We are just under two weeks from the swimming portion of the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. I have always looked at these World Championship as the “encore Olympics,” since all the main story lines will revolve around what happened in Rio. This is what happens at every World Championships held the year after the Games. It is always a chance for swimmers to show that their Olympics were not a fluke, or a chance for them to back up their shocking Olympic swims and prove their dominance in their respective events.
In honor of the approaching World Championships, I decided to take a look back at some of the most hyped up rematches in a post-Olympic year. Since FINA decided to stagger the meet to every odd year after 2000, this is a short list. It does not include any World Championships in the 90s and earlier because FINA held them every four years at this time, pinning them in the halfway point between Olympics.
This list is primarily focused on highlighting the races that I distinctly remember being very hyped up about in post-Olympic years, as they were all pitted as “official rematches.”
Ian Thorpe vs. Pieter van den Hoogenband; 200 Free, 2001
In 2000, Pieter van den Hoogenband stunned Aussie Ian Thorpe in his home country in the 200 free final in Sydney. Van den Hoogenband tied his own World Record from the previous night and handed Thorpe his first loss in a major meet in his career. There was talk that Thorpe was already the greatest swimmer ever and looked unbeatable leading into the 2000 Olympics. Van den Hoogenband posted a formidable challenge in the 200 final and shocked “the Thorpedo.”
In 2001, Thorpe took his world record back at the Aussie nationals earlier in the year. The rematch was set as the two swimmers were in the same lanes they swam in a year prior. Even Australian commentators Ray Warren and Duncan Armstrong hyped the race as “revenge night” in Fukuoka.
“How long has he been aching?”
“It’s been coming for about 310 days, so about 311 sleeps (since Sydney).”
Thorpe stayed with the Dutchmen for 150 meters and ran away with the race the last 50 as he smashed his own world record with a 1:44.06, over a second faster than what van den Hoogenband went in Sydney (1:45.35). He split a 25.80 on the last 50 to blow away the Dutchmen and the world record as well. That record did not get broken until 2007 when Michael Phelps went 1:43.86 at the World Championships in Melbourne.
Brendan Hansen vs. Kosuke Kitajima; 100 Breast, 2005
Brendan Hansen broke the world record in the 100 breast at the 2004 US Olympic Trials in Long Beach and entered the 2004 Athens Olympics as the favorite. Hansen broke the record that belonged to Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima who entered Athens as the reigning World Champion. Kitajima ended up winning the final just ahead of Hansen. Video replay after the race showed Kitajima snuck in a dolphin kick on his pullout on the start and the turn, an act that was illegal at the time. Kitajima let out a couple screams in the water when he saw he was the winner in the final. Hansen took these screams personally and wanted to get his own personal revenge on Kitajima in future races.
Just like Thorpe and van den Hoogenband, Hansen and Kitajima entered the final in Montreal in 2005 in the same lanes they were in the previous year. Hansen took the lead early from Kitajima in the final and held off the Olympic champion. You could see the satisfaction on Hansen’s face when he won the race as he hit the water. It was clear that this one was personal and he wanted that one badly.
Ian Crocker vs. Michael Phelps; 100 Fly, 2005
Before Milorad Cavic, there was Ian Crocker. Crocker was Michael Phelps‘ kryptonite in the 100 fly leading into the Athens Olympics. Phelps ran Crocker down in the final in 2004 in a very similar fashion to what he did in 2008. A year later in Montreal, Crocker gave Phelps one of the worst defeats in his career.
Crocker was the heavy favorite in Athens but slipped up in the final. He was going to make sure that did not happen in Montreal in his first year as a post grad. Crocker went out under world record pace, with Phelps seven tenths behind. Instead of running him down, Phelps actually split slower than Crocker on the back 50 as the latter smashed his own world record set at the previous summer’s Olympic Trials. Crocker swam a 50.40, a record that stood until Phelps broke it in 2009.
