race with 13 in a breakout performance coming one year ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

The U.S. arrived in Fukuoka with a handful of familiar names missing, but the big names in Fukuoka still shined, while some talented up-and-comers showed they’re ready to compete on the global stage.

Here’s what we learned about Team USA in Fukuoka.

There is simply no catching Katie Ledecky in her signature events. The 26-year-old proved utterly dominant in once again winning the women’s 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle races, both in historic fashion. First, she won the 1,500 by 17 seconds, then she claimed the win in the 800 by nearly 4.5 seconds. The results leave her with the 16 fastest times ever in the 1,500 and the top 28 times in the 800.

She also made history in a number of ways. The wins gave Ledecky 21 career world titles, moving her past Michael Phelps for the most ever. Her 16 individual world titles also one-upped Phelps. And along the way, Ledecky’s win in the 1,500 made her the first swimmer to own five world titles in two events. Then her win in the 800 made her the first swimmer to own six world titles in a single event. By the way, she also earned silver medals in the 400 free and 4x200 free.

Team USA closed out the competition on a high note, with Hunter Armstrong and both 4x100 medley teams winning gold medals as part of a seven-medal haul on Sunday. Armstrong won gold in the non-Olympic 50-meter backstroke event, out-touching teammate Justin Ress — and swapping their finishing positions from last year’s world championships. Sunday’s highlights also included the second silver medal of the competition for Bobby Finke.

The reigning Olympic champ in the men’s 800 and 1,500 frees, Finke took second in both in Fukuoka while swimming some of the fastest times in history. Breaststroke specialist Lilly King won a silver medal in the 50-meter event. And then teenage star Katie Grimes — who earned the first U.S. medal in Fukuoka, taking bronze in the open water 10K — also won the last U.S. medal nearly two weeks later when she took home the silver in the 400 IM.

Jack Alexy, Matt King Abbey Weitzeil and Kate Douglass pose for a photo.
(L-R) Jack Alexy, Matt King Abbey Weitzeil and Kate Douglass pose during the medal ceremony of the mixed 4x100-meter freestyle relay finals at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships on July 29, 2023 in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Ryan Murphy has been a consistent podium presence for Team USA since sweeping the 100- and 200-meter backstroke gold medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and that continued in Fukuoka. The Chicago-born star, now 28, heads home with four medals, including his first world title in the 100 back. He closed things out with another gold as part of the men’s 4x100 medley. Rising freestyle star Jack Alexy, 20, led all U.S. men with five total medals, including silvers in the 50 and 100 free, while Nic Fink also recorded four podiums for the U.S. men, including individual silvers in the 50 and 100 breast.

Kate Douglass took on one of the more unusual doubles when she attempted to win medals in both the 200 breast and 100 free on the same night, and she almost did it: taking second in the breaststroke while finishing 0.1 off the podium for fourth in the freestyle. Douglass, who is coming off one of the most decorated collegiate careers ever at the University of Virginia, has proven herself to be one of the world’s most versatile swimmers, which she showed by qualifying for Fukuoka in three individual events, each in different strokes. Douglass won the third of those events, the 200 free, to claim her first individual world title. The 21-year-old Olympian also heads home with a full set of medals — one gold, two silver, one bronze — from the relays.

Regan Smith was one of two Americans to qualify for four individual events in Fukuoka, and the Minnesotan medaled in all four. Smith, 21, swept the silver medals in the three women’s backstroke events — finishing second to Australia’s Kaylee McKeown each time — and added a bronze in the 200 fly. She then ended the competition by helping the women’s 4x100 medley to a gold medal. It was an impressive showing for Smith, already a three-time Olympic medalist and four-time world champion before this meet. A former Stanford University standout, Smith opted to go pro after her freshman year and now trains with Bob Bowman at Arizona State University.

“Going from Stanford to being in Arizona, I feel like I've done a 180 in terms of confidence and physical preparation,” Smith told the Minneapolis Star Tribune ahead of the world championships. “I’m in the best shape of my life. I just feel so much more confident. I enjoy swimming so much every day, and I’ve found a new appreciation for the sport.”

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