LOS ANGELES, United States, Dec 5 – A scattering of Rio Olympic medalists and a bevy of youngsters already looking toward the 2020 Tokyo Games will battle this week as the Short Course World Championships close out the swimming year in Windsor, Canada.
With superstar Michael Phelps retired — this time, he says, for good — and many more of the sport’s big names opting to take a breather after the rigors of the Olympic season, the championships that start on Tuesday at Windsor’s WFCU Centre are a perfect opportunity for up-and-comers to establish themselves on the international stage.
After a 16-gold haul in Rio, the United States brings a 35-strong team featuring four individual medalists from Brazil.
That includes women’s 100m breaststroke winner Lilly King, but King won’t get a showdown with Russian Yulia Efimova, who has announced she will miss the championships with tonsillitis.
King beat Efimova to gold in Rio, and called out the twice-banned Russian over failed doping tests, stoking the controversy over revelations of Russian state-sponsored doping in an array of sports.
That controversy hasn’t faded, with three anti-doping officials quitting the watchdog of world swimming body FINA in September saying their recommendations on whether Russian swimmers should compete in Rio were ignored.
The second part of Richard McLaren’s report that revealed widespread state-backed doping in Russia is to be released in London on Friday and could further roil the waters before the championships end on Sunday.
Russia’s team of 29 is headlined by 2014 individual short course world champions Kirill Prigoda and Vladimir Morozov — who broke his own short-course world record for the 100m individual medley in August.
Other marquee swimmers aiming to close out the year with a bang include South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, Canadians Penny Oleksiak and Kylie Masse, Japan’s Daiya Seto, and Spain’s Mireia Belmonte.
Hungary’s “Iron Lady” Hosszu won three individual golds in Rio. Paltrinieri, Oleksiak and Belmonte also captured individual Olympic gold – the women’s 200m butterfly gold medalist in Rio.
Le Clos is the world record-holder in both the 100m and 200m short-course butterfly and a six-time short-course world champ. He has dominated on the short-course World Cup circuit this year and is poised for a dramatic head-to-head matchup with American Tom Shields, who tuned up for the championships with a record-setting 100-yard fly triumph at the US winter nationals.
Seto, a medley bronze medalist in Rio, headlines a Japanese team that also includes 16-year-old rising star Rikako Ikee, but not Olympic medley gold medallist Kosuke Hagino.
– Exposure and experience –
That blend of notable absentees, established performers and youngsters is echoed in many teams.
Britain will be without Olympic breaststroke sensation Adam Peaty, but will have Rio medalists Stephen Milne and Dan Wallace.
Australia sends a team featuring Rio Olympians Mitch Larkin, Emily Sebohm, David Morgan and Brittany Elmslie, but lacking individual gold medalists Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton.
Australia head coach Jacco Verhaeren called the team “an exciting mix of rookies, athletes that haven’t been on teams for a few years and some recent Olympians”.
“The aim is to improve on their results from the national short course championships to see where that takes them. It’s going to be a good experience where all can learn a lot and get exposure and experience at the International Stage.”
A whopping 23 world records tumbled at the last edition of the short course worlds in Doha two years ago.
But some of the record-setters from that meeting won’t be back this year, including Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and France’s Florent Manaudou.
Manaudou is just one of the veterans missing from a new-look French team. Former backstroke world champion Jeremy Stravius is the most experienced swimmer on the 15-strong team.