Federica Pellegrini vs. the British Girls; 400 Free, 2009
A lot of people forget that Italian Federica Pellegrini was the heavy favorite in the 400 free going into Beijing. She was the world record holder and the top seed going into the final after she posted a quick time in the prelims. In the final however, the pace was painfully slow and Pellegrini never had control. American Katie Hoff took advantage of the slow pacing and pounced on the lead at the halfway point. Hoff extended her lead to the 300 but was ultimately caught by Brit Rebecca Adlington. Pellegrini was never in contention and ended up fifth in the final. Her time from the heats would have won the final by over a second.
A year later in her home country, Pellegrini had revenge on her mind over Adlington and fellow Brit Joanne Jackson, who broke her world record earlier in the year. Pellegrini snatched it back leading up to the Worlds but it was a grudge match in the 400 final in Rome.
Pellegrini took the lead early and never relinquished it. She split a 1:59.73 on her second 200 and became the first swimmer to break four minutes in the event. It had to be extra sweet for the Italian as she did it in front of her home crowd in Rome. Her world record lasted until 2014 when it was broken by American Katie Ledecky.
USA vs. France; 4×100 Free Relay, 2009
Let’s be real, every swimmer alive in 2008 remembers where they were when Jason Lezak chased down Alain Bernard over the final 25 of the 4×100 free relay at the Beijing Olympics. But not very many people remember the rematch in 2009. France was a huge favorite leading into the Olympics, but they were out swam that morning in China.
Just one year later, the French were again heavy favorites. They had Fabien Gilot, Bernard, Gregory Mallet and Fred Bousquet behind the blocks in Rome against the Americans who had Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers and World Championship rookie Nathan Adrian. There were other strong countries in the final as Brazil and Russia put up good fights, but the hype was all going to be around what France and the US were doing in lanes five and six.
Gilot had just out-touched Phelps on the leadoff leg. The French put world record holder Bernard in the second spot to give themselves a lead at the halfway point. Bernard split a 46.46, one of the fastest splits ever, and gave the French the lead halfway through. Lochte had split a 47.03, not bad for a 400 IMer. Grevers had clawed his way up to Mallet and put the US in front of France. Grevers split 47.61 to Mallet’s 48.28. (Russia actually had the lead at this point, but no one really seemed to notice). It was up to 20-year-old Adrian against Bousquet. Adrian had ran away from Bousquet on the last 50 as he split a 46.79 to Bousquet’s 47.42. It was a surprisingly slow split from Bousquet, but the Americans had triumphed again, backing up their win at the Olympics.
This time it wasn’t a 30+year-old veteran, it was a 20-year-old newcomer that was the hero here. Adrain earned the nickname, “little Lezak” for his performance in that race. The US won the race with a 3:09.21. Russia was second at 3:09.52 and France was third at 3:09.89.
Michael Phelps vs. Milorad Cavic; 100 Fly, 2009
In perhaps one of the most famous and hyped up races in World Championship history, Michael Phelps silenced all of his doubters by running down Serbian Milorad Cavic in the 100 fly in Rome.
This race was not just a rematch from Beijing. Cavic had frequently stated leading up to the 09 Worlds that he believed he touched first in Beijing, and he could do it again in Rome. Phelps had also been beaten for the first time in four years in the 200 free final by Germany’s Paul Biedermann who beat Phelps in a new and shiny Arena X-Glide body suit. Phelps refused to wear the plastic suits as he wanted to stay loyal to his sponsor Speedo and wear their LZR suit at the championships. Cavic had even offered to race the 100 fly final in briefs, but Phelps was not having it.
The race played out similar to Beijing with Cavic bolting to the front. Cavic took it out in a blistering 22.67, the same time that he swum to win the gold medal in the 50 fly earlier in the week. It did not matter as Phelps tracked him down the second 50 and out-swam the Serbian once again. Phelps became the first swimmer to break 50 seconds as he swam a 49.82 to Cavic’s 49.95.
