Five takeaways from World Swimming Championships

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Five thoughts following the World Swimming Championships in Budapest …

1. This is the most dominant U.S. swim team in nearly 50 years

The U.S. won 38 medals (most by one nation at a single worlds in history), with 18 golds, in the Duna Arena pool. But that’s not the full extent of the Americans’ grip on the sport.

Look at the rest of the medal standings. No other nation won more than 10 medals or four golds in Budapest. That’s also a world championships first (and hasn’t happened at the Olympics since 1968). Proof that the distance separating the U.S. and the second-best swim nation is greater than ever in the worlds era (since 1973).

No question the pool of reputable swimming nations is as strong as ever, but the increased competition impacted everybody except the U.S. in Budapest. Same in Rio, where the U.S. had its best Olympics since 1972.

The breadth of this U.S. team is also extraordinary. Its individual gold medalists in Budapest are from Stanford via Maryland (Katie Ledecky) and Texas (Simone Manuel), Florida (Caeleb Dressel), Indiana (Lilly King) and Georgia via Maryland (Chase Kalisz).

The U.S. won all but one relay at worlds, its best total effort there since 1978. It put swimmers in every final save two. It won three open-water medals.

And it had zero combined medals from Michael PhelpsRyan Lochte and Missy Franklin, who not too long ago carried the program.

2. Katie Ledecky’s times were surprising; her medal haul was superlative

Ledecky’s performance in Budapest is not a simple dissection. Olympic sports are judged on medals above all else. In that sense, Ledecky had the meet of her life — five golds and one silver.

But in swimming, times are also newsworthy (world records, personal bests, relay splits, etc.). If you watched the USA Swimming National Championships last month, you saw Ledecky incredibly clock within a second of her combined pool time in finals at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Then you heard Ledecky say she was less tapered for nationals than she was for trials.

All this after what had to be the most exhausting year of her life, the Rio Games followed by enrolling at Stanford, changing coaches and completing a full NCAA season through March.

Overall, Ledecky was slightly slower at worlds than at nationals. Which was definitely a surprise and noteworthy. Swimmers train to peak for major international meets. Ledecky has a history of time drops at the Olympics and worlds, lowering world records multiple times in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Did it matter that Ledecky broke no records in Budapest? No. She won all of her distance events easily and was part of two winning relay teams.

Then there’s the 200m freestyle. Ledecky suffered her first major loss there. However, she had the fastest 200m free time of the meet. It just so happened to come in the semifinals.

3. Caeleb Dressel is now on world-record watch

By now you know Dressel won seven golds in Budapest, including three on Saturday alone. Let’s take a closer look at his times.

In the 100m freestyle, Dressel lowered his personal best from 47.91 (Rio Olympics) to 47.17. In the 100m butterfly, from 50.87 (2017 Nationals) to 49.86. In the 50m freestyle, from 21.53 (2017 Nationals) to 21.15.

If Dressel can drop his times by about half as much in the next year (or by the end of his career), he will break all three world records. Those three records were set in the high-tech suit era to boot.

There’s little reason to think Dressel won’t get faster. He’s the same age as Ledecky (20) and, unlike Ledecky, races the shorter distances that more favor veterans. Cesar Cielo was 22 when he set the 50m and 100m free world records in 2009. Michael Phelps was 24 when he set the 100m fly mark.

As for the Phelps-medal-haul comparisons, keep in mind that one of Dressel’s golds came in a mixed relay that is not on the Olympic program. Dressel’s other individual event at worlds, where he finished fourth, was the 50m butterfly. Also not on the Olympic program. He could tack on another event in the 4x200m free relay, but the Phelpsian eight golds at an Olympics is not yet in Dressel’s range.

4. The world’s best swimmer is …

How about Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström? She won three events and broke the world record in a fourth, giving her four individual world records, the most of any male or female swimmer in the current record book.

Sjöström was one of three female headliners at this meet, and you could argue she had the best overall performance considering expectations. Ledecky also won three individual golds but had that 200m free defeat and no personal bests. Katinka Hosszu swept the individual medleys, but also no personal bests.

5. Looking ahead to 2018

Next year is the one year in the Olympic cycle where the world’s best swimmers are divided into two major international meets — the European Championships and, for all other nations, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in August. No Olympics. No worlds.

Ledecky will presumably not face her toughest international rivals at Pan Pacs — no Sjöström, no Federica Pellegrini, the Italian who beat her in Budapest. Maybe no Li Bingjie, the Chinese 15-year-old who cut five seconds off her personal best to finish two seconds behind Ledecky in the 800m free. China has a history of not sending its best swimmers to Pan Pacs.

At Pan Pacs, Dressel could face the 2016 Olympic 100m freestyle champion, Australian Kyle Chalmers, who missed worlds after heart surgery. In the 100m butterfly, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling of Singapore and 2013 and 2015 world champion Chad le Clos of South Africa are also eligible for Pan Pacs.

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Erin Hamlin to run New York City Marathon

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Erin Hamlin, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist and Team USA flag bearer at the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony, will run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.

Hamlin, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who retired after her fourth Olympics in PyeongChang at age 31, is running to fundraise for the Women’s Sports Foundation. So is Marlen Esparza, who in 2012 became the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist (flyweight bronze).

Hamlin has no marathon experience, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Being challenged in sport is something I am very familiar with,” Hamlin said in a mass email Wednesday, according to TeamUSA.org. “Long distance running is something I most certainly am not!! It will be difficult, mentally and physically daunting, but a way to test my abilities in a sport so far out of my comfort zone.”

Many Olympians in non-running sports have raced the New York City Marathon.

Bill Demong, the 2010 U.S. Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer and only U.S. Olympic Nordic combined champion, ran the 2014 NYC Marathon in 2:33:05, crushing eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno‘s 3:25:14 from 2011.

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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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