The U.S. swim team, struggling in the first few days of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, tore through the pool in the first few races Friday, following Simone Manuel‘s 100m freestyle win with two world records in semifinal races.
Caeleb Dressel, swimming a schedule akin to Michael Phelps‘ glory days, found enough speed Friday in the world championship 100m butterfly semifinals to beat a Phelps record that had stood for nearly a decade. Then 17-year-old Regan Smith shocked the field in the women’s 200m backstroke semifinals, beating Missy Franklin‘s world record.
Dressel was well ahead of the field and a couple of feet ahead of the record-marking red line throughout the semifinal, finishing in 49.50 seconds. Phelps set the previous record of 49.82 seconds on Aug. 1, 2009, also at the world championships.
Phelps’ 200m butterfly record fell earlier in the championships to Hungary’s Kristof Milak.
Dressel won seven gold medals in the 2017 world championships — four relays, 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 50m freestyle. This year in Gwangju, he has already defended his 100m freestyle world title and added two more golds in the 50m butterfly and the 4×100 mixed medley relay. He was back in the pool about 30 minutes after his world-record swim Friday, winning his 50m freestyle semifinal in 21.18.
“Both races hurt pretty bad,” Dressel said. “There’s a lot that I need to clean up going into tomorrow. These times mean nothing.”
READ: Dressel starts eight-gold quest after tough 2018
While Dressel’s assault on the record book was no surprise, no such performance was expected from Smith, a 17-year-old swimmer from Lakeville North (Minn.) High School who recently committed to Stanford.
Smith set a world junior record in the 200m backstroke in 2017 and did it again in the heats earlier Friday in Gwangju, finishing in 2:06.01. In the semifinal, she blasted her way to a time of 2:03.35, well under Franklin’s record of 2:04.06 from the 2012 Olympics.
“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that.”
Smith now has an unusual distinction of setting a world record before winning her first world title. She’ll aim for the 200m backstroke gold in the middle of Saturday evening’s session. She’s entered in no other individual events.
The U.S. team now has a selection dilemma for the 4x100m medley relay, the final event of the championships on Sunday. Aside from Smith, the other options would be world record-holder Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga, who took bronze in the 100m backstroke and gold in the 50m backstroke earlier in the championships.
“We had a really good night tonight, especially with Regan,” Dressel said. “That was phenomenal. I thought that was one of the top three toughest world records on the women’s side, and she just crushed it.”
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