By Jim Rusnak//Director of Editorial Properties | Friday, July 26, 2019
GWANGJU, South Korea – The United States served up a reminder Friday night at the 18th FINA World Championships why – despite a slow start to the week – it is the top swimming team in the world.
Led by Simone Manuel’s gold in the women’s 100m freestyle, the U.S. won three medals on day 6 – one of each color – bringing its total tally for the week to 17 with six gold, six silver and five bronze.
But two of the most outstanding swims Friday night came in the semifinals with no medals on the line.
Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith both set world records, Dressel in the semifinals of the men’s 100m butterfly in 49.50, and Smith in the semifinals of the women’s 200m backstroke in 2:03.35.
“I’m here to swim fast for Team USA, and we had a really good night tonight,” Dressel said. “I’m glad to contribute to that, but there was nothing magic there, just good old race strategy.”
More on that later.
For now, not even back-to-back world records for the U.S. could overshadow what Simone Manuel accomplished Friday. Once again, Manuel played the role of giant-killer, winning gold from lane 1 and breaking her own American record in the women’s 100m freestyle in 52.04.
With that swim, she successfully defended her World Championship title from 2017, and became just the second woman in history to win two world championship titles in the women’s 100m free. The only other swimmer to accomplish that was Cornelia Ender of East Germany in 1973 and 1975.
It was also her third straight win in this event at a major world competition. In addition to her win here tonight and in Budapest in 2017, Manuel tied for gold in the 100 free at the 2016 Olympic Games. And each time, she was an underdog going into finals.
“I guess I would still say I’m the underdog,” Manuel said. “I think a lot of times people do doubt me, and I do think I face a lot of criticism, but I think I also like to call myself the underdog because it continues to keep me grounded, it continues to keep me pushing forward to a lot of the goals I have for myself.”
Manuel said she went out as hard as she could from the start and was first at the turn. From there, she was able to hold off the rest of the field – including world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden and top seed Cate Campbell of Australia – down the homestretch. Campbell was second in 52.43, and Sjostrom was third in 52.46. Manuel’s teammate, Mallory Comerford was seventh in 53.22.
It was the fourth medal of the week for Manuel, who won silver in the women’s 400m free relay, the mixed 400m medley relay and the women’s 800m free relay, each of which missed out on gold by just fractions of a second.
“It feels good,” Manuel said. “I did feel a lot of pressure coming into the meet. I think a lot of it was on myself wanting to repeat, but I’m really happy with a best time, and the win.
“This meet has been a little bit of a roller coaster for me. Not all my swims have been what I would have liked them to be, and I did take that (400m free) relay really hard, because I didn’t feel like I did the best I possibly could. But it’s all about regrouping. Not everybody has a perfect swim every time. I just needed to regroup and put on a good face – not only for myself but for team USA, because I feel like they are depending on me. I’m a veteran on the team, so I have to be able to show a little bit of poise in those hard moments.”
Getting back to the world records, Dressel’s time in the semifinals of the 100m butterfly shattered the former mark of 49.82, set by Michael Phelps at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. He came close to that record two years ago at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, but fell four-hundredths of a second short.
Today, he woke up and knew it was time.
“I thought I was ready to do it,” Dressel said. “I didn’t really have the nerves. I just wanted to do it, and that’s all there is to it at the end of the day – just going out and doing it. I didn’t want any other thoughts besides going under that 49.82. Getting it done, I’m proud of myself. I’m glad my family was there to watch it.
“It feels good – just the standard Michael set for people to go after it. I hope he was happy watching me do that. Being on the (Olympic) Team with him, the way he carries himself – I’m happy. I just kind of have my stamp on the history of swimming. It’s really special to me just to have that one little moment I can claim I was the best at one point in the history of swimming.”
Dressel followed his world record tonight by also taking the top seed in the semifinals of the men’s 50m freestyle. His time of 21.18 was just three-hundredths of a second off the American record he set in this event at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest.
“Both races (tonight) hurt pretty bad,” Dressel said. “It doesn’t matter. You just have to go in with your strategy and stick to it. There’s a lot I need to clean up going into tomorrow.
“These times mean nothing. It’s just semifinals. I’m not going to be sitting on a lane line in semifinals. That’s never been by style. I got to wave at my family. That’s all I wanted.”
Dressel gave kudos to Smith, who broke what he thought was one of the toughest world records on the women’s side in the 200m backstroke.
Smith, just 17 and competing in her first race at these World Championships, came into tonight’s semifinals as the top seed after setting the world junior record in this morning’s prelims in 2:06.01. She then dropped more than two and a half seconds tonight to crush the former world record – set by Missy Franklin at the 2012 Olympic Games in 2:04.06 – by more than half a second.
“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. It’s crazy. I’m really happy – very happy with what I was able to do. I really just wanted to get myself in a good lane for tomorrow night’s final. I was hoping to slip under 2:06 – that was my goal. It greatly exceeded my expectations, so I’m super, super happy.”
In other races, Ryan Murphy won silver in the men’s 200m backstroke in 1:54.12, behind Evgeny Rylov of Russia (1:53.40). Luke Greenbank of Great Britain was third in 1:55.85. Murphy’s teammate, Jacob Pebley, finished sixth in 1:56.72. It was the second medal of the meet for Murphy, who also took silver in the mixed 400m medley relay. It was also a repeat performance of his 200m back at the 2017 World Championships, where he won silver.
The men’s 800m free relay team of Andrew Seliskar, Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple and Townley Haas won bronze in 7:01.98, behind Australia (7:00.85) and Russia (7:01.81).
Andrew Wilson was the lone American in the finals of the men’s 200m breaststroke. He finished sixth in 2:08.10. Anton Chupkov of Russia won gold and set a world record in 2:06.12.
Swimmers competed in the semifinals Friday of the men’s 100m butterfly, women’s 200m backstroke, men’s 50m freestyle, and women’s 50m butterfly.
Besides Dressel and Smith, Americans competing in tonight’s semifinals were Jack Conger in the men’s 100m butterfly (11th, 51.91); Kathleen Baker in the women’s 200m backstroke (9th, 2:09.68); Michael Andrew in the men’s 50m freestyle (8th, 21.77); and Kelsi Dahlia in the women’s 50m butterfly (4th, 25.99).
The top eight swimmers from each semifinal advance to compete in tomorrow night’s finals.