Swimming worlds packs star power, intrigue despite absences
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — When the world swimming championships start in Budapest on Saturday, a host of top stars won’t be there.
Scheduling irregularities caused by the coronavirus pandemic, infections, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fitness concerns and injuries are forcing many Olympic champions to skip the rescheduled event.
Ariarne Titmus will not be there to continue her rivalry with American Katie Ledecky, nor will compatriots Kyle Chalmers or Emma McKeon compete as all three are among the Australian swimmers focusing instead on the Commonwealth Games, which begin on July 28 in Birmingham, England.
Russian and Belarusian athletes will be absent as they are banned from all international events following the invasion of Ukraine. Olympic backstroke champion Evgeny Rylov was also handed a nine-month ban from all competition for appearing at a pro-war rally in Moscow.
English breaststroke star Adam Peaty is out after breaking his right foot in May.
Scottish Olympic champ Duncan Scott withdrew due to training problems following his COVID-19 infection, and several others – including Venezuela’s Alfonso Mestre, Italy’s Leonardo Deplano and South Africa’s Pieter Coetze – are out after late positive tests.
Olympic champions Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia and Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa are also missing from the list of swimmers confirmed at the worlds from Saturday through July 3.
The list of absent athletes was not quite what FINA, world swimming’s governing body, meant in February when it announced the “extraordinary” event in Budapest.
Rather, it was referring to the fact that the original 19th version of the event due to take place in Fukuoka, Japan, was twice put back. The first time was last year to avoid clashing with the postponed Tokyo Olympics, then it was postponed again in May due to the impact of the pandemic, which would have left a four-year gap since the last worlds.
But Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán offered to hold it again in the 2017 host city. Budapest is also slated to host the worlds in 2027. The championships are usually held every two years, but now they’re scheduled for four consecutive years.
Despite the absences, there will still be plenty of star power on show.
Ledecky will hope to reclaim her world record in the 400 freestyle from Titmus on Saturday after the Australian shaved 0.06 seconds off Ledecky’s mark from the 2016 Olympics.
Ledecky can also win a fifth consecutive world title in the 1500 on Monday.
U.S. teammate Caeleb Dressel is going for his third consecutive world titles in the 50, 100 free and 100 butterfly.
Sarah Sjöström and Lilly King also bring star pedigree, while Hungarians Katinka Hosszú and Kristóf Milák will raise the decibel level at the 5,000-capacity Duna Arena. There are no coronavirus restrictions for spectators, though FINA says they will be “encouraged to show support by clapping instead of cheering or chanting.”
Three-time Olympic champion Hosszú will be competing in her eighth worlds and it could be her last.
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