One of the most telling images of that race was when Phelps got on the lane line and showed off his Speedo suit like he was a basketball player showing off his jersey. It was one of Phelps’ most iconic moments and will certainly go down as one of his greatest races in his career, not just because of the fast time, but the way he responded to the pressure saying he could not beat Cavic again with an inferior suit.
France vs. USA; 4×100 Free Relay, 2013
France got its revenge on the US in the 4×100 free relay in London. We know that much. But the race in London was mainly about Australia not showing up, rather than France getting revenge back on the US. Australia was the heavy favorite there. The US actually swam out of their minds and put themselves in a great position to win the gold medal, but they were chased down by Yannick Agnel and France.
In Barcelona a year later, it was expected to be between the US, Australia and Russia, with France a dark horse. Nathan Adrian took the lead with a 47.95 lead-off ahead of Russia’s Andrey Grechin (48.09) and Australia’s James Magnussen (48.00). Australia’s Cam McEvoy actually gave them the lead at the halfway point with a 47.44 split ahead of Ryan Lochte (47.80) and Nikita Lobintsev (47.91). On the third leg, Anthony Ervin (47.44) and Vlad Morozov (47.40) pulled away from the Aussies and it looked to be a Cold War over the anchor leg. But all of a sudden, Jeremy Stravius had kicked out even with Russia and the US. Stravius was in the race with Danila Izotov and Jimmy Feigen. Fabien Gilot‘s 46.90 split almost went un-noticed as France crawled its way back into the race.
It was a three-team race over the final 50 between Stravius, Izotov and Feigen. In a mad dash to the wall, Stravius (47.59) helped upset Russia and the US in the 4×100 free relay for the second straight year as France won the world title with a 3:11.18. The US was second (3:11.42) and Russia was third (3:11.44).
James Magnussen vs. Nathan Adrian; 100 Free, 2013
American Nathan Adrian famously out-touched Australian James Magnussen in the 100 free in the 2012 Olympics beating the heavily favored Aussie. Adrian had gone into the London Olympics seeded almost a full second behind Magnussen as the Aussie looked to be unbeatable in this event. Adrian had accomplished the upset and was looking to repeat that in Barcelona in 2013.
The race itself was hyped up because of the presence of Adrian and Magnussen, as well as Fabien Gilot, who was the only swimmer to break 47 in the 4×100 free relay. It also featured young stars Cameron McEvoy, Vlad Morozov and Jimmy Feigen who had stellar 2013s and were looking for a breakthrough win.
It was a heavily hyped race between Adrian and the young guns that Magnussen was almost an afterthought, despite being the Olympic silver medalist and the defending World Champion.
Morozov bolted to the front and split a 21.94 on his feet to lead Adrian and McEvoy. Morozov started to come back to the field as Adrian was catching him. The field started to bunch up and Magnussen was closing fast. As five guys came crashing to the wall, Magnussen’s name popped out of his lane as the winner. Feigen and Adrian had gotten silver and bronze. Magnussen had been through a lot in the preceding year, after he was criticized for losing the 100 free gold medal, as well as failing to medal in the 4×100 free relay. He had put all that outside pressure aside to come through and win the gold medal he was expected to win in London.
Leading into Budapest, the big rematch I am most looking forward to is the women’s 100 breast between Lilly King and Yuliya Efimova as well as the women’s 100 free between Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel. The men’s races that will be the most intriguing include Joseph Schooling’s run at Phelps’ 100 fly world record with Laszlo Cseh and Chad Le Clos in tow. The men’s 200 fly will be an exciting rematch even without Phelps. Cseh along with Le Clos, Masato Sakai and Tamas Kenderesi will be favorites for the 200 fly in Budapest. Also, keep an eye for a sneaky exciting race between Chase Kalisz and Kosuke Hagino in the 400 IM.
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