Highlights And Takeaways From Team USA At The World Aquatics Championships
by Chrös McDougall
One year out from the Olympic Games Paris 2024, U.S. athletes are looking comfortable in the water.
The 2023 World Aquatics Championships – featuring competitions in six water-based sports – wrapped up Sunday in Fukuoka, Japan, and the U.S. led all countries with 44 total medals. China topped the gold-medal leaderboard with 20, followed by Australia with 15 and Team USA with seven.
All seven U.S. golds came in swimming, as did most of the total medals, which was expected as that sport has by far the most medal opportunities. However, American athletes also reached the podium in open-water swimming, diving and artistic swimming. The U.S. also had a solid showing in high diving, a sport that is not part of the Olympics. However, a long reign of dominance in women’s water polo came to an end.
Here’s a look back at Team USA’s highlights and takeaways from Fukuoka.
The U.S. roster for the Paris Olympics had to start filling up somewhere. Teenage swimming star Katie Grimes decided that would be July 15. The 17-year-old from Las Vegas finished third in the women’s open water 10K event to become the first Team USA athlete to qualify for the Paris Games by name. She’ll be headed to her second Olympics after being the youngest member of the 2020 team in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, in diving Team USA secured seven quotas for Paris, including two in each of the men’s and women’s 3-meter springboard events. With plenty of time still left to pick up more quotas, Team USA has already confirmed representation in five of the eight diving events. The athletes who fill those quotas will be determined at next year’s Olympic trials.
Katie Ledecky’s quest to rewrite the swimming history books continued last week, as the 26-year-old won the women’s 800 and 1,500 freestyle races to bring her career totals to 16 individual world titles and 21 total – surpassing Michael Phelps’ records in both categories.
Her performances highlighted a strong across-the-board showing from the U.S. team, which led all countries with 38 total medals. Though Australia edged Team USA for golds, 13 to 7, several U.S. swimmers shined on the world stage, including rising stars Kate Douglass, Regan Smith and Jack Alexy. That trio, none of whom are older than 21, combined for 16 medals in Fukuoka.
The United States earned a silver medal in the artistic swimming team acrobatic event, marking the first time the U.S. has medaled in a team event at the world championships since 2007. It was one of four medals – two bronze, two silver – won by U.S. artistic swimmers over seven categories in Fukuoka, including another bronze by the team in the technical routine. And making the team medals even sweeter? Bill May became the first U.S. man to win a medal in the team event. May, 44, came out of retirement after it was announced that men will be eligible for the team event in the Olympics for the first time next year in Paris. Up next for the U.S.? Qualifying the team for the Olympics, something it hasn’t done since 2008.
Maggie Steffens scored four goals. Goalie Ashleigh Johnson recorded nine saves. On paper, all the ingredients for another dominant performance for the U.S. women’s water polo team appeared in order. However, on July 24 it wasn’t quite enough as Team USA fell to Italy 8-7 in the quarterfinals, ending the squad’s hopes for an unprecedented fifth consecutive world title. Though the Americans rebounded to finish fifth, the result marked the first major event in which Team USA fell short of the podium since the 2013 world championships, when the Americans also finished fifth. “Ten years of just dominance, I mean that’s just never going to happen again,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said, according to NBC Sports. “We were living in some kind of alternate universe in some sense.”
The Australian Cassiel Rousseau spoiled a complete gold-medal sweep by China when she won the women’s 10-meter event. Make no mistake about it, though: China remains the team to beat across the sport of diving. For Team USA, Jessica Parratto and Delaney Schnell provided the lone medal when they finished third in the women’s 10-meter synchronized event. It was the fourth world championships medal for Schnell, who is also the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the individual 10-meter event. In total, U.S. divers posted seven top-12 finishes in individual events, including Andrew Capobianco taking third in the men’s 3-meter.
The World Aquatics Championships also present an opportunity for athletes to compete in events that are not part of the Olympics, including high diving, where women dive from 20 meters and men from 27. Team USA placed five athletes among the top 12 of the two events, led by Meili Carpenter, who took fifth in the women’s event. Meanwhile, in artistic swimming Kenny Gaudet made history in the first men’s solo competitions to be held at the world championships, winning a silver medal in the technical routine and bronze in the free routine. Plus, while the Olympics includes 50-meter freestyle swim races, the world championships includes 50-meter races in the other strokes as well, and Americans won six medals in those six events, including a 1-2 finish for Hunter Armstrong and Justin Ress in the men’s 50 back.