What To Watch At The World Aquatics Championships
by Chrös McDougall
A year before the top athletes across 32 sports meet at the Olympic Games Paris 2024, the top athletes from six aquatics sports are coming together for a big-time Olympic preview in Japan.
The 2023 World Aquatics Championships kick off July 14 in Fukuoka, Japan, and run for more than two weeks until Sunday, July 30. During that time athletes will compete in:
- Artistic Swimming: July 14-21
- Diving: July 14-22
- High Diving: July 24-26
- Open Water Swimming: July 14-15, 17, 19
- Swimming: July 22-30
- Water Polo: July 15-29
Typically held in odd-numbered years, the World Aquatics Championships are being held in consecutive years as part of the continued untangling of pandemic-related postponements.
Team USA had a strong showing at the 2022 event in Budapest, Hungary, where the U.S. led all nations with 49 medals and tied for the lead with 18 golds. As usual, the majority of those medals came in swimming — the sport with the most medal opportunities — but Americans also reached the podium in diving and water polo.
With the action about to kick off in Fukuoka, here are some key Team USA storylines to follow:
This year’s swim team has big names. Think Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Ryan Murphy and Bobby Finke, a foursome that owns a combined 15 Olympic gold medals. However, some recognizable names from recent years won’t be making the trip to Japan. Think Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Hali Flickinger.
This changing of the guard means more opportunities for a new generation to set a foundation in the lead-up to the Olympic year. Look out for Katie Grimes, who as a 16-year-old won two silver medals at last year’s world championships. Fellow teen Lydia Jacoby could be following King as the next great breaststroker, while the versatile Kate Douglass is coming off another successful NCAA season in which she helped Virginia win a third straight title. And don’t forget Regan Smith, a four-time world champ who has been tearing it up since a recent move to Arizona.
The enduring image from last year’s artistic swimming competition was a chilling one: Andrea Fuentes, the U.S. coach, diving into the water to rescue American star Anita Alvarez when she fainted in the solo free routine. Alvarez, thankfully, was OK, and now the two-time Olympian from Santa Monica, California, is back. So too is Bill May. A longtime pioneer for men’s inclusion in the sport formerly known as synchronized swimming, May came out of retirement to win a pair of medals with partner Kanako Spendlove at each the 2015 and 2017 worlds. After retiring again in 2019, May is now back again, this time aiming to become one of the first men to compete in the sport at the Olympics. In Paris next year, men will be eligible for the team event for the first time at the Games.
Fukuoka marks the first opportunity for countries to collect quota spots in diving for next year’s Olympic Games, adding to the stakes for a balanced U.S. team. Olympic platform silver medalist Delaney Schnell leads the group, and she’ll be looking to build on her performance from last year when she won a pair of medals in the women’s and mixed synchronized events. Sarah Bacon, Team USA’s only individual medalist last year, is back in the non-Olympic 1-meter springboard event, where she’s the two-time reigning silver medalist. She’ll also aim for her first medal in the 3-meter.
The most dominant team in the water keeps on rolling, as the U.S. women clinched their fourth consecutive World Cup title earlier this month in Long Beach, California. No surprise, it was team captain and three-time Olympic champion Maggie Steffens leading the way with a hat trick in the final. The Americans come into Fukuoka as four-time defending world champs and should be the favorite to win again.
Meanwhile, the U.S. men have competed in every world championships, dating back to 1973, but are still seeking their first medal. The team had its best finish in a decade last year when it ended in sixth, and now the young squad is heading to Japan following a dramatic bronze-medal win in the World Cup earlier this month.
The most decorated swimmer on the U.S. team, Katie Ledecky is the owner of seven Olympic gold medals and 19 world titles — plus six more silvers from the two competitions. Still just 26 years old, Ledecky is coming in hot. She continued to blow away the opposition in the longer freestyle events at nationals and should be a strong contender for gold in all three of her individual events in Fukuoka: 400, 800 and 1,500.
Though the U.S. fell short of the podium last year in open water events, the setting proved just another opportunity for Katie Grimes to shine. After winning silver medals in the 1,500-meter freestyle and 400-meter IM in the pool, the Las Vegas native moved on to Lake Lupa and finished fifth in the 10K, which marked the best American finish in open water. The youngest member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic swimming team is still just 17, but Grimes is set to compete in four events — two in the pool, two in open water — in Fukuoka, and she could be a medal contender in